Staying the course

Well I haven’t posted anything in a while so this will be a long one. We are still using the fifth wheel, more about that later, and have been camping. We got booted from our first attempt at a 30 day stay because of massive flooding of the Arkansas river and had to go back home. To make matters worse all our local reservations have been cancelled until October because the two local Corps campgrounds we stay at were basically destroyed. This has opened my eyes a little to the thought of living full time in the rv in a fixed location. Had we not had a house to return to it would have been difficult to find a place to stay that is within an hour drive of my work.

We did have a good vacation in Nashville though. We stayed at Safe Harbor RV Resort and it was one of the nicest places we have ever stayed. Great park with nice amenities, short drive to downtown, and lots of nearby restaurants. Some of the sites are small so look at the low numbered A section. The park is located on J Percy Priest Reservoir just SE of downtown. Our week long stay was very relaxing, so much so I forgot how to read a calendar and thought we had one more day before we were supposed to leave. We were an hