$1600 Down the Drain!

Battery Maintenance, Part 1: Checking and Adjusting Battery Water Level



Your Batteries are the lifeblood of an off-grid solar system. Without them, you’d have no power when the sun isn’t shining. Batteries are also expensive and deserve your attention to their proper maintenance. Lead acid batteries consume water as part of their normal operation. You need to make sure that the water levels are kept up.

Before you begin, make sure you have safety glasses and a box of baking soda on hand when you start working on your batteries. The baking soda can be used to neutralize any acid that spills on the ground or on your skin. Wear your safety glasses to protect your eyes from any accidental acid splashes. If your skin is especially sensitive, grab a pair of gloves, too.

First, make sure you clean your batteries before you begin. You don’t want dirt or other contaminants getting in them while you have them open. I just sprayed them off with clean water and let them dry. You could also use compressed air if the dirt on your batteries is not stuck on too badly.

a5ced823-70f5-4586-887d-555da378f7b3_1.7b32c9d1b956d67600c6e369c5281d13You will need some distilled or deionized water to fill your batteries. Never, ever put anything in your batteries except for distilled or deionized water. Anything else can seriously damage them and shorten their lifespan.

If this is your first time adding water to your batteries, pick up several gallons. You don’t want to run short. Once you’ve done this a few times, you will get a better idea of how much water your batteries use over a given time frame.

When filling your batteries, you should first check with the manufacturer to see what they recommend for the fill level. A good rule of thumb is to have the water level about 1/8” below the plastic collar that descends into the battery.

91y3IcEaUgL._SL1500_I’ve got a battery filling tool that is specially made for this job. They are available online, or at just about any auto parts store. These tools automatically fill the battery to the proper level. First, rinse out the battery filler. You don’t want to accidentally get contaminants in your batteries. Then, fill it up with distilled water.

Then, take the cap off the battery. Look into each cell to determine whether it needs water or not. Also, you want to make sure that you never let the water level in the cells drop low enough to expose the metal plates. This allows oxidation to occur and can seriously shorten the lifespan of the battery.

fillerInsert the nozzle of the filler into the cell and press down. Make sure that you get a good seal on the top of the battery so that you don’t allow air in. This can cause you to overfill the cell. You will hear the water in the battery filler gurgling a bit as it fills up the battery. When the gurgling stops, the cell is full. Check to make sure that the water level is correct and move on to the next cell.

Continue filling all the cells of your batteries in this way.

Some people skip the special tool and just grab a gallon of distilled water and pour it right in. This is perfectly acceptable. You might want to use a funnel. It’s very easy to spill over and that gives an opportunity for dirt to flow back into the cell if you do.  Just make sure that you watch the level carefully while you’re pouring and don’t overfill them.

When your batteries charge, gas bubbles form in the electrolyte that need to escape. If your batteries are too full, this can cause the electrolyte to leak out. This will lead to a slow dilution of the electrolyte in your batteries. When you leak out electrolyte and replace it with water, the strength of the electrolyte will go down. This will negatively impact the lifespan of your batteries.

When I was first getting started with my solar system, I did a great disservice to my batteries by overfilling. Because of this, these batteries will wear out before they should have. This is going to cost me several hundred dollars to buy new batteries earlier than it should have. Make sure you don’t make the same mistakes that I did. That’s part of our mission – to show you the mistakes that we made so that you don’t have to. There’s no sense in me replacing these batteries early and then you going out and making the same expensive mistake.

Once all your batteries are full and the caps are on securely, you’re done!


Posted in alternative energy, FML, How-to, off-grid, YouTube Release

The Lord is My Shepherd

Your Faith Shall be Tested

There’s nothing like hard times to test one’s faith in the Lord.

After my baptism, Linda and I continued to attend church for some time.  We enjoyed being in the company of fellow believers. Going to church was an all-day event.  We’d leave here around 9 am so that we could attend the Adult Sunday School at 10 am, then the main service at 11 am. After the service, we’d all gather for a potluck lunch, and then finally arrive home around 3 pm. When we got back from all that, we were usually ready for a nap! We’d lounge about for the rest of the day and then get ready for Monday’s work on the homestead the next morning.

Then, my work schedule changed. I was working four days a week, every week. That didn’t leave a lot of time at home to do chores and rest and recharge for another week in the city. Due to the pace and stresses at work, it usually took me a full two days to decompress before I was mentally and physically ready to work on chores and projects. That really only left Sundays for these chores.

