Towing gas mileage

Airstream over the Mississippi

Based on the search terms leading to this blog I see a few people are interested in our gas mileage.

Note that our truck is a 3.5L Ecoboost “Max Tow” King Ranch package. So the gearing is different (3.73) and its heavy.

Not towing we get around 13MPG.

While towing we average about 10MPG on the flat at reasonable speeds (70MPH).

This drops to about 8MPG at 75MPH (which is legal in many places where we drive, albeit ill-advised when towing).

On grades/severe headwinds/absurd speeds I have seen as low as 6MPG. We have tested all three conditions simultaneously – see next note.

Going up Wolf Pass in Colorado at 70MPH we must have averaged something around 0.1MPG. Maybe less – the MPG graph in the dashboard wouldn’t populate.

– Anthony, Waukee, Iowa

The great photograph archive project


How many photographs do you have? 10,000? 20,000? More? I don’t know how many we have but I do know my iPhoto library had crossed 20,000 and that wasn’t everything.

The problem statement is that over the years – decades – I have used lots of things to manage photographs. Picasa, Flickr, iPhoto, Dropbox, simple files and folders. Attempts have been made to migrate from thing to thing until, in the end, I went back to files and folders after reading Bradley Chambers’ optimistically titled but wonderful short Kindle book, Learning to Love Photo Management: Managing Photos In The Smart Phone Era.

After a non-trivial effort I normalized everything into a file structure based on year > month > event. This is the only way to manage a large library. Other tools should be used as editors only and under no circumstances should you surrender your library to an application. If you would like to manage your library entirely randomly, iPhoto is a great choice.

Then I had an epiphany. This is the second part.

You know that old shoebox of photographs you got given from some vague Great Aunt. You haven’t sorted it. You never will. And that shoebox contains a small fraction of the number of photographs in your digital dumpster.

Why are you keeping all these photographs around? Because digital storage is basically free. But it plays on your mind. You should back all of this up. “One day I will organize all this.”

Or perhaps you have more narcissistic motivations – photographs are sacred historical records! There was arguably once some legitimacy to that thought. After all in 1880 getting a photograph was a big deal. Even more recently one had to buy film and have pictures developed. We’re old. Today kids take hundreds every week – not even with a camera, but a phone.

In fact at the rate I’m going by the time I’m retired, dead, or in jail, I might be curating a library of hundreds of thousands – perhaps even a million – digital pictures. And then when I’ve had enough of this world and move on to better things, what am I going to do, leave a hard drive digital shoebox of photographs in my will for some relative to pawn off on another relative?

So what’s the epiphany? A photograph only has value when it’s shared. Photographs help to keep relationships alive, tell stories, build bridges, make us laugh, or feel something else. A photograph really is worth a thousand words. A photograph today is no longer a sacred relic. It’s more like a phone call.

Words unspoken, not worth speaking, or unspeakable, will be deleted. All others will be published.

So begins the great photograph archive project. I have been methodically going through, folder by folder, year by year and month by month, sorting, deleting and publishing what’s left into Flickr. The home of this great project is here.

Why Flickr?

First you get 1TB of storage for free and can upload the photographs in original format without any quality loss.

Second you can sort photographs into albums (my months) and collections of albums (my years).

For example:

Our photographs by year.
Our photographs by month.

Third, you can apply all sorts of metadata via tags. So you can tag photographs as “sunset,” or “snow,” or “beach,” or “alfred.” Why would you do this? Because you can then sort by tag, leading to the fourth benefit.

Fourth, you can turn your photographs into things like books or wall prints. For the last few years I have enjoyed giving photo books as gifts. A bit narcissistic but I think people enjoy them more than trinkets from So what if I wanted to make a book of Alfred prints? Show me all the #alfred tagged photographs and voila.

Fifth, I’m not sure if this is a real Flickr benefit or not, but a tool called Bulkr let’s you backup everything in Flickr locally. I don’t have any particular concerns with cloud storage but every now and then online services are hacked, go bankrupt, etc., and I’d hate all my photos to vaporize with no backup.

So the great photograph archive project is in full swing, with over 2,000 photographs shared and more from the digital shoebox every day.

