Saturday, 22 September 2007


It all began at the air conditioning unit. We were in for a few surprises on the 110V electrical system.

First, you need to know that Travcos have two rooftop openings, on wich can be installed an air conditioning unit, a fan or a simple vent. Inside the motorhome, located on the ceiling beside each of these openings, is a standard 110V outlet. I figure they are designed to power their respective A/C units.

The Blue Whale is equipped with a simple vent on the rear and a standard RV rooftop A/C unit at the front. It is a 110V-powered Coleman unit. But instead of being plugged into the nearby ceiling 110V outlet, a power cord has been run from the side of the unit, hanged across the ceiling to the cabinets over the table. The cord passes over and behind the cabinet, then in a corner where the plug just hangs there. Nothing really fancy as you may guess...

The A/C was powered by this makeshift cord because there was no power in the nearby ceiling outlet. Instead of trying to figure out why the ceiling oulets had no power and then fix it, the previous owners simply ran this cord behind the cabinets, not without causing some damage to them.

Since the rear outlet wasn't getting any power either while circuit breakers for both outlets were ON, we decided to carry out a little investigation.

First, after taking off the ceiling cover of the A/C, we found a 110V wire who's job is probably to power the A/C unit. This wire wasn't connected to anything, and wasn't powered either, being fed from the same circuit as the nearby ceiling outlet.

These two ceiling outlets were the only two inoperative outlets of the entire motorhome. All other outlets were working fine, as all other 110V appliances: power converter, microwave oven, water heater, 110V lightning, etc.

Another issue: on the circuit breaker panel, located in the wardrobe, is a pair 40A circuit breakers labeled "MAIN", wich should cut the power to the entire motorhome when switched to OFF. Well, switching them off had absolutely no effect, the motorhome was still powered and everything (but the ceiling outlets) still worked! And that's not all: when switching OFF the other circuit breakers (lighning, appliances, water heater), their respective circuit were still getting power! What was going on??

We found the answer quite rapidly. The first thing we did is remove the circuit breaker panel cover. That's where we got our big surprise...:

For those of you who don't know much in residential wiring, I'll give some explanations. But first, don't believe for one minute that the connections we found in this panel were from factory. At some time the Whale's wiring has been messed up by someone who didn't seem to know much about electricity and safety. Here's what we found (click on the picture to enlarge if required): the black wires, joint together with the blue connector, should instead be wired to their respective circuit breakers. Speaking of circuit breakers, if you look closely, you'll see that except the two in the lower right, none of them was actually wired to anything. In fact, all of the motorhome power was wired directly, without the use of the breakers, as they were completely bypassed. There was NO overload protection, and NO way of shutting off power anywhere beside unplugging the entire motorhome! When I think that this vehicle can be plugged into 50Amp outlets, this was rather scary.

This explains why turning OFF a circuit breaker wouldn't shut power to its circuit: power wasn't even even go through the circuit breakers!

The two circuit breakers on wich wires were still connected were, ironically, the only inoperative circuits of the motorhome: the ceiling outlets and A/C power. These circuits were not powered simply because the breaker panel itself had no power: the big black wire on the picture should have fed the panel, instead of powering directly the individual circuits.

So we decided to rewire everything correctly, wich was simple enough. We had a few issues due to the fact that the outlet where the motohome was plugged on Dad's house had a reverse polarity problem (neutral and hot wires reversed), wich was unknowned to us. Such an problem is not a dangerous issue but causes all sorts of problems when it feeds a secondary circuit such as an RV with its own breaker panel. Dad's friend Gerry quickly confirmed the reverse plarity problem with his small electronic tester.

Once we got the motorhome plugged into a good power source and all the circuit breakers wired like they were when the motorhome left the factory, everything was working normally, including the ceiling outlets and the A/C wiring. The "MAIN" circuit breakers were now acting has they should, as all the other breakers.

Dad happily tore the ugly A/C power cord off the cabinets and rewired the A/C unit on the provided line. The A/C now works great. Now we just need to find a new ceiling cover for a good price to replace to old cracked one (unless Dad decides the old one can be fixed!).

I don't have a clue why someone messed the Travco's wiring like that. Maybe someone worked on it for some reason, then couldn't remember how to rewire it, and finally decided to bypass the cricuit breakers entirely. All I can say is nobody was impressed, to say the least.

I agree that the Travco's wiring schematic is somewhat different from a standard home wiring, due to the fact that it uses a 220V breaker box for on a 110V circuit (both sides of the box have to be fed with the same single phase). But that's nothing a DIY electrician can't figure out, especially since the original scematic is available on

This electrical work is probably (and hopefully!) among the last big jobs done on the Blue Whale. After many hard working months, Dad has gone through pretty much everything... Among the things left, are the genset, and the dashboard restoration/repairs. Once this is done, the only remaining things will be some finishing details, add-ons or minor repairs. As usual, your comments are welcome!

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Back to work

Parking brake

The Travco's park brake was not working. On a Travco, the park brake hand lever doesn't apply the brakes on the rear wheels of the vehicle, but on an additional smaller brake drum on the driveshaft.

The park bake is actuated by a cable, that Dad cleaned lubed. Then Dad took the drum out, and realised that the brake shoes were completely worn. No big surprise here: this type of park brake is not very powerful, and with the brake not fully engaged one could easily drive off with the park brake on without realizing it. Especially since setting the parking brake doesn't turn any warning light in the dashboard. Obviously, driving with the park brake on results in a quick overheat and wears off the lining rapidly, and after a few times the park brake is completely worn out and will stop working.