Also, Linda and I are not able to sit through a 2-hour church service.  She, being diabetic, must eat regularly, and I, being somewhat ADD can’t handle more than about an hour of sitting still in one place. Most of the time, the main church service stretched to two hours or more. Don’t get me wrong; the information presented in the service is generally quite interesting, but the sheer length of the service makes it impossible for me to concentrate on it.

Because of these reasons, we have not been attending First Baptist of Dell City regularly.

So, you “Backslid,” eh?

Well, yes, I guess, if you consider showing up at a particular place on a particular day at a particular time as being required in order for you to consider yourself a good Christian.

Fortunately for me, I don’t. Linda and I still carry our love for the Lord in our hearts. We still strive to live cleanly and as Christ-like as our flawed, sinning selves can. We pray. We consult our bibles when we have questions. And while we don’t go out and proselytize, we are open to discussing the Lord with others if the topic comes up or there is an opportunity that is impossible to ignore.

Your Job has Changed. What Now?

Now that I am working in the city a lot less, I have been trying to generate work in the desert.  I have made it clear that I will work for cash or barter in some cases. Also, if someone truly has a need that they are unable to pay for, I will not turn them away. I will keep my rates for work reasonable so that people here can feel that they are getting a good deal, while also obeying scripture that tells us that we should do business with others fairly.

For me, this is an exercise in faith. I must trust that the Lord has a plan for me out here. I must also trust that our needs will be met by finding ways to generate income, by finding ways to live on less, or through the generosity of fellow believers.

I want to work, but I don’t feel that work in the traditional sense is for me. When I place my trust in Him, I am blessed with a sense of inner peace and am awash with the knowledge that if I only obey Him and listen to His whispers in my heart, that we will be cared for in fulfillment of His promise.

Also I have been wanting to return to church. I feel that the fellowship is good for us, not only because it may help me find work in the community, but because being in the presence of other believers can serve to strengthen and reinforce one’s faith. We are praying for opportunities and guidance on this.

So…What are you Doing for Extra Work?

I’ve made myself available for work wherever my skills are needed. Chiefly, these skills include:

  • Computer Work – Since I have over 17 years of experience in this field, and there are few out here in the middle of the desert that can do this work, I am hoping to make these skills available.
  • Automotive Work – I’m no slouch when it comes to automotive repairs. Unfortunately, my body can’t handle the heavy lifting of major repairs anymore, but general maintenance and emergency repairs are something that I hope others will find useful.
  • General Handiwork – I have a lot of useful skills when it comes to “handyman” work. These are the skills that I employ every day out here on the homestead that makes life off-grid possible. Hopefully, those who need help in these areas will consider me a resource.

I pray daily that the Lord will guide me. I ask that he grant me the clarity of purpose so that I may see how He wants me to live to help others come closer to Him. I trust that He will provide me the opportunities that we need to survive out here.

My Faith is as strong as ever.



Posted in catch up, faith, Personal Updates | Tagged

Hydration is Key

Dealing with the Closing of the “Community” Well

Wow. What a roller coaster this well business has been!  Back in January of 2015, our ability to get water became problematic. I wrote about the excitement it caused out here in the desert.

Since that last post, there have been a couple  major changes to how members of our community get their water.

Don’t Piss Your Neighbors Off

In the last post about this topic, I mentioned that the community well had been sold to a local rancher. Details about what actually happened are sketchy, but I suspect that the rancher was sold the well and didn’t know about the fact that he was contractually bound to provide water to the members of the community, and that he had to maintain the well and access to that supply.

rancher with cattleThe well experienced some large downtimes shortly after the rancher was informed of his obligations. At one point, the well was nonfunctional for several weeks. Because of this, some of the more hot-headed members of this community threatened to sue the rancher and he decided to close the well permanently, blocking all community access to the water supply.

Since Linda and I had our potable water trucked in from El Paso and didn’t (yet) have need for the well water, this didn’t really impact us that much at the time.

The “New” Well

During all this commotion over the sale of the well, the original owner of all the land for sale got fed up with all the infighting out here and decided to sell the entire operation to a couple people who live in the community.

One of the first things they did was to open a well on a property that had defaulted. Where the original well was open 24/7/365 and you could have all the water you could haul, the new well set some limits that had many locals on fire. The well would be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week, and on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. The hours on these days were 10AM to 2PM. There was also a weekly limit of 600 gallons per property owner. There was no provision for how many people lived on the property.

This caused quite an uproar in the tomandjerry hotheadcommunity, and the same hotheads that annoyed the rancher started making noises about suing the new owners. There was a lot of hubbub and hurt feelings for a while, but things calmed down eventually.

Around this time, Linda and I purchased another cabin and attached it to our existing one so that we could install a flush toilet and have an actual bathroom. Because of this, we had a need for the non-potable water that was at the well, and thus our involvement in the well fiasco began.