– Anthony, Waukee, Iowa

Chalk and cheese – Iowa and Airstreams


Iowa is generally slightly above mediocre in most demographic metrics. Where it does very well is in education, which keeps the surrounding states well supplied with young ambitious-otrons and where it does poorly, again sticking strictly to objective metrics, is its rather surprising tax burden. Well educated and highly taxed? Chicago here we come. Until we have kids – then we rush home again.

But this post is concerned with enjoying an Airstream when you live in Iowa. The problematic metric is Iowa’s public land ownership ranks 47th out of 50 states. The only states with a smaller percentage of public land ownership are Rhode Island, which barely counts for this analysis, Connecticut, likewise, and New York.

Iowa is 91% the size of all three combined but with just 13% the population. Connecticut alone, less than 10% the size of Iowa, has more people.

Indeed Iowa is the only state not on the eastern seaboard with precisely zero acres of National Forest.

What’s up with that? Corn. And in fairness part of the reason is Federal land ownership is low in Iowa.

In any case Iowa doesn’t pair well with our version of Airstreaming.

– Anthony, Waukee, Iowa

Weights and measures

Cactus Cafe, Springer, New Mexico

Towards the end of our full-timing adventure I became more interested in weights and measures and based on the Google searches directing people here, it seems I am not alone.

This may be because we acquired more heavy things (like a generator, heavy collapsible ladders, etc.) and dumping everything in the bed of the truck was certain to cause overload.

The only way to understand this problem was to start measuring. The results are attached at the bottom in three formats. I’m including the Microsoft Excel and Apple Pages files in case you might be interested in using this template for your own purposes.

Before you can use this yourself you must know your own front (steer) and rear (drive) GAWR, as well as GVWR and GCWR. These should be found on the driver’s side door of your tow vehicle. You can read a bit more about this in my previous posts here and here. In order to take the readings you need to go over a CAT scale, which are ubiquitous along interstates at truck stops.


In 3 of 5 readings we exceeded our rear (drive) GAWR. In the worst instance by 190 lbs. or 105%. In the same instance we exceeded the GVWR by 30 lbs. Both are fairly trivial but not desirable. I will note that in this instance performance and handling were not noticeably affected.

Simple redistribution of load brought us back under. Remember, due to leverage, load in the trailer places less weight on the tongue of your tow vehicle. Careful load distribution goes a long way.

An interesting conclusion from this data is that I cannot see how you could ever cross this Ford F150’s GCWR of 17,100 lbs. towing a camper. You will certainly cross the rear and front GAWR and GVWR well before.

These readings also led to my conclusion that I would probably opt for a 250/2500 for towing this particular trailer, doing it all over again. Although it can be towed safely and the truck delivers exceptional towing performance, it does require some attention to load distribution. There are some that argue this actually makes it a safer option, since people with bigger trucks often don’t bother distributing load optimally.

Data files:

PDF format

Apple Numbers format

Microsoft Excel format

– Anthony, Waukee, Iowa

Hellwig helper springs

Hellwig Helper Springs. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa

We’re all trying to avoid a saggy rear end, so I finally installed the Hellwig 61902 Pro-Series Helper Springs with Silent Feature.

These were straight forward to install without raising the truck or removing the wheels.

The installation took me about 90 minutes but would have been far less with the proper tool – namely an appropriate socket for my torque wrench. Instead I was forced to tighten all the screws using an adjustable wrench because I couldn’t invest the 20 minutes driving to AutoZone. Brilliant.

I simply followed the instructions and installed the springs to their minimum tension.

I only have one set of measurements so far but the result is that the rear wheel arches are 3/4″ higher than the front wheel arches with the Airstream in tow.

This is the best measurement I have ever taken, in contrast to previous results.

Date Rear arch Front arch Difference Trunnion bars Helper springs
8/31/2014 36 1/2″ 37 3/4″ – 1 1/4″ 800 lb. No
9/7/2014 36 3/4″ 36 3/4″ 0 1,200 lb. No
2/7/2015 37 5/8″ 36 7/8″ + 3/4″ 1,200 lb. Yes

You can see from the table above that switching from 800 lb. to 1,200 lb. trunnion bars on my Reese hitch did level the load by forcing more weight to the front. Compare the first and second readings and note in the second that the back end is higher and the front end lower than the first reading.

