Read through the comments under each heading and business in the yellow pages sources to see why I listed each, since in some cases there is an indirect relationship to the heading and why I find it of use. I used the yellow pages headings to give you a feel for what can be found under these headings to aid your search for local resources in other regions.
The home base for this project is near Seattle Washington USA and the expected typical travel range is west of the Rockies in North America during all seasons, so this is where the resources are focused. However a goodly amount of the resources cover all of North America.
There are 3 related online documents for Mobile Cabins:
Getting Started Basics for Your Mobile Cabin – provides an overview and covers the fundamentals www.skilledwright.com/MobileCabinBasics.htm
Mobile Cabin Concepts and Issues – provides in-depth discussion and analysis of the concepts behind designing and living in mobile cabins www.skilledwright.com/MobileCabinConcepts.htm
Resources for Creating and Using Your Mobile Cabin – provides links to suppliers and more information to support building and living in mobile cabins www.skilledwright.com/MobileCabinResources.htm
The Good Sam Club RV Emergency Road Service
I am a member, but haven’t needed to use their service. They seem to be the only major choice in this area, and the web site has lots of good information. They also publish “Highways Magazine” for members.
“America’s NO. 1 RV Magazine”
These 2 magazines are put out by the same publisher and have great handy articles like ones on weatherizing for the winter and a review of cell phone booster antennas.
Both web sites have lots of very useful information.
Newport’s Trucking Info.com
“Your Source for Trucking Information and News”
Lots of road and supplier information
There are lots of places selling solar system components, but they don’t sell the generic electrical parts that interconnect these components, they expect you to get them from electrical suppliers. Unfortunately due to the low voltage of most RV systems, a large amount of amperes are handled by these components.
It’s a basic formula: Watts (power) = amperes x volts
What this means is most retail stores won’t have some of the components needed for solar powered electrical systems because they are normally only used in industrial systems and supplied by wholesalers to contractors.
Many wholesalers (even with a sign “wholesale only” on their door) will sell retail if you pay cash and know the exact part number and description you need. Due to federal electrical safety regulations, large manufactures are likely to have spec sheets on the web, so you can get the correct nomenclature and part numbers from the web, and then sound knowledgeable and technical enough that the wholesalers will just take you at face value, and sell you the part, if they have it in stock.
Backwoods Solar sells a circuit breaker box from Square D that uses QO breakers. These are rated for 120vac, 240vac, or up to 48vdc. I had a hard time believing this until I downloaded the spec sheet from http://www.squared.com I was so glad to find quality standard circuit breakers rated for DC. Unfortunately Backwoods only sells 20 amp breakers for this breaker box. McLendon Hardware had 40 amp breakers for this line, but nobody had the 60 amp breaker, so this is my acid test for depth of stock. Only 1 wholesaler in the Seattle area had the 60 amp breaker in stock - Stusser Electric Co. at their main branch in south Seattle. The 15-60 amp breakers are $20 and the largest breaker rated for DC is the 70 amp breaker for $45, so I decided to go with the 60 amp breaker for both cost and ease of replacement reasons.
Description from the Square D site: QO160 Miniature Circuit Breaker 240V 60A
The last 2 digits are the amps. A QO115 is a 15 amp breaker. They make a 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 60, and 70 amp breaker in this line.
North Coast Electric Co
The have a couple dozen branches in the Northwest. The web site requires a logon, and supplies an online registration without requiring anything special, but must be processed manually by their office. They do carry Square D products.
Platt Electric Supply Inc
They have several dozen branches on the west coast, and have a 24 hour number for assistance 800-257-5288 They carry Square D products. To order online you send email to Platt requesting they contact you about setting up an account.
Stoneway Electric Supply
They mostly just cover Washington, and do carry Square D products, but there isn’t any online ordering.
Stusser Electric Co
660 S Andover Seattle 206-623-1501
They have a few branches in Washington and don’t have a web site. However they did have the QO160 in stock, and sold it to me without requiring an account.
I was able to setup a taxable account online without anything special. A long time ago I walked into their local warehouse and bought a replacement for an ancient circuit breaker that other people told me was unavailable. So they are more accessible than most of the giant suppliers, however the largest QO breaker they list online is only 30 amp breaker.
“Industrial Supply, Material Handling Equipment, Tools, Safety Equipment, HVAC, Lighting and More”
Their catalog is kind of like the industrial version of the old Sears catalog – it has just about everything, and is a good place to start researching for hardware because it is up to about 4,000 pages now. They sell only to businesses, but many hardware stores have an account with them.
