Our House Came Home :)

Dawny and I were without our house for ten days.  Yesterday it came home.  What a splendid feeling it was to drive it out of the shop, speed down the highway at 65 mph–faster than our normal speed, but I wanted to test things out–and return to our friends’ ranch, where they had generously accommodated us in a private apartment over the barn.

On the way back to the ranch, I settled comfortably into my well-worn driver’s seat, breathed a huge sigh of relief, and sent out a prayer of gratitude.  For a stroke of bad luck, we were blessed with several strokes of extraordinarily good luck.  The squeaking noise we had occasionally heard on the way to Texas was due to a nasty rear axle/nut/bearing/brake situation.  It was a major repair job.

Fortunately:

  1. We are lucky that the problem did not deteriorate to the extent that it caused us to have an accident on the road.
  2. There was a Ford dealer/repair facility nearby that serviced RV’s, which is not an easy thing to find.  (Our RV is built on a Ford E-350 chassis.)
  3. Although our Ford bumper-to-bumper warranty recently expired, this problem was covered under the drive-train warranty, which was still good.
  4. Our bill upon leaving the repair shop was a mere $7.00 to cover the cost of the annual Texas vehicle inspection.
  5. Our friends made us feel welcome and gave us a safe, comfortable place to stay, even though our week-long visit stretched to two weeks.

Keep in mind that Dawny and I travel in our 25-foot motorhome and do not tow a car behind (often referred to as a ‘toad.’)  When the rig goes into a shop for routine maintenance, we wait around for it.  This was the second time in three and a half years that it went in for a lengthy repair and we were unable to stay with it.  The first time (August/September 2014), we happened to be visiting my son’s dad and were able to stay with him for the duration.

When researching the full-time RV lifestyle nearly four years ago, I read lots of opinions about whether or not to pull a toad.  In order to keep costs down, I decided to start out not towing and, if it looked like a necessity, I could change my mind later.  Not only would it save a lot of money not having to insure and maintain a second vehicle, I wanted to keep things as simple as possible in our new life.  KISS–keep it simple sweetie!

I have no regrets about going toad-less, but I do wonder what things would have been like had we not been with friends during these two major repair jobs, which together totaled about 20 days.  I suppose I would have rented a car and stayed in a pet-friendly hotel.  That would have been expensive, but still a lot less than the cost of owning an additional vehicle all this time.

I really missed our little house, and I am so happy it is home.  We are home.  And soon we will be back on the road, house and all.

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.

Been Awhile

It’s been awhile since I posted any tips about living in and maintaining a house on wheels, probably because I lack technical talent and expertise.  But I suspect there are a fair number of travelers out there in a similar boat so, for whatever it’s worth, here are some of my latest tips and experiences from RV-Noobville.

What should you do when your air conditioner rains on you?  Well, yes, after frantically turning it off and mopping things up, get its manual and read it (hopefully you’ve already read it through at least once after taking delivery of your rig).  That’s how I found out that when operating the A/C in high humidity (most days the air is quite soupy here, even under a sunny sky), you should run the fan on high all the time.  This allows the unit to more effectively rid the air (and itself) of humidity and condensation.  I had the fan on auto, so it would only run when the A/C turned on, and the condensation built up inside the unit to the point that it eventually started raining on me.

What should you do when your refrigerator gets wonky?  Yes!  Run back to that stash of manuals and read.  If it is still under warranty, as mine barely was, call the customer support number and pick their brains.  Unfortunately, the refrigerator company (Norcold/Thetford) would not talk to a mere customer about such things.  They only speak to an approved RV technician who will be doing the work.  On the other hand, customer service for my Surge Guard unit was very helpful and gave me information that even the experts on the ground did not know, which I will share in case it is helpful to someone else.

A little background on the problem, first.  In late April I was unable to hook up to electrical power at the campground post.  This happened regardless of where I was.  My built-in Surge Guard is designed to detect faulty electrical input from the electrical post.  The error screen will show if there is a faulty ground or reverse polarity situation.  In my case, the screen went totally blank.  It would not give an error message, and if I changed to a different post, the problem still occurred.  Over and over again.

First suspecting the problem was with the Surge Guard unit, I referred to their manual.  Finding nothing helpful, I called their customer service number and lucked into a terrific technician who gave me great information.  It turns out that the unit also will detect something fishy going on within the RV’s electrical system.  It will detect any feedback, such as an open ground or open neutral somewhere within the RV and then not allow the connection.  Nothing showed up on the error screen because the problem was not at the post.  Armed with this information, I turned the refrigerator entirely off before trying to hook up.  Success.  Then I turned the refrigerator on to electrical (vs. propane) mode manually.

Assured by both the Surge Guard technician and the builder of my rig (Phoenix Cruiser, whom I had also called for help) that it was not a dangerous situation, I figured I would just continue to operate that way. Keep the refrigerator on manual mode, switch it to propane for travel, turn it off when hooking up to electric or firing up the generator, then manually setting it to electric mode.

Things escalated, though, a few weeks later when the refrigerator stopped working on propane entirely.  This is a problem when you have a refrigerator full of food and it is a travel day.  I was able to prevent spoilage by running my generator while driving, which provided A/C power to the frig, but I really preferred to be able to use the propane.  Besides, at this rate, who knew when the electrical side of things would stop working, too, and I would be totally out of luck (and milk and cheese and frozen burritos and fruit cups and cottage cheese…).

So, after arriving at my summer park, I found an approved warranty shop to look at the refrigerator.  They weren’t terribly interested in what I had learned about the Surge Guard and feedback from within the coach.  They simply determined it needed a new circuit board, and the following week installed one.  Everything worked on automatic mode–switching from propane to electric and back again–when they tested it using the generator.  Yay.  But when I got back to the campground, I sadly encountered a blank Surge Guard screen and no power unless I turned the refrigerator off prior to hooking up to the electrical post.

Now that the one-year warranty is up on most of my appliances and systems in the coach, I am reluctant to pay $125 per hour to have this shop try to figure out what is really wrong, because I suspect the problem is not originating in the refrigerator.  Instead I will probably swing by Phoenix Cruiser this Fall and have them thoroughly check things out.  They only charge $50 per hour to work on their rigs and they know best how everything works and what to do when it doesn’t.  Hopefully everything continues to work on manual switchover, or at least on electric mode, until then.

Final point, don’t be afraid to ask.  Ask questions.  And ask for what you need.  While searching the RV forums (two of the best for me have been the Escapees’ forum at www.rvnetwork.com and Phoenix Cruiser’s forum at www.phoenixusarv.com), I found that Norcold refrigerators have a fairly bleak reputation for reliability.  One of its problems is the door, which can break at the hinge and fall off.  Norcold sells an after-market kit to reinforce the hinge, but that does no good if the door is already broken, in which case you have to buy a whole new door.  So, while the shop was on the phone with Norcold to order a new circuit board, I asked them to request a hinge reinforcement kit at no charge.  Norcold obliged and sent one along with the circuit board.  I’ll put that on myself.

I also discovered that the seat belts in my dinette are only long enough to secure a child or skinny adult.  I contacted Phoenix Cruiser and asked if they would reimburse me for seatbelt extenders.  Being the reputable company that they are, they agreed.  Again, don’t be shy about asking, especially when it makes sense!

Well, that’s more than enough techie talk for one day.  Apologies to any readers who have fallen asleep by now, but hopefully the information and my experiences will be useful to someone.  As for the rest of you, I hope you needed a good nap!

(Photo shows Dawny performing tricks with her tongue rather than helping me out with RV maintenance tasks.)