Adventure Stories

Converters and Beyond for the Longer Boondocker

In the face of rising fuel costs, we believe that extended boondocking and the considerable savings extended bookdocking can provide will be a critical key to the short and long term growth of the truck camper market. To support this belief, we are seeking out and talking to the experts who can help us to extend our boondocking capabilities.

As a long time truck camper, Randy Kleven is serious about conserving power for longer boondocking.  In fact, he owns a company called Best Converter that was founded on installing converters for this express purpose.  Since then he has branched out into other 12-volt systems and components but the focus remains the same, power conservation and longer boondocking.

TCM: How did you get into truck camping?

Randy: My first memories of truck camping are from the early 1970s when my parents bought a 1971 Dreamer.  Dad wasn’t a gambler, but I remember he got lucky in Vegas one time and the next thing I knew I had a Yamaha 60 MX dirt bike.  We went out dirt biking with our friends in the Mohave Desert for about ten years with the Dreamer.  We also did a lot of beach camping at Carpinteria.  Those are a lot of good memories.

TCM: Sounds like you’ve got some stories.

Randy: Oh yes.  The most memorable camper experience as a kid was when I was a senior in high school and convinced my parents to let me take the camper with two buddies on a surfing trip to Mexico.  Actually, I told them it was a surfing trip but I didn’t tell them about Mexico.  We had discovered that the drinking age in Mexico was only 18.  We made it to Mexico and didn’t do as much surfing as we had intended.

Coming back across the border, the truck broke down in the long border crossing line.  The starter had gone out and we literally pushed the camper back into the United States.  Once across the border, we got a tow truck to take us to a gas station where we got a starter.  True story.

TCM: Did you get in trouble when you got home?

Randy: I don’t know why, but during that trip we got into a watermelon fight inside the camper.  When I got back, mom went out to the camper and everything she touched was sticky.  I lost my privilege to use the camper without adult supervision.

TCM: How did you become an Apache helicopter pilot?

Randy: My dad was a pilot and I decided I wanted a career in aviation.  I joined the military and applied to flight school.  I was accepted and became an attack pilot in the army.  I served twenty-one years and twenty-seven days.  Most of that time I was an AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter pilot.  I was stationed in Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Germany, Bosnia, Korea, and my last station was in Idaho.

TCM: Did you do any RVing when you were in the service?

Randy: Yes. I bought my first RV, A 1976 Airstream, in 1997.  I used the Airstream to introduce my family to RVing.  All along I knew I wanted a camper because of its versatility and my fond memories as a kid.

TCM: At what point did you get into RV electrical systems?

Randy: As a kid I always had to conserve power in the camper but I didn’t know why.  Then I went to a NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway in the 90’s with a couple buddies, the Airstream, and one 12-volt battery.  We had to make that one 12-volt battery last three days running lights, the water pump, and furnace.  I thought there had to be a better way.

I knew if I wanted to extend my boondocking I needed a better converter.  So I started asking around for a better way to charge batteries than the old converter the Airstream had.  No one knew what I was talking about.  The RV dealers knew a little about a lot of systems but not a lot about any one of them.

That was the time that three stage switching converters entered the market.  Nobody seemed to know how they worked so I started studying up on them.  The next thing I knew all of my buddies wanted one for their RVs.  So instead of buying just one for myself, I convinced a distributor to sell me a case of them.  Then people started calling me who wanted them too.  I wasn’t really looking for a business, but business found me.

TCM: Are converters really that important?

Randy: I believe the converter is the heart of an RV.  Replacing your converter with a modern multistage converter will not only provide DC power but also rapid charge your batteries and extend your boondocking stays.  A lot of campers use a Magnetek Series 6300.  There are literally millions of these converters out there.  Many of your readers probably have them, I guarantee it.  The problem is that this converter takes forever to charge a battery.  What you can do with a three-stage charger in three hours will take twenty-four hours or longer with a Magnetek Series 6300.

And that’s all the buzz – faster charging.  We sell a lot of replacement chargers for people who want to boondock longer.

TCM: Were you still in the military when your business started?

Randy: Yes.  I was eyeing retirement in the military and was looking for a way to not join corporate America.  So I moonlighted selling converters for a few years.

When the opportunity to retire presented itself, I just opened the floodgates for the business.  I thought the business was there but I wasn’t sure.  My worst fear was retiring AND the phone would stop ringing.  That was the most fearful time in my life.

TCM: You were in the military for over twenty-one years and that was the most fearful time of your life?

Randy: It really was.  I rented an office and warehouse and committed to the business.  Before that I was working out of my garage and a twenty-four foot cargo trailer.  Turnover was so fast that I often didn’t get to unpack the palettes.  Everything would come in as palettes and go out the next day in quantities of one.  I never got the chance to set up storage or increase my inventory until I got the warehouse.

TCM: When did you finally buy a truck camper?

Randy: Once I retired from the military I immediately went out and bought a truck camper – a Lance 861.  I was the epitome of overloaded on my single rear wheel truck.  The combination was really a white knuckle, especially in the windy and narrow mountain trail roads where I like to go hunting and fishing.

TCM: So what did you do?

Randy: I decided to get a Ford F350 short box dually with a 6-speed manual transmission.  My next door neighbor is a general manager at a Ford dealership.  I told him what I wanted and he said, “It doesn’t exist”.  I said, “Well, make it for me.”  He laughed and said that he could possibly order one.

That week he got on his computer and one popped up on his database.  Some other idiot like me in the country wanted the same thing, ordered it, and then didn’t take delivery.  My neighbor called me and said, “You’re not going to believe this, but there is one – only one.”  He explained that I could have in any color as long as it’s white.  He had it brought in from Oregon and in a few days I had my dream truck.

Having the dually solved the sway and overload problem.  I took a 2,000 mile journey to Nebraska and 18-wheelers passing were no longer white knuckle experiences.  It was a night and day difference.  The only disadvantage is that the dually doesn’t always fit in the ruts of dirt roads.  It really hasn’t been a problem.

TCM: Have you made any upgrades to the truck and camper?

Randy: Yes.  Jim Tomblin (the subject of “Camper Batteries 101: The Basics” and “Camper Batteries 102: Digital Multimeters and Trimetric Meters”) suggested that I use the rig as a research and development platform for the products I sell.  So the light came on and I made a list of all the things to do to trick out the truck.

So far all I’ve done is install AGM batteries, a trimetric battery monitor, and upgraded to LED lighting.  I sell a lot of LED lights.  They are very low power consumption for boondocking.

I will be putting in a Pioneer AVIC-D3 in-dash GPS navigation system with a backup monitor in the truck.  I’ll be installing a couple hundred watts of solar equipment from AM Solar out of Oregon and we’re also going to carry their products.  I also plan to install a custom truck bed with 440 amp hours of AGM batteries.  That should allow me to go for several days without recharging.

TCM: Where do you like to go and what do you like to do when you go truck camping?

Randy: Probably the most beautiful place on earth is the Sawtooth National Forest in central Idaho.  There are literally dozens of high mountain lakes.  You can go white water rafting, fishing, hiking, and hunting.

I also have a permanent RV spot in Pine Idaho where I have an Airstream.  I have owned four Airstreams now.  I base out of the Airstream and them take the truck camper as deep as I want to go into the wilderness.


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