They do collect sales tax when needed, so it’s just a matter of establishing you are a business of some kind. They seem to have relaxed their definition of a business. I looked at the online registration, and if you claim you are a Sole Proprietor, you don’t need a tax number or any thing special to setup an online account, just a social security number, business name, address, etc. You can pay with a credit card online, so you don’t have to establish credit.
Special purpose suppliers will have more choices and better prices, but sometimes it isn’t possible to find these suppliers or order from them in a timely fashion. They list online up through the QO170 breaker, but neither the 60 or 70 amp breaker was in stock in the local warehouse.
Graybar Electric Company
“Graybar, the leading distributor of networking, telecommunications, and electrical products and services, has been recognized by Business Week magazine as the No. 3 private info-tech company in its annual ranking of the world's leading public and private information technology companies.”
They are kind of difficult to order from unless you claim you are a business. I haven’t ordered from them since they reorganized in 2001, so it should be better now. However you still need an account with them (setup through a local sales rep) to order online.
"Where people make the difference."
Call Us Toll Free at 1-888-571-7331
They have several branches in the Seattle area, and have the best selection I have ever seen ranging from manual farming tools to build a log cabin farm with with to state of the art construction tools and everything in-between. They are very willing to help special order parts and tools you never heard of until you start describing the problem you are trying to solve. They are also starting to provide online ordering.
Jerry's Home Improvement Center
"Jerry's is THE PLACE to go for building and home supplies."
2600 Highway 99 North Eugene, Oregon 97402-9706
This is the largest hardware and construction supply I have ever seen. They close to McLendon Hardware for the more main stream needs in hardware and have a huge amount on construction supplies on hand under a roof so they aren’t sopping wet when you buy them.
“We've been supplying shops with electrical and repair parts for automotive, truck, tractor-trailer, transportation and industrial needs for 20 years.”
1739 Industrial Drive Greenwood, IN 46143-9526
“We stock over 600,000 electrical parts such as:
wire terminals, adapters, lugs, connectors, contacts, plugs, sockets, heat shrink tubing, auto fuses, circuit breakers, vehicle lighting, flashers, headlights, truck lights, indicator lights, turn lights, running lights, clamps, switches, wiring, cables, wire wrap, electrical tape, wire ties, tie wraps, crimps, and more electric accessories.”
Some of their stock is online, and you have to call to order the rest. They have several print catalogs, and some of them can be downloaded.
Taylor Cable Products, Inc.
“Where Performance Comes Down To the Wire”
301 Highgrove Road Grandview, MO 64030
Their have an automotive racing orientation is why their parts are of a higher quality. They have some heavy duty battery cabling connectors and switches. The whole catalog is online now.
T C’s Off Road Center
“Pacific NW's Largest and Most Specialized 4x4 Parts and Repair Center Since 1972”
730 North Central Kent, WA 98032
If you want to toughen up your vehicle, they are the place to go. I had a transmission oil cooler and temperature gauge installed by them and have been real pleased with the results. They also do special orders and ship UPS. I have found them quite knowledgeable and interested in solving my problems.
These are a great source for 12 Volt DC parts and equipment since many boats also run off of 12 vdc power. Since many boats are more cramped for space than RVs, they are also a good source for miniature furnishings. It is harder to call for help if your boat sinks than if your RV stalls, so as a group, boaters are more self-reliant than RVers. This means there is more of a market for suppliers of boating parts and hardware than for RVs. RVers can benefit from the overlap between boats and RVs in utility systems by checking out marine supply houses.
Doc Freeman's Marine Super Store
“Looking for a hard to find part, or need advice? We offer word wide shipping”
6400 8th Ave NW, Seattle (Ballard),WA 98107-1529
Call us: 206-633-1500 or 800-423-8641
If nothing else, try browsing through this store for ideas.
RV specific appliances and household items.
(Catalogs might be better a better source except in major cities, just stay put for a few days and have it sent to wherever you are.)
“Your Ultimate Source for RV Accessories and Supplies”
Order Toll Free/Questions? 1-800-616-2267
Has everything from “The Snack Daddy beverage and snack tray. Easily mounts to most standard lawn chairs.” to replacement refrigerators that run on electricity or propane. Their stores get on my nerves because of the emphasis on impulse buys, but they have a lot of supplies that are very difficult to find elsewhere. Many stores also have RV servicing departments and will install major purchases. They have a large print catalog that you can carry with you on your travels and order over the phone when you get stuck.