The third reading shows the effect of adding the springs. You see the front springs remain more compressed due to the 1,200 lb. bars, but the rear springs compressed about an inch less than before due to the Hellwig helper springs.

These results are an imperfect test. The first two readings were taken on a “full-time” load out. The second reading on a “weekend” load out. Imperfect but I believe still valid. Almost all the weight difference would be found in the trailer itself and even a few hundred pounds more in the trailer would result in something fairly trivial on the tongue due to leverage. So the effect on rear axle load should be marginal.

So I am confident the springs are effective. There is a lot more room for tightening should the load increase substantially.

It’s important to note that I am attempting to ensure a level load to reduce headlight glare to oncoming traffic. I am not attempting to exceed the rear GAWR.

One final quick technique you can use to assist with leveling: inflate the rear tires 5 PSI over the front tires, ensuring the tires remain within the manufacturer’s maximum pressure.

– Anthony, Waukee, Iowa

19 steps to winterizing

Sunrise. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

Below are the steps I take to winterize after each trip. I perform these steps at the campsite before leaving.

I have gone through this routine about a half dozen times this season with only one failure – in one instance I forgot to purge and add anti-freeze to the toilet causing a small and inexpensive plastic valve at the back to break. Don’t forget the toilet!

I have this down to about a 20 – 30 minute process.

My instructions are below. For items that may benefit from a bit of visualization, photographs are inline.

1. Turn off hot water heater (switch probably in the bathroom).

2. Run hot water until cold.

3. Disconnect city water line.

4. Remove water filter (under the galley sink).

5. Open low point drains.

6. When low point drains stop flowing, close again.

7. Open faucet and turn to hot (nothing will flow). This prevents the hot water tank from “gulping” as you drain it.

8. Open hot water tank from the outside – stand to the side! Leave this open while being transported and stored.

Airstream winterizing. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

The 3/4″ drain plug can be difficult to wrangle due to its extraordinarily bizarre placement. I use pliars.

9. Once hot water tank is drained, close bypass valve and close faucet previously opened (step 7). This valve is located by the hot water tank which, in the 28′ International, is under the front couch next to the sink.

Airstream winterizing. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

Note the winterized and non-winterized position – it will be marked next to the valve.

10. Hook up air compressor – set to 50 PSI.

Airstream winterizing. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

In the photograph above you will see my Bostitch pancake compressor attached to my water hose using a Camco Blow Out Plug. This purges the hose as well allowing it to be stored safely in the Airstream.

11. Go back inside, open up all faucets (including toilet and shower) one by one and purge. Repeat as necessary. You’ll probably be surprised how much water comes out.

11(a). You may need to do this for the outside shower as well unless you have previously winterized this.

11(b). You should purge the black tank flush intake as well. Do this once at the beginning of winter and don’t bother flushing the black tank for the remainder of winter.

12. De-pressurize compressor & detach from Airstream.

13. Open faucets and de-pressurize the system.

14. Attach anti-freeze hose line to anti-freeze.

Airstream winterizing. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

In the photograph above you can see a cheap Camco 36543 winterizing kit installed. This is a one minute install. Just leave it in place forever once installed.

Airstream winterizing. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

15. Turn on pump. Run faucets (including toilet and shower) one by one until pink comes out. Do not forget the toilet!

15(a). Do this for the outside shower as well. We avoid using the outside shower in winter after it has been winterized.

16. Put a cup of anti-freeze down all sinks, showers and into toilet bowl.This prevents (in theory) the rubber toilet bowl seal from drying out and cracking.

17. Re-open low drains and leave open while being transported and stored.

18. Drain fresh water tank (pepcock between wheels on road side) and leave pepcock open while being transported and stored.

19. Dump black and grey tanks.

Airstream winterizing. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

You may have to shovel out the dump station.

A nice video on this topic here, showing location of the low point drains and fresh water tank drain pepcock.

2015-02-18 update – things you’ll need:

– Anthony, Waukee, Iowa