Looking for a place to buy new brake shoes, Dad took his cousin Almas' advise and went to a specialized shop, where for a few dollars they completely remanufactured the shoes with new liners. The following picture shows the overhauled shoes, just before putting the drum and the driveshaft back on, held in place with two QuickGrip clamps.

All will be left to do is a road test to check for braking efficiency in case of emergency. Considering the weight of the vehicle (around 14000 lbs) it is hard to believe that such a small brake can stop the Blue Whale within a reasaonnable distance without orverheating.


A few weeks ago Dad took the furnace out to clean and repaint it, and to fix the broken support brackets. There was also an issue where the pilot flame wouldn't stay lit and the main burner wouldn't light. We were told that the problem was probably caused by a faulty "thermocouple", wich is the safety system built into most LP appliances to shut the main gas valve if the pilot flame extinguishes (and the reason why the start button must be held in for a few seconds when lighting the appliance).

So Dad took the furnace out once more. Looking at the thermocouple, it looked like it was kinda loose and not tightened into the correct position. So he tightened it properly, and voilà! the furnace is working like it should: the pilot stay lit, and the main burner kicks in normaly! After numerous starts and shutdowns it was still lightning up perfectly, so the furnace is considered fixed.

Front end alignment

During his trip last week, Dad found that the Travco's sterring lacked a bit of stability. So Dad checked the front wheel alignment. If one knows how to do it properly, there is no need to go to a specialized alignment shop. Dad has done it himself a few times, using his friend Gerry's procedure (Gerry has done it hundreds of times). So he adjusted toe angle, and after a road test he may have to set the caster angle as well.


Dad installed the remaining pieces of carpet, left of the driver's seat.
Next will be the armrests but this will probably be done later with the dashboard.
On the photos you can see the park brake lever discussed above.


Here are a few photos of the rear bedroom. The rear window, wich as you know is not a real window anymore, has been covered with a decorative painting made by Mom. The idea was to cover up the old sealants stains left when the previous owners tried to seal some water leaks, and to cover the holes left by the screws that were holding the ugly cocoplast panel that covered the rear window (see "First Discoveries", posted May 18).

My next post should be about electrical issues, as we have made a few scary discoveries in the Travco 110V electrical system...

Saturday, 1 September 2007


One thing Dad always had problem with when working on a project, is evaluating the time required to complete it:
-It'll take just a couple days...
(Translation: Figure at least a week!)
-I'll be done by the weekend.
(Translation: I mean the weekend in 2 weeks)

That's not because is works slowly. Dad just can't do a hasty or temporary job, or cut corners. So he takes his time to fix things right, right away. Add some serious unexpected issues like the rear brake job et a badly cut finger, and the deadline moves further away. But in the end, his constant under-evaluation of the required time is a good thing: some work took so much time, that if he'd known how much time he was going to spend on it, he would have never began it!

However, during the last days of August, I felt Dad was beginning to get tired of working on the Whale day in and day out. He's been working on this thing since May, every day! He must have climbed inside and got out at least 10000 times. Obviously he didn't expect to completely restore the entire vehicle in a few weeks, but he hoped he could at least go on a short vacation and enjoy the motorhome for a few days. But the summer went by, and the list of things to fix kept getting longer. Then Dad cut his finger, so the Whale spent the summer in the driveway.

September was approaching, with the Labor Day weekend. As I explained earlier, during this long weekend is held our yearly family party. The event takes place in Lac St-Jean, about a 3 hours drive north of Quebec City. My parents usually attend the party with their motorhome, and this year was to be the first year with the Travco. So the last days of August turned into a race against the clock, a real marathon to get the Blue Whale ready for its first significant trip.

Along with the rear brake job, there was a thousand things to fix: the horn, the fuel gauge and the LP gas level gauge were not working, there was still another leak at the water tank, the new seats had to be installed, the interior needed a good cleaning, etc. Dad's friend Gerry came to help. While Dad was at the local auto part stores trying to find the last replacement brake line, he had Gerry put on the rear wheels and properly tighten the wheel bearings. I gave Gerry a hand on this, and I will tell you one thing, this guy knows what he's doing. Gerry's a highly competent mechanic, and it shows! Dad was glad of having him. In the meantime, Mom managed to transform the mess inside the vehicle into a clean and inviting motorhome, and prepared and packed everything for the trip. After a week of hard work, everything was finally ready on Friday night.

The Blue Whale left Quebec City the following morning for the Lac St-Jean region. The following pictures where taken at L'Étape, a rest area about an hour north of Quebec City, along the Laurentian Wildlife Reserve road.

A few hours later, the Travco made it to its destination, without any problem. Dad was happy, all he said is he felt the brakes might need some more bleeding as the brake pedal feels somewhat softer than it used to be, and he will probably check the alignment because he felt the steering was not as stable as it should be. That's it, everything went just fine.

Over the following days Dad and Mom took a few days of well-deserved vacations, they drove to the Charlevoix region, and then back to Quebec City the following weekend. They drove about 800km on the most moutaineous roads Quebec has to offer, and everything went perfectly. The big 440 purred like a big kitten and easily pulled the Whale up the long climbs of Charlevoix. Fuel mileage, grossly calculated over a 300km distance, was 7.5 mpg. Dad expected a bit better but it was a montain road and a windy day, wich certainly didn't help. Nevertheless, this was the first serious road test of the Blue Whale, and a test the Whale passed with flying colors.