The Final Chapter

In November of 2016, we found out that the company that was hauling our potable water to us from El Paso had gone out of business. We began searching for a source for potable water.  At the time, we still had a few months supply remaining in our tank, so the pressure wasn’t huge.

saupload_other_shoe_dropThen, the other shoe dropped. In January of 2017, members of the community received certified letters from the new owners of Antelope Acres stating that the community well would be closed effective February 17, 2017. This meant that everyone out here had to start hauling water from the nearest municipal source. This is in Dell City, 25 miles one-way.

Again, the talk of lawsuits is in the air. According to the agreements we signed when we purchased our property, we are entitled to access to a community well.  So, there likely are legal grounds here.  However, most of the people out here don’t have the money and/or time to pursue the matter legally.  It’s easier (and less stressful) to just haul our own water from Dell City.

What now?

IMG_20170307_142043I was able to borrow an 18-foot trailer for long-term use from a friend so that we can go to Dell City for our water.

I sat down and crunched the numbers. Including the cost of fuel and purchasing the water from the water company in Dell City, out cost to haul potable water from Dell City is about 2/3 that of what we paid to have it brought from El Paso.

In the end, our cost for water is higher than it used to be. Our non-potable water used to be free, except for the cost in fuel to go fetch it. The cost isn’t exorbitant, so we will be okay in the end.



Posted in catch up, off-grid, Personal Updates, rants | Tagged , | 3 Comments

You Deserve a Break Today …

Retirement of the Jeep

Since the last blog post, a lot has happened with the Jeep. When we moved out here from Cincinnati, we had to bring everything that we owned in one trip.  I wrote a whole blog series on our trip in July 2014:

Day 0: Hasta la Vista, Baby!
Day 1: We’re Leaving….On a Jeep Train
Day 2: The Mighty Mississippi
Day 3: The Lone Star State
Day 4: The Tourist Trap
Day 5: Home, Home on the Range

When we towed that trailer out here, we were way, way, way over the Jeep’s tow rating of 5,000lb. I knew we were over the limit, but I didn’t want to know how bad, probably because I would have thought better of it and reduced how much we were towing.

photo 2At the end of Day 4, I took the Jeep to a truck stop and weighed it. OOPS.

The Jeep weighs about 3,800lb. That means that I was hauling about 10,000lb.

Yes, your math is right.  I was hauling twice the approved tow rating.

Another tidbit: The Jeep is equipped with a 4.0L in-line 6-cylinder engine and a 42RE transmission. The Jeep had a hard time maintaining 60MPH. It kept jumping in and out of overdrive.  The excess load on the transmission was causing a lot of damage, quietly.

In early 2015, the Jeep started acting up by not shifting into overdrive properly. Eventually the problem got to the point that the torque converter failed completely and locked up.  This meant that the Jeep could not idle and was effectively undriveable.11753668_957376720950792_6660693795048021449_n It was time that I paid the piper for the damage I had caused almost a year before.

Thankfully, a couple of friends had left their 1988 Ford F-350 Diesel Dually pickup at our place for storage and they allowed me to use it as transportation while I figured out my next steps with the Jeep.

I found a used transmission at an El Paso junkyard for $250. I decided to buy a new torque converter to install between the engine and transmission. This job wound up costing about $500 for all the parts and fluids involved. With the help of my neighbor, I was able to get it running again.

IMG_0275However, the Jeep was getting rather long in the tooth. About a year later in May of 2016, I had to completely rebuild the steering system. As a result, I needed an alignment, but could not afford it. Stupid me – I knew better.  But I let it go too long and the tires got completely shredded. Also, the plastic grille that holds the headlight assemblies failed, leaving the jeep with only one headlight.

In August of 2016, I returned to Cincinnati to attend my niece’s wedding and to help a friend pack up and move out of his recently deceased mother’s house. He was planning to sell one of his cars, a 2007 Kia Sorento 4×4. I offered to buy it from him and he accepted.

Kia-cropped-and-blurredSo, we brought it back from Cincinnati, upgraded the headlights and added a brake controller for trailers. We then started using it to haul our water instead of the Jeep.  The tow rating is the same, but the new Kia has far more power and torque than the Jeep did.

The Jeep is still functional and we use it for running around out here in the desert.  We let its plates and insurance expire. We usually use it to go fetch the mail and to fetch our dog Padfoot when he goes walkabout. I do have long-term plans to fix it’s headlight issue, getting an alignment and some new tires.  Maybe then we will look at putting it back on the road.






