Solving Our Portable Power Problem

Two small generators connected are equal to the task of running our camper.

As most of you know I have a tendency to try crazy things, like the time I set up a portable camp toilet in the house to see if they smell bad. Sometimes it works, sometimes, like our cargo trailer conversion, it goes sideways. It drives my wife crazy but it sends me around the bend the way she drives my truck so, on the whole, we’re about even.

When casting around for a generator solution I found a nice 3,500 watt generator with good ratings from Harbor Freight. I like the Predator line of products and they get good reviews on YouTube. They’re as quiet as the more expensive Honda models at a fraction of the cost. The only problem was the weight. The 3,500 watt generator was too heavy to carry. Most people solve that by permanently mounting the unit on the drop gate on the back of the camper, if they have one, or mounting it in the bed of the truck.

I didn’t like either of those options and, on one of the rare occasions the wife went with me to Harbor Freight, she suggested just getting two of the smaller generators and a parallel connector. That solves the weight problem with the added effort of more maintenance and slightly higher upfront cost.

There was some question whether 3,200 watts would be enough to drive the A/C. The label on the parallel connector says it’s 30 amp but the directions suggest limiting the draw to 23 amps, which is 2,500 watts. I decided to just try it and if it overloaded I’d pull the plug.

A screen room is indispensable for camping or RV living. It’s the only place you can entertain and eat outside without being harassed by insects.

Each of the generators has a special parallel connector port. Assembling the two generators and the parallel connector was easy. It was so easy I kept thinking I must be missing a step. Satisfied, I fired up both generators, made sure they were run stable, and plugged in the camper with the A/C and refrigerator off.

A/C Off

The pair barely budged when I plugged in the camper when all of the major appliances were shut off, so that was no big surprise. It was the same story when I kicked on the central fan only. There was no detectable change in how the generators ran.

The bonus was I could barely hear the generators inside. If it doesn’t bother us, there’s less chance it’s going to bother the neighbors.

A/C On

Time for the big test. I flipped the camper system from FAN to COOL. This time the generators changed pitch (see video) and were obviously working harder. But the A/C compressor fired right up and the lights never flickered.

You could definitely tell the generators were working harder but not laboring. The readouts were solidly in the green.

A/C On, Plus Refrigerator

To my surprise, they barely budged. There was no detectable change in pitch when the refrigerator was added to load with the gas shut off so it had to use shore power. Then I kicked on the TV…still nothing. I sat there and watched TV with the A/C, refrigerator and TV going, figuring that was the most load we’d ever put on the power system. It hummed along with barely a hitch, output readouts glowing green.

The other big advantage I like to the two generator setup is being able to take one generator when I don’t need the full 3,200 watts. At our monthly model rocket club meet it’s nice to have a small generator that can drive a fan. Sitting out in the middle of a field in the Florida summer is brutal. A little moving air and an ice cold cooler can make a world of difference. Both of these units have 12 volt outside connections for running DC appliances as well and AC.

What do you know? One of my crazy ideas worked. Although this one is partially the wife’s because she suggested it. If we ever boondock or dry camp, I’ll definitely manage the load so we don’t push the system beyond capacity. As long as we can run the A/C in a pinch, we’re good for hurricane season.

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