Be sure to check out the book section and look for campground directories and atlases. There are some huge ones for reasonable prices and this is the only reasonable way to find RV parks with the services you need and avoid days of driving around following up on bad leads.
For: Axles, brakes, couplers, fenders, jacks, lights, springs, wheels, etc.
Even if you have an RV instead of a trailer, there are some parts like running lights that these are more likely to have than a car parts store on the corner next to the gas station.
Six Robblees', Inc.
Main office 11010 Tukwila International Blvd. Tukwila, WA 98168
11010 Pacific Hwy., S., Seattle, WA 98168
(206)767-7970 and (800)275-7499
Branches mostly cover Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and Montana.
Their web site http://www.sixrobblees.com/ doesn’t seem up be on the web
This listing is good for your more hard core accessories like shocks, winches, tanks, and tool boxes.
Nelson Truck Equipment Company
"Everything for Your Truck"
20063 84TH Ave S Kent, WA 98032
(253) 395-3825 (800) 877-0338
They cover a wide range of equipment and parts for both recreational and commercial trucking. They also build utility truck bodies. I have considered buying either a RV module or van body from them to put on a 4 wheel drive truck frame, and then customizing it to meet my needs.
They have several branches in the Seattle area. I used this branch to customize a utility trailer to support construction work.
For when you will be parked for long periods, nothing beats the quiet clean power produced by Solar panels.
Solar resources are on this page Sustainable Self-Reliance, Mobile Cabins, and Homesteading
JC Whitney catalog
“The largest direct marketer of everything automotive"
They offer free catalogs.
Platinum vented catalytic propane heaters
A & L Enterprises
"It's the only catalytic heater approved for use in recreational vehicles."
“Our Mission: Parts and Service for Thermal Systems, Inc. vented catalytic heaters-all models”
Pictures of the heaters installed in camper vans
The Turtle Expedition, Unltd.
"World Adventures wiht Gary & Monika Wescott since 1972"
A combination of international wilderness travel logs and state of the art off-road RV technology testing and information.
“Our mission since 1936: Test, Inform, Protect. We accept no ads.”
I subscribe to their magazine, and always check with them before making large purchases. Sometimes what I’m buying isn’t bought by regular consumers, but many times it is. Occasionally they test something in a way the manufacture didn’t intend, and provide misleading results. So I always ask myself if the testing approach seemed reasonable for my intended use. They are especially valuable for their reliability statistics.
“America’s #1 way to buy cars online!”
They have reviews, photos, and comparisons for new and used vehicles. This is a good way to get a quick idea of prices, and they provide high and low ranges for used vehicles based on your zip code.
Unfortunately the truck after market industry doesn’t think of Toyota or Nissan as real trucks, and to a significant degree this is true. My Toyota T100 has been an incredible midrange commute and off-road vehicle, but I mostly haven’t been able to buy the accessories for it that I wanted. This means if you want serious utilitarian accessories or modifications, you need to have a Dodge, Ford, or General Motors truck. The best choices seem to be for Ford truck chassis. So if you are considering building a custom RV, I would start with a Ford Chassis.
Ford Commercial Trucks
This is the main web site for Ford trucks and most of the brochures can be downloaded in Adobe Acrobat files. Both the Turtle Expedition and I independently came to the conclusion that the best base to build a custom off-road RV on was the Ford F-550 Chassis with factory 4 wheel drive. This is the heaviest duty 4 wheel drive chassis manufactured. Adding the 4 wheel drive option after it leaves the factory costs a fortune and the result isn’t as reliable as one off the factory production line. Since its stock, its also easier to get parts for. A chassis is like a pickup truck without the bed or rear bumper. It has everything else, and you bolt on whatever type body to the frame you want to buy or build.
The off-road Chinook RV is based on a van chassis, not a truck chassis, and its 4 wheel option is added after it leaves the factory. The total cost of bolting a RV body to a truck chassis will cost less than the Chinook does, and be a far better off-road vehicle.
They carry some heavy duty car camping/working in the woods equipment that I haven’t been able to find elsewhere. They are more oriented to the car camping and hunting crowd than the mountain climbing crowd, but do cover most outdoor sports – just ignore the categories you aren’t interested in. They have a large selection, in a wide range of qualities, so do some comparative browsing on their site before you buy.
“Your Adventure Starts Here”
They have paper catalog and an online catalog, great quality, and wonderful customer service. I have bought a lot of my camping equipment from them. They are staffed by people who are passionate about playing in the outdoors and serving their customers. They use what they sell.
