A Summer Place

My father had this uncanny ability to take broken things, figure them out, despite knowing nothing of them, and fix them. I saw him do it with lawnmowers, tractors, shavers, radios, MP3 players. He was indefatigable.

We four boys, his sons, have each inherited some of this quality. Not at Dad’s high level. But we’ll tread into realms we know nothing of, and bang away until we find a solution.

One of the delightful side-effects of dating L. is that she has a camper by the shore, meaning that, for the first time in 29 summers on the Island, I’ll have a summer place.

Campers are a completely foreign realm for me: we had various tent trailers when I was growing up that Mom and Dad knew the ins and outs of, and some of that must have rubbed off. But this is a camper of a completely different scale, with a dishwasher and a shower and an outside kitchen.

Despite its sophistication, the camper’s Achilles heel, or at least a significant point of possible failure, is its 12 volt battery, a deep-cycle battery in its “basement” that’s responsible for running the lights, the “slide out” hydraulic pumps, the refrigerator, and the ignition system for the furnace. Because the camper is designed to be, well, mobile, it’s designed to be able to exist off-the-grid, and so although it will happily plug into the Maritime Electric mains, the 12 volt system is integral to its operation.

When we arrived at the camper this spring to open it up for the season, the 12 volt battery was dead (the multimeter is a required piece of the standard issue Rukavina-boy repair kit). It was dead enough that it needed replacing, so I pulled it out, hefted it to town, and near-$300 later at PEI Home & RV Centre, and a trip out to the camper, we were back in business.

Until the next week, when we returned to find the battery half-drained and none of the mission-critical systems operating.

Fortunately the online forum for the RV has copious owner-written documentation, including an electrical system troubleshooting guide. 

And so I learned that upstream from the battery is a “converter,” a box that converts mains electricity to 12 volts, charging the battery.

Exactly where the converter was proved something of a Saturday afternoon mystery (the owners manual is frustratingly missing such helpful details); I eventually located it behind a wall in the basement, under the stairs. I put my multimeter on it: dead. I pulled it out and took it to town.

Another trip to the parts department this morning: they generously tested it and confirmed that it was dead. And then sold me a replacement for near-$600.

I drove out to the shore this morning with tools aplenty, and carefully followed the instructions for installing the new converter (a process punctuated by a call to the helpful techs at the home office in Marshall, Michigan to confirm some finer points).

Once it was installed and the power turned back on, presto, the camper sprang back to life. Light! Ice! Hot water! Furnace!

I was 100% channelling Dad through this entire adventure: I know next to nothing about RVs and batteries and electrical systems and converters. Or at least I used to know next to nothing. Now I know quite a lot.

What I learned from Dad, most of all, was how to learn: it was a a great gift.


Paul Capewell's picture
Paul Capewell on May 25, 2022 - 03:58 Permalink

That sounds very satisfying. Expensive, but satisfying! As all new hobbies (etc) tend to be. Well done, and happy campering!

Renee 's picture
Renee on May 25, 2022 - 07:19 Permalink

Love this piece. Brought back so many camper memories. “The converter” was just one of those mystery things Paul was always talking about. We had three different campers that had them, and heavy batteries that used to spend the winter parked somewhere in his studio.

FAS's picture
FAS on May 26, 2022 - 21:30 Permalink

On May 26, 2003, you wrote, “…I used to describe my goal as being to create a “vacation-like life.” Most people, when I told them this, thought it meant that I wanted to laze around by the pool a lot. What it really meant is that I wanted, in my daily life, the same sort of Gatling gun of mental stimulation that being on vacation affords.
If I can somehow work to combine the camraderie of summer camp with the frenetic pace of the moving vacation with the focus that the market demands, I will have attained the charmed life I seek.”
A mobile vacation home and a charmed life indeed!