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The Rig

The Rig... In other words, my rolling home and the parts that make it up.  HUGE Thanks to Phil Cannizzaro for all his help with the bed, battery isolator/power station setup, the desk... and well, just about everything!  Check out his company www.infotank.com.

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Phil and I at work on the Desk

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Truck

The Truck is responsible for taking me from place to place and for holding the rest of the "rig".  The year in which the 1995 Isuzu Trooper was purchased, the Isuzu was the only SUV that had airbags and a high degree of refinement and was within the price range.  Designed for off roading, this vehicle is tough.  For example, you can't get it without skid plates.  I've been really happy with this truck.   Tremendously spacious... however, the bed didn't quite give enough room for sleeping.  So my friend Phil and I built a sleeping platform.  My only complaint?  A little top heavy...  You've probably seen the Consumer Reports article...

The 1995 Isuzu Trooper was a graduation gift from my parents and I am forever in debt to them for their kindness.

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Thule Roof Rack

For pieces of rubber coated metal, these suckers are ridiculously expensive.   To their credit, they have a lifetime warranty and if you get a new car, you only need to buy a new fit kit (fairly inexpensive).  They have attachments for all sorts of things.  In particular, I will be using the fork mount bicycle tray, the Summit box for 16 cu ft of storage, and possibly the ski carriers if I end up skiing on this trip.

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Power Station

This is where most internal accessories get their power from, including the computer, cellular battery recharger, dehydrator, GPS, and any other electrical (DC or AC) devices.  The contraption has an DC 12v to AC 120v power inverter (400 watt sine wave power inverter), some cigarette lighter outlets, and a battery to drive it all.  A custom wooden box fits over this to prevent a shocking situation.   The box also allows me to stack stuff on top of the system.

For more details, see below.

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Battery Isolator

The battery isolator (from J.C. Whitney) is responsible for isolating the main battery from the accessory battery in the Power Station.  While the car is running, it distributes the charge from the alternator to both the main battery and the accessory battery.  When the car isn't running, it prevents the accessory battery from discharging the main battery while in use.

I am not happy with this part.   I don't know much about electrical engineering, but again, my friend Phil came to the rescue.  Apparently, you loose voltage across a diode which is essentially the main component of the battery isolator.  So my main battery charges somewhere around 13 volts when it should be charging around 14 volts.  Some type of smart switching mechanism would have been better.  Thanks again to Phil for helping me wire this up correctly.

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Sleeping Platform

Although the truck is tremendously spacious (tall), the Isuzu didn't quite give enough room for sleeping.  So Phil and I built this wooden platform... Custom built and designed by Phil and myself to give two people 6 feet x 2 feet of sleeping room in the truck. 

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Desk

Fiberglass molded to fit in the dashboard glove box... Then using some leverage, we managed to wedge the desk between the top of the glove box and the fiberglass mold.  That took care of any vertical movement.  Screws were used to prevent horizontal movement of the desk.  Holes were drilled to hold bungee cord which holds various items on the desk (IE laptop computer).  Thank goodness Isuzu put in a strong glove box!

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Curtains

Screwed into the plastic above the doors to hang curtain rods.   That covered the left and right sides of the vehicle.  I then streched a piece of string from the left to right side of the vehicle between the curtain hangers so I could cover the front and back of the sleeping area.  I used black felt and sewed the material to fit the curtain rods.

Mobile Office Details
How do it yourself!

The Power Station

First of all, will you be doing most of your computing while your car is running? If so, all you need is either a power inverter or a cigarette lighter adapter (for your computer and/or printer) that works with your car. If you purchase the cigarette lighter adapters for printer and computer (hence avoiding the need for the power inverter), your only other concern is making sure you don't blow the fuse on your cigarette lighter. Check the amperage on the cigarette lighter fuse and make sure that the 12 volt amperage of the computer added to the 12 volt amperage of the printer doesn't add up to be greater than that of your fuse. If it is greater than the fuse, you are going to have to do some extra wiring and punch a hole in your car's firewall to bypass the fuse box.

If you do NOT purchase the cigarette lighter adapters for your computer/printer, you will need to use the power inverter method. Now you have a few things to worry about: First of all, you have to make sure the power inverter you purchase will meet your power requirements. Power inverters are rated in wattages. Here is the equation to figure it out

wattage = voltage * amps

Your computer's AC adapter should show something that says how many amps it draws at 120 volts. Multiply the amps by 120 and you have the wattage of your computer. If you plan on using a printer, be sure to add the printer's wattage in as well.  Make sure your power inverter can handle at least this amount of wattage.

Now you need to make sure your power inverter won't blow your cigarette lighter's fuse out. Take the wattage of your power inverter and divide it by 12 volts. Now you have the number of amps that your power inverter will draw at maximum power. Make sure that this number is less than the number on your cigarette lighter fuse. If you are gonna need more power, than you guessed it! A hole through the firewall to bypass the fuse box will be necessary...

Finally... if you need to use your computer without your car running, you need to add an accessory battery and a battery isolator to the system. Directions for wiring are included with the battery isolator.  A second alternator is a far better option, but more time consuming.  I use a regular car battery, but you might consider getting some type of marine battery or hit an RV shop... they might have batteries which are designed for accessory power, and not for cranking a car!

Where to find a power inverter or battery isolator?

Try http://www.jcwhitney.com/ and order their catalog.

Getting Online While on the Road

(NOTE: This was written in 1998/1999!  Things have changed significantly since then with 802.11 wireless available all over the country, all-digital cell phones, and PCMCIA cards being offered by all wireless carriers now.)

If you simply want internet access, determine where you will be traveling and see if they have digital packet cellular internet service.  As of this writing, very few metro areas have this service, but this is your cleanest and quickest way onto the internet.  Talk to your local cellular service providers to see if they provide this service.  They should have more information about this technology and the parts you'll need to make it work with your laptop.

If they don't have digital packet cellular service in your travel area, you need to use the cellular modem approach.  Setting up a cellular modem is expensive. You can expect to spend $500 on a cellular modem and matching cables for your specific cell phone. Now, if you think you will be able to roam about and send faxes or get on the internet from anywhere, think again!  You need line of sight to an analog cell tower that is serving your phone to get a 4800 baud connection (SLOW!!!) onto the internet. I use it ONLY for e-mail.  Many times, I can't even get a connection.  It is touch and go and it takes lots of patience and coaxing.

If you want to avoid both troublesome approaches, you'll need to find telephones that support a basic telephone cord connection for dialing out.

My E-Mail address is: andrew(at)koransky.com

Copyright (C) 1996-2008 Andrew Koransky