Monthly Archives: August 2014

Upgrade: Macerator Pump

One of my lessons learned this summer has been that I need to make peace with water/electric only camping. As Thousand Trails members we’ve had to decide between sites we liked for one reason or another and sites that offer sewer hookups and not much else. Of course, beyond that we’ve been in several campgrounds (Thousand Trails and others) where full hookups are simply not available. My earlier feeling was that not having full hookups was going to be fairly unusual and it wasn’t necessary to make any special plans for that possibility. These days, I’m thinking it’s more common, especially in the west, and that I need to have an approach for dealing with partial hookups on a somewhat regular basis.

Our stays are generally 10-14 days. Our black water tank is plenty big enough for that, but our gray water tanks tend to fill quicker and need to be emptied during our stay. One could tow a blueboy through the campground to the dump station, but in some parks the dump station is unreasonably far from the campsites. Some campgrounds offer honey wagon service but it can be rather expensive.

PHOTO_20140821_171410.jpg We opted to get a macerator pump. Using it the blueboy can be left in the bed of the pickup and the macerator used to pump the waste water using an old water hose. Then, I just drive to the dump station, attach the 3″ sewer hose to it and dump in just a few seconds. I actually own two blueboys: one is 15 gallons and the other is 40. I opted to carry the 15 gallon one for my 2014 adventure but now that I have the macerator I’ll be carrying the big one in the future.

My approach has been to dump once daily (and it can be done as we leave the campground rather than part of a special effort). Then, as we get closer to moving day we just let the tanks begin to fill up.

I bought my pump from a fellow camper who had used it very little and paid less than half what a new one would cost. Either way, I think it’s a good investment. Others may have solutions that work better for them and I’m interested in seeing those solutions posted as comments to this post. At this point, though, I’m pleased with this approach and recommend it to others who do longer stays in two-point hookup sites.

June 27, 2015 followup:

PHOTO_20150627_123525.jpg Here’s a quick update on the macerator/blueboy approach…we’re now on the road with our 40 gallon blueboy aboard. I was pleased that I could stand it up on it’s side and have room for it in the 5th wheel bay. We’re in a CoE campground with water but no sewer hookup so we’re using the macerator/blueboy combo (and likely will be for our next few stops). It’s working exactly as I hoped. When we arrived we ran our R/O machine to make some drinking water. It creates a lot of “brine” water. We filled our kitchen tank doing that, so I dumped it using the macerator. Then, since we’ve been in this campground we’ve done three small loads of laundry (“small” is the watchword using the washer/dryer combo we have). The three loads plus bathroom sink usage filled the front grey water tank to 3/4 so I dumped again. I ended up making two trips to the nearby dump station to empty the two grey water tanks. I’m quite satisfied with this approach. It saves dragging the blueboy through the campground and is easy enough to do. One thing I like is that when I pull the dump valve the waste water stops at the pump until I turn it on. Then, when the blueboy is full, I can just turn off the pump and the water stops. This works great for multiple trips.

Let me add that I’m not planning on using this approach for black water unless it is absolutely necessary. Since the macerator does it’s thing for solids I think it would work, but the idea of holding the water hose as it pumps the “stuff” into the blueboy sounds rather yucky to me. I’ll stick with pumping shower/kitchen water.

2014 – California Gold Country

PHOTO_20140818_125802.jpg Our stay in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada was only a week and we enjoyed our campsite right on the American River so much that we didn’t do much sight seeing. Just outside our door we could see people rafting the rapids. One day we watched paragliders soaring on the winds high above us.

IMG_2845.JPG Less than a mile from the campground is Sutters Mill State Park where gold was discovered in 1849. There is a museum with several free films about the area, miners, early settlers and Native Americans. We walked around old Coloma, checking out the restored school, church, Chinese store and assayers office. We enjoyed a chat with the working black smith and the host at the home of the smithy. Construction is in process on a replica of the original mill. There is a memorial statue of Marshall who found the gold, started the rush, but died poor.

PHOTO_20140822_122412.jpg Nearby Placerville has a nice historic downtown with a variety of shops and eating places. We enjoyed going through the oldest hardware west of the Mississippi which has been open in the same location for 160 years. It has wooden floors, rolling ladders and something for everyone from appliances to plumbing supplies and paint. This street provides an idea of what early Placerville looked like.

We enjoyed the area and took advantage of having a nice camp spot to relax and appreciate the natural beauty.


Campground review: Ponderosa Thousand Trails, Lotus, CA

PHOTO_20140819_092951.jpg I think Ponderosa Thousand Trails is one of the most scenic campgrounds we’ve been in on our 2014 adventure. The campground is right on the American River and “Old Scary” rapids is right in front of our camper. It’s been fun watching rafters and kayakers navigate this (fairly easy) rapid. We’re also about a mile downriver from Sutter’s Mill – the place where the initial gold find took place, sparking the historic California gold rush.