“First On the Water”
“Engage the hydraulic world, fully and without hesitation”
Northwest River Supplies
They are some really nice way out there river people who make rafts and sell all the related equipment and supplies. Their merchandise has to be real rugged, and can weigh more than you can backpack, so it makes great compact and rugged car camping gear. In their online catalog, click on “camping” then on “toilet systems” to get a complete list of what are basically miniature port-a-potties. Among other things I have bought are: camp chairs and tables, cots, coolers, and watertight bags and canisters.
Your Mobile Cabin will be more of a problem than a car would be, when it breaks down or if there are road problems. It is important to carry a basic set of road safety equipment: safety reflective vest, flares, reflectors, flashlights, fire extinguishers, etc.
Terra Tech supplies really solid safety and wildfire fighting supplies and equipment is listed on the “Sustainable Self-Reliance, Mobile Cabins, and Homesteading” page http://www.skilledwright.com/Homestead.htm#Reforestation
A Laptop – The Portable Office
Micro Warehouse (800) 397-8508
For the last 9 years I have purchased all my computers from Dell, used almost nothing but Dell computers at work, and have been very pleased with their reliability. Almost everything related to the computers that aren’t Dell parts, I have purchased from Micro Warehouse. They have good prices, good service, great selection, and speedy shipping.
Going dark on people during an extended trip can cause lots of problems that can come back to haunt you. With a laptop for email and a cell phone with national toll free coverage it won’t make any difference where you are – you will still be in contact with the people you need to be.
Both of these companies have catalogs you can request.
My web site is still with a local company http://www.seanet.com however I just signed up with EarthLink for email on the road. They have more local dial-up numbers in the United States than anybody else I could find – more than 7,500. Their coverage of the western United States is more consistent than anybody else, and they have a good balance between major metropolitan areas and smaller cities. They also have an 800 number for $0.10 a minute for when there isn’t any local number, which is the lowest price I found. You can upload and down load a lot of email in 5 minutes. They also seemed to be more professional than some of their major competitors.
“Builders of Quality Satellite Systems”
“If you want Broadband Internet speeds anywhere you travel, even to the most remote portions of the desert or mountains, the new DATASTORM 2-Way Satellite system will deliver.”
“The DATASTORM requires no cell phones or phone lines to connect to the Internet. If you can see the Southern Sky, you have Broadband Internet Speeds. This is the first affordable dish manufactured that will allows RV's, Trucks, Vans or any other mobile platform to achieve broadband speeds no matter where they are parked.”
The idea of “working from home” from the middle of a wilderness area is tantalizing.
Cell Phone Booster Antennas
Motor Home July 2002 page 78
“Clear the way: The motorhomer’s guide to getting better cellular service on the road”
This is a great review for anybody spending a lot of time in marginal reception areas.
“Google - Searching 2,073,418,204 web pages”
That’s over 2 billion pages that it indexes. What is far more important is the accuracy of its search engine. I might get 20,000 hits returned in my search, and what I’m looking for is frequently in the first 5 hits, or at least the first 20 hits. Much of the success of this project is due to the speed and accuracy of Google as a research tool.
US National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center
There is always a risk of bad weather, but in some years in some places it is likely to be worse than usual. It is good to consider this and either avoid the worst, or at least be prepared for it. Drought stricken areas will have serious wildfire problems, and El Nino will cause record breaking floods. They also have hurricane season information.
Instructions on how to find current fire and fire line information are in the “Current Fire Information” section on this page “Wildfire Risks and Reducing Them” http://www.skilledwright.com/Wildfire.htm
They have pretty decent facilities for a once a week update of laundry, showers, and email. The RV parking spots have a pedestal with 120vac, water, and sewer. Some campgrounds have a modem data port amenity. From their web site - A "modem data port" is a phone line access point designed to allow you to conveniently plug your computer in for access to the internet and email.
Be sure to buy a KOA directory so you can make plans for your next stop ahead of time.
Coop Directory Service Listing
Most of these are food coops. This is a pretty comprehensive directory for the United States. It also is a great way to spot interesting communities. If there is enough community support to sustain a food coop, the community is likely to also be support related organizations and activities.
This will help answer the question “where do I drive to next?” When you find one, there is usually a community bulletin board to help find like minded people and activities. Also, both staff and customers are likely to be helpful in answering community questions and giving you advice on where to find health food in other towns.
“Happy Cow's Global Guide to Vegetarian Restaurants (and health food stores)”
This is a pretty good list, but they don’t have many stores.
Comments? Send some email
Last updated: October 20, 2002