Saga of the Sewer

Well, we’ve had a good run with very few mechanical issues, but this week I subjected our little house on wheels to a dose of self-inflicted pain.  No worries.  All ended well.  Better than well.  I learned some new things, including how to manually dump my sewage tanks via the gravity method (ah, the beauty of simplicity) rather than relying on my macerator (an electronic means of pumping out the waste tanks.)  I had been meaning to do this for a long time.  What can I say?  Necessity is the best remedy for procrastination.

Back to the saga.  This week I found a place to fill my propane tank.  I pulled it up on Google Earth to see how it looked for maneuvering.  It looked great.  There was a big sign welcoming RV’ers, and they had an entrance from the main road in the front or the road in the rear.  If I came in from the rear road, I would be lined up with their propane tank very nicely.  So smart.  So smug.

Toodling merrily along, I aimed for the rear entrance and stopped short of pulling in when I saw the severe dip between the road and their driveway area.  “Recipe for disaster!” I thought to myself as I veered back onto the road.  I have a wonderful rig, but nothing is perfect.  One of its weak points is the rear driver’s side corner, which has the macerator contraption hanging down a bit.  If that rear end bottoms out and that gets bumped, watch out!  So I circled around to the main road in the front to pull in.  That had a dip, too, but compared to the one in the back it didn’t look nearly so bad.

Confident we would clear the dip all right, I gingerly forged ahead.  Clunk… Scraaaaaaape…  Ugh.  I pulled into the parking lot, got out, and looked at my rear end.  Water was tinkling from a gap where the pipe from my waste tanks connects to the macerator.

Upon returning to the campground, I unpacked my never-used, traditional waste tank dump kit from its brand new box and managed to figure out how to do the deed the old fashioned way.  It wasn’t tricky at all and it worked great.  I was happy to see that at least the waste tanks and the pipes attached to them were in good shape.  Unfortunately, that gap in the pipes leading to the macerator side of things continued to leak, even when using the manual dump method.

Luckily, my rig was built by a company that is very responsive with their after-sales support.  I called the manufacturer, Phoenix USA (website:  www.phoenixusarv.com).  The fellow who runs the place recommended I have someone remove the macerator, seal up the pipe at the break point, and continue to dump with the gravity method.  The next time I visit Phoenix with my annual-or-so honey-do list, they would fix everything for the cost of parts and a labor rate of just $50 per hour.

I visited two local RV shops to see if they could do the recommended work.  One would not even look at it for less than a $60 charge, after which they would charge $115/hour.  Adding insult to injury, they wouldn’t be able to fit me in for at least two to three weeks.  Please know that during this time I would not be able to use my black tank (the one attached to the toilet), because even using the gravity dump would result in leakage from the broken pipe area.  It’s one thing to tinkle dishwater on the ground.  It’s quite another to tinkle toilet water.  This meant I would be taking the tiny-bladder walk of shame to the public restrooms for weeks, many times a day, and a couple of times in the middle of the night, just to, well, okay, say it:  pee.

The other shop could work on it sooner, but they would charge $125/hour.  Worse, they were very hazy about how many hours the job would take.  Basically, I would have to spend a nice chunk of change just to find out that I would not be able to afford to have either of these places do the job.  The RV repair business is apparently very good in this neck of the woods at this time of year.

Hoping that I could somehow take care of the damaged area myself by bandaging it, I went to good old Walmart and bought some plumbers tape to go with some caulking I had at home.  My ever-helpful next door neighbor, Bill, came over to check on my progress and provided me with some Gorilla tape, which is apparently the miracle of all miracle tapes out there.

Before crawling under the rig to clean and dry things off, I filled up my waste tanks with plenty of fresh water and hooked the gravity dump system back up.  I wanted to make sure the leak was indeed small enough to withstand a simple patching job.  Flicking the switch to open the waste tank valve, I held my breath and peeked underneath the rig.  Sigh.  Water was gushing out four times faster than when I had first done the damage.

So much for the do-it-yourself attempt to put a bandaid on an arterial hemorrhage.

Next step?   Search for an honest, competent repair person to remove the macerator and seal off that pipe for a more reasonable price than the local RV repair shops.

Luckily, I have been at this campground for nearly two months and have met some very helpful, friendly people.  It is owned and operated by the Escapees RV Club, which also handles my mail (website:  https://www.escapees.com).  I like staying at Escapees campgrounds in the winter months as the monthly site fee is very reasonable and there is a real community feeling in the park.

After listening to my dilemma, our friend Uncle Joe (yes, the very same fellow who is adored by Dawny) mentioned a man named John who he thought might do plumbing work on the side for others.  I found John and his rig on the other side of the campground on the second day of searching.  He was deeply involved in some project on his generator, lying on his back, surrounded by an impressive assortment of tools.  Unfortunately, it turns out that he only works on his own rig, occasionally helping friends with theirs.  Really nice guy, though.

Returning home, I called Jim, who was recommended by the Crystal at the Escapees CARE Center, where I had volunteered two summers ago.  Jim said he would come by later that afternoon to assess the problem.  I also talked to my friend Marsha, who recently celebrated her 20th year as a solo full-time RV’er.  She gave me lots of good advice and encouragement throughout the ordeal.

Later in the afternoon, two fellows pulled up in front of my RV in a red jeep.  It was John and his friend Paul, dropping by to scope out my problem.  They gave me wonderful advice on exactly how I could perhaps seal the leak myself.  Even I, with my basic tools and my simple mechanical brain, could follow their directions.  Regardless of whether I pursued that option or not, it was so heartening for those gentlemen to pop by for a look, a chat, and an education on silicone caulking and plumbers’ epoxy.  Marsha says that in the early days of the Escapees parks, all you had to do was pop open your hood and half a dozen fellows would show up, half of them with tool boxes.

Shortly after John and Paul left, Jim arrived–polite, competent, and wildly charming.  We got down on the ground and looked at the situation, discussed the possibilities, and parted ways with his promise to return the next day to either cap off the pipe at the break or do a complete repair, depending on what he found when he got into the job.

“What is your rate?” I asked.

“Oh, whatever you think,” he replied.  He was confident that it would not take long and simply trusted me to offer appropriate recompense.

Oh my.

Jim returned by lunch time the next day.  He removed the macerator, secured the connection pipe, and we tested everything to make sure there were no leaks.  We also had a wonderful time chatting about everything from lying, cheating spouses to God and the power of Love.

I am good to go.

You know the craziest part?  The night before the incident occurred, I dreamt that the entire plumbing system in my rig fell apart.  The fresh water tank was over there, waste tanks over here, pipes here, faucets there, water water everywhere.  It was a very disturbing scene, reminiscent of  Dorothy’s poor friend, Scarecrow, after the flying monkeys had their way with him.

There are spots along this yellow brick road that sure can throw some wicked, rotten apples.  It’s nice to know I have friends and allies to help dodge them.  I just need to open my heart, have confidence, and not be afraid to lean a little on others.

There is, indeed, no place like home . . . wherever it happens to be parked.