PHOTO_20140821_121001.jpg As it is with most campgrounds it’s location-location-location. We were happy to find a vacant spot right on the river. These prime spots fill early so no one should come to Ponderosa expecting to have one of them. If you get one, though, you’ll have a great view. There are other nice campsites – some with limited views of the river, many just a short walk from it. Be aware, this is a crowded campground. The sites are generally small and without grass. Some have nice shade but those along the river don’t and can be hot in the afternoon summer sun. Many of the favored spots have seasonal residents who may or may not even be there. The full hookup area isn’t on the river and the RVs are really packed in with hardly room to put an awning out. They are, though, close to the small pool and the activity center.

The route into the campground might challenge some. No one recommends arriving via highway 49 from the north. A few hardy souls might be okay driving in on 49 from the south, but it has many twists and turns and fairly steep grades. The best route in is via the highway 50, Shingle Springs, Green Valley Rd., Lotus Rd. route. Even that approach includes a bit over a mile of 10% grade. Then, once you arrive at the park there are some tight turns on narrow roads on steep hills. If you manage to snag a river-front site, though, in my opinion it’s worth it.

PHOTO_20140819_092844.jpg In addition to watching the rafters we’ve been entertained by paragliders who launched from the mountain just across the river from us and glided on the air currents for nearly an hour and also by hardy fellow campers panning for gold in the cold water. One fellow showed me a small vial with several flecks of gold he had found that day. Others fished for trout and reported some limited success on that front.

Satellite TV was reasonably easy to get and my Verizon 4G has a decent 3 bars of signal strength. We’ve really enjoyed our relaxing spot on the river and hope to return someday.


2014 – California State Railroad Museum – Sacramento

I was away several days during this stop on our 2014 adventure, but we did get to visit the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.  We concluded that it is well worth the $10 price of admission.

IMG_2801.JPG This museum takes the visitor through railroad history. There are dioramas of the Transcontinental Railroad that describe the dangers and hardship the workers endured to get the railroad done.

IMG_2820.JPG There are engines from different eras, including several vintage steam engines.  There’s also a mail car, sleeper, dining car, freight cars, and an early refrigerator car.  I especially liked the diorama of an early day telegraph office featuring a woman in telegrapher.  Throughout the building is a variety of memorabilia.

IMG_2822.JPG The second floor is dedicated to miniature railroading.  There are model trains that are well over 100 years old and a really nice model railroad with hundreds of interesting details and model trains running through tunnels and over bridges.

Just outside the door is Old Town with beautiful restored buildings now used for restaurants, shops and businesses.


Campground Review: Lake Minden Thousand Trails, Nicolaus, CA

I have to admit that Lake Minden Thousand Trails, just north of Sacramento, CA was a bit of a letdown for me. After months along the beautiful Washington, Oregon, and northern California coast the flat lands of this portion of California doesn’t quite measure up. In fairness, not many places would.

PHOTO_20140806_201121.jpg This campground is all about the lake and on any given day there are several people fishing and swimming or just walking around Lake Minden. I walked a lot – enjoying the mile and a quarter or so around the lake.

The other draw is nearby Sacramento. Downtown is about 30 minutes away and the airport is even closer. As we scheduled our summer, it was the nearness to the airport that brought us to this particular Thousand Trails, making it easy for Jackie to get some family time in Houston here at the half way point in our 2014 adventure.

PHOTO_20140807_092449.jpgThere are two primary campgrounds at Lake Minden. One is the old, original campground. It is tight with, basically, two RVs sharing a spot big enough to be one small campsite.  Not only are the conditions crowded, but several rental cabins have been put on the spots nearest the lake. This section, right by the entry has not one, but two activity buildings, a weekend restaurant, mini-golf, has full hookup sites, and a laundry. There are also signs posted everywhere that electrical voltage is low in that section – that means that there is possible damage to air conditioners, refrigerators and other expensive appliances. Some folks are combating that by plugging rather pricy voltage boosters in line. Others, well, they are operating their RVs on possible low voltage.

PHOTO_20140813_173202.jpgThe other RV campground is on the far corner of the property (there are also a couple of tenting areas). This campground is the mirror reverse of the other campground. There are no amenities aside from the restrooms. The sites are somewhat larger, they are only water/electric, and the electric works fine (although it is also only 30 amps). Coming and going from this area of the campground is a bit tedious because the road is one way around the lake and the speed limit is 5 mph. That may not sound like much but after a while it gets tiresome to creep in and out for every trip.

PHOTO_20140809_201019.jpg Not wanting to deal with electrical problems in the dry, 90+ degree heat, we headed straight to “D” section and picked a site right in the middle of the campground, adjacent to the restrooms. That happens to also be the spot where the dump station is located. After one night we concluded that not only were we having problems getting our satellite TV signal but that, even worse, we could smell the dump station from our campsite (I know, I know – we could have guessed that). We relocated to one of the perimeter sites and settled in for the remainder of our stay, away from the odor and getting a satellite signal with no problems too.  Also, I’ll mention that I enjoyed a very strong Verizon 4G cell and data signal.

The campground is surrounded by walnut groves and farmland and for years the lake has been a draw to folks wanting to get out of the city. I certainly wouldn’t rank Lake Minden at the top of the Thousand Trails we’ve visited but it served our purposes and, while I wouldn’t consider it to be a destination for us, I’d return for another stay.