Posted in catch up, engine, FML, Jeep, Kia, Personal Updates | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Making Ends Meet

So, How Are You Paying the Bills?

One of our goals when we moved out here in the desert was to use our  skills to help those in need, as well as to create videos and this blog to educate others and to show what it’s really like to go off grid.

I picked up a job in late January 2015. Initially, I only wanted to work a few days a week to provide materials for projects on my own property, as well as to provide materials for projects we do in service to others. Well, that didn’t last long.

The Snowball Effect

snowballstuckMy new employer quickly discovered that I had a variety of skills that they wanted to leverage. I quickly went from two days a week to three, and then four. While it was nice to see that my skills were in demand, it had one unfortunate consequence: I didn’t have time anymore to work toward our mission to help and to educate others.

What little time I did have was spent on upkeep of our own property, and a few small projects for others. I didn’t have time to keep this blog or make videos. It seemed that my mission was a “crash and burn.”

Over the course of the intervening months, we experimented with my work schedule to try to balance my availability to my employer with our mission. I was completely worn out all the time, and sometimes even dealing with physical injuries due to the stress my body was going through on the job.

Recently, all these factors came to a head and we reverted to my original planned schedule of two days a week, with some flexibility for emergency jobs. So, as of this post, I’ve got a lot more time on my hands.

So, Vacation Time, eh?

imagesI don’t plan to sit on my hands! I’ve dusted off the blog, reactivated The RatraceLosers’ Facebook page, turned on the YouTube Channel and fired up Twitter so that we can produce top-rate content that you, our subscribers want to see.

Of course, producing this content requires more than just time. It requires resources. Building projects require materials. The production of video requires investments in equipment. While working full-time in the city provided the financial resources, I didn’t have the time. Now that I have the time, the resources are scarce.

Which brings us to …


Patreon is a platform that allows everyday folks to support artists in the creation of their work. Patrons can choose to contribute whatever amount they choose, either ongoing one or as a one-time gift.

I have created a Patreon account for The Ratrace Losers and will be taking it online once I have some content created both here and on YouTube. This way, you have even more ways of supporting the work we’re doing out here.  In addition to your support on Facebook, emails and prayers, you have the opportunity to directly contribute to our ability to accomplish our mission.

Wait, isn’t this just e-panhandling, begging, sloth, laziness, etc?

Not at all.

Begging or panhandling is asking for people to give you money or resources with nothing in return. Patronage is asking people for money or resources in exchange for the production of some piece of work or art.

Patronage has a long and noble history stretching over thousands of years. Some famous examples of this are: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael.

Now, I don’t even think to compare myself to these renaissance masters, but they are just the most well-known of thousands of artists that have been beneficiaries of patronage over the ages.

So if you like the content we produce, please give us a shout, and if you’re moved to do so, please consider checking out our Patreon site when it goes live. Let us know what kind of content you’d like to see here by sending a message on Facebook or Twitter.

We appreciate our supporters in whatever form they choose to support us.

Thank you!

Posted in accomplished, catch up, Personal Updates | 2 Comments

It’s Been A Long Time

So, where the heck have I been for the last two years?

I started working a job in El Paso in early 2015, and that has taken most of my time. I honestly didn’t feel much like blogging. Also, most of the people who were subscribers to the blog were also personal Facebook friends, so they would hear what was going on right from Facebook.

Well, they say that keeping a diary is good for you, so I’m thinking I’ll fire up the blog again and see where this goes.

I’m sure that many of you want to know what’s been going on and what I’ve got planned for the future. Honestly, I need to go back and review the last few posts on the blog to see where I left off.

Since there are so many things to update, I think I’ll break it up into several blog posts.

I’ll cover updates on the following topics, not necessarily in this order.

  • Solar System
  • Housing
  • My Faith
  • Water
  • Vehicles
  • Job
  • Pets
  • Friends and Family

I’m sure there are things that I will cover that I haven’t thought of, too.

If there are things you want to see, please comment here or on the Facebook page. You can find a link there at the upper right of the blog page, or you can click this link.

If you like what you see, please like and share. It will help me see what types of posts are popular.

Posted in catch up, Personal Updates, Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

Is This Thing On?


I’m gauging interest in reviving the blog.

If you’re interested in me bringing this thing back from time to time, please drop me a note over on The RatraceLosers Facebook page.

If I do, the posts probably won’t be as detailed as they used to be.  I still have hopes of somehow using the Internet to make some money so that I can focus more on working out here in the desert.  Since I last explored it, sites like GoFundMe and Patreon have popped up, which could be an avenue for me if I wind up with lots of subscribers.

What do you think? Comment on the Facebook page or here on this post.




Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments