Ogallala to Fort Robinson Nebraska. RV Holding Tank Maintenance

Karen, Wyatt and I have moved off the Kansas Prairie and spent a few weeks in Nebraska on our way to South Dakota. The scenery just keeps getting better. We can only imagine what the rest of the country will look like once we get there during our journey of discovery. Near the end of this post I’ll discuss what I’m doing to maintain our waste water holding tanks and appreciate any comments regarding your own methods.

We traveled from US 36 Highway north on US 83 in Kansas. Both excellent roads. West on I-80 for about 60 miles to Ogallala Nebraska.  We then took US 385 all the way to Custer South Dakota with a side stop west of Crawford Nebraska at Fort Robinson State Park. Pulling our 15,000 pounds of  high-profile fifth wheel with a dually truck. In this part of the open country there can be random high winds. It was so nice to be away from the city traffic with changing views from prairie to big rocks known as buttes. Our return trip will include a drive through Nebraska’s scenic Route 2 between the sandhills beginning at Alliance Nebraska. I have already confirmed with Nebraska State Park staff that Route 2 will be no problem for us.

One might not think of Nebraska as being an RV destination spot. We did not see many RV’s heading north on US 385 from I-80 while the campground at Fort Robinson State Park was mostly full of locals. However, western Nebraska, especially Fort Robinson outside Crawford might very well be one to put on the list as a must see. I discovered it while route planning via US Highways and avoiding Interstates. When I went to my own list, compiled over six years of reading other’s blogs, this is what I found: Only notes to stop at the Strategic Air Command Museum and Omaha Nebraska. Both located in eastern Nebraska.

There is not much to see in Ogallala Nebraska which is a frontier town at the end of cattle drives out of Texas. We spent four nights at Country View Campground. Having just come out of the “wilderness” we wanted time to cleanup the rig and rest with full-hookups. Country View is definitely great for an overnight stop with quick access off I-80, large pull-through spots with little to no interstate road noise. We watched a YouTube video prior to arrival to make sure we did not miss anything in town. Downtown was a store front built to look like an old western town (closed for now due to the virus thing.) We toured Boot Hill Cemetery where the dead from gunfights filled the hill. There is a local lake which is popular but we skipped it. Notably is the underground history of the area. The Ogallala Aquifer covers 175,000 square miles under portions of eight states. It does not rain much in western Nebraska, receiving just 1/3 the annual rain totals of eastern Nebraska as not much rain makes it past the Rocky Mountains. Locals say the Aquifer is the main source of crop irrigation and in parts of the state the water is exposed at the surface in the form of springs.

Store front in Ogallala Nebraska. In the parking lot is a marker regarding the cattle drives from Texas.

They discovered graves down hill from the Boot Hill Cemetery while constructing roads. The hill itself is hard to remove for construction.

Next Stop –  Fort Robinson

I’ll not retype notes about the history of Fort Robinson listed on their website. The Fort was an active military post from the time of the Indian Wars and beyond World War 2. It housed the Red Cloud Indian Agency, holds the spot where Crazy Horse was killed, was the largest cavalry post for training with 30,000 horses. At one time half the war dogs used in WW1 were trained here and German POWs during WW2 were kept here. And it’s the location for the famous Buffalo Soldiers. The State of Nebraska bought the military post after it closed. The post is surrounded by rock formations known as buttes. It’s wide open with many of the original buildings still standing or reconstructed.

Currently, the officer’s homes and one enlisted barracks are used as a hotel or single family rental. It’s amazing and was well worth the one week stay. Fort Robinson is popular as a family reunion location because of the sleeping quarters you can rent. The indoor olympic size swimming pool is another good feature! There are added cost for some events, such as a pool pass or small fee for using the RV shower buildings. We camped in the Red Cloud Loop with full hookups. Found a great spot (#106) on a curve within the loop that is easy to back-in with no neighbors on one side.

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Most of the extra activities were shut-down due to the virus thing. Normally you can take a wagon or horse ride. Sit inside at the post theater for a live play. Museums are setup all over the post inside old buildings, most were open as was the post restaurant. This is no small Fort. Thousands of soldiers lived here and the buildings are spread-out down well kept paved roads. Bring your bike! There are day trips you can take from the post. We drove out to the Toadstool National Geological Park. Fort Robinson State Park covers 20,000 acres where we even found a nice creek for our dog Wyatt to swim in near the tent camping area.

1887 View of Fort Robinson

Yes, I took this photo but this one could be on a post card

Some areas of the State Park are identified with only markers, such as this area where military dogs were trained. I found this old photo on the Nebraska State Historical Society site.

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Soldiers Creek. No telling how many Indians and US Troops drank from here in the 1800’s.

About 30 miles down the road is Toadstool National Geological Park. It is located in the middle of nowhere. The first 2.5 miles of gravel road will get you thinking about turning around because it’s that rough to drive in a truck. We felt it was worth the trip. There are hiking trails within the park but not much shade. We only covered about a mile of the park. With our young dog we did not want him to overheat. I’ll describe the park as what the moon surface must look like.

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Trick I learned in the sun. Wear a cheap long-sleeved white T-Shirt.

While in western Nebraska we learned the area was formed by an ocean and volcanic activity. Lots of sand around here!

Now for some RV related business: Holding Tank Maintenance

We have finished our first year on the road. I’ll write about that later.  We traveled in this RV for six months prior to going fulltime. Waste water tanks and especially tank sensors, have been challenging to figure out.

Someone else already figured it out which is my preferred way of learning. I wish Lee over at the Camper Chronicles Blog had written this post earlier. He discusses tank treatments and much more. Click here for the article.

For the sake of keeping this short; I have two topics/challenges to discuss.  How to clean the tanks and how to get our tank sensors to work.  For those that do not have an RV –  waste water from the toilet and kitchen are stored in tanks until you dump them at a sewer connection. There are sensors in tanks that are supposed to indicate how much tank space remains. Our sensors are mounted outside the tanks in the form of pads. Our black tank, no matter how much I clean it, will not indicate below two-thirds full and the grey water tank sensor will not indicate below one-third full. In short, I give up on the sensors and have just learned how to know when they are approaching full.  No point in worrying about it.

My second point about the subject is I have learned the best way to clean a waste water storage tank is have clean water in it while traveling down the road in the RV. The water motion helps. I sometimes fill the black tank with fresh water after dumping and then drain it again. But be careful not to overfill it as water pressure varies by campground. I’ve learned to gauge how much water is going in the tank using an actual water gauge (counter) or just filling it for five to seven minutes. (Update – I have learned, and even found a warning sticker, that you should not flush the blank tank with the drain valve closed.  The risk of overfilling is too great.  You could cause damage to the tank or water can seep out of the connections where the pipes go into the tank. )

For now, every now and then I place about five gallons of a solution in each tank before traveling, preferring to use liquid dishwasher soap and Borax or Calgon when I can find it. I am still using Happy Camper for a black tank treatment as I do not have the nerve to not use a treatment.  So far, the only time our black tank smelled inside the camper was when it was nearly full.

(Update 10/6/20) After writing this post I found a survey conducted in a major RV newsletter. About 2,000 RVers responded to the survey which found 78% of people use an RV holding tank treatment while half the remaining people either don’t use a holding tank treatment or sometimes use one. I still use a treatment (Happy Camper) nearly always, however at times when we are only stopped for a few days I might just use a few squirts of dawn dish soap. You should dump the black tank when it is at least 2/3rds full. When I dump the tank when not nearly full, I spend extra time filling it partially with fresh water and then dumping it (back flushing). It is not proper to flush a black tank at a dump station when other Rvs are waiting in line. When that happens I use the grey tank water to quickly backflush the black tank.

We are currently living in the Black Hills of South Dakota for a month. We plan to be back in Texas by November 1st with stops along the way. I’ve been thinking about what will become our one year on the road blog post. I’m leaning away from – we did this we did that – and will most likely get real and tell ya what can happen that will make you consider leaving the road – not that we are.

11 thoughts on “Ogallala to Fort Robinson Nebraska. RV Holding Tank Maintenance

  1. Try tanktechrx. I used happy camper for years and it did an ok job, but when I changed to tanktechRX not only did the tank not smell it also dissolved all the solids and toilet paper.

    Also I have been reading your blog and glad to see you out here.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I added Tanktech to my list to possibly try. I’ve used two other products specifically designed to clean sensors with no luck. I’m wondering now, especially as our sensors are outside the tank, that over time a film develops on the tank walls which cause external sensors to malfunction. Presumably the best way to clean them would be to insert something that sprays the walls down with a cleaning agent. I’m happy with Happy Camper but wonder if a liquid treatment would spread out better in the tank and also be easier to use in that Happy Camper, a powder, should be mixed with water then flushed down the toilet/sink into the tank. Happy Camper at about 50 cents a treatment is not expensive. I then think about Lee’s article and have to think all the chemicals are nearly useless as they are diluted in large holding tanks which are dumped within a week or two from the time they are full. They are not septic systems because there is no time for everything to work.

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  2. Western Nebraska is surprisingly an unexpected gem filled with unique scenery and fascinating history. We’ve been full-time for over seven years and the only thing we use in our black tank is Dawn and occasionally Borox. Since we just replaced both tank valves, our tanks were totally open and exposed. We used a garden hose and sprayer to thoroughly clean the tanks. We literally had our noses six inches from the opening with a flashlight looking inside the tanks (no pyramids). In our opinion, Dawn and lots of water work great. No need for chemicals and our senses worked for the first time in eight years … well, they worked for a few days anyway 😁.

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    • How much Dawn do you put in the tank to start out with? Or do you just clean it with Dawn or Borox?

      You just made the case for limited chemicals! I’m thinking I will drop off the use of Happy Camper and give it a try while I still have a supply in case we want to go back to using it.

      I had been using liquid dishwasher soap for cleaning while driving because it does not produce as much suds. But the last time I bought it there was a bleach smell. And I don’t use bleach anywhere there is rubber like in tank valves. I like the idea of using Dawn as it’s something we already carry around.

      My prior travel trailer was nice in that you could see directly into the black tank and I could clean it with a wand. Tank sensors always worked. There is a bend in the pipe leading from the toilet to the tank in our current fifth wheel so no chance of using a cleaning wand.

      “No need for chemicals and our senses worked for the first time in eight years … well, they worked for a few days anyway”. Figures!

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      • Oops, I meant to type “sensors”. That’s too bad you can’t use that wand. Our toilet is just a straight drop and I can hear when the tank needs to be dumped. So we don’t really need the sensors, plus by now, we know our rigs capabilities pretty well.
        Dawn – After Al dumps both tanks, he’ll close the black valve and let the swirly (technical term 🤣) fill the tank with fresh water while I flush a squeeze of Dawn. He leaves the swirly filling for 5 minutes and then opens the valve. If I use too much Dawn, there’s too much suds backing up requiring another valve closure and fresh water fill … extra clean 😁. Once the tank is drained and valve closed. I’ll add another squeeze of Dawn with a healthy flush of water. So there’s always Dawn and water in our black tank. It really doesn’t take a lot of soap. A medium size bottle of Dawn will last us around 3 months (kept in bathroom – have different bottle for kitchen). Maybe it’s a tablespoon or two. FYI – we flush a limited amount of TP – girls use garbage can for #1 TP.🤫
        As much as it was stressful to replace the tank valves, the upside was discovering how clean we’ve managed to keep our tanks.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. How absolutely breathtaking!! I absolutely love that travel west. So much rich history just hours from our doorsteps… but you guys bring it to your door steps every day.
    I see that it’s a lot of work to travel, plan, and settle in… but what a glorious adventure you bring everyone into with your blogs. Thank you for sharing with those of us tied to our stationary structures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Deanna…. While at Fort Robinson or Toadstool, I wondered if the views were just like what we would be seeing 120 miles north in the Black Hills. The answer is no. The Black Hills has its own beauty. I should be posting the first half of the Black Hills in a couple weeks or less. Staying in one spot for a week or month sure does give us a chance to learn the roads and sites. Also a break from planning which has fortunately become more of a system instead of a search for resources to help plan and navigate.

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  4. Fantastic! I had to reread parts of my blog to see where we were in Neb. I’d love to see the fort and the toadstools. It’s on my list..
    Great pics! Like most of us FTers we eventually don’t do much for our tanks. At least we stop worrying about it. We use lots of water, leave valves closed and dump when we need to. We dump some Dawn, Softener and/or Borax in every week or two after tanks are clean and before driving to next stop. We also add a few gallons of water to help slosh. Only time our sensors worked was the first few times. No big deal. We know we can go a month on our black, and about 2 weeks on our galley and about 1 week Or so on our gray.

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  5. Pingback: Abilene Kansas – Visit Dwight Eisenhower and More | Our Future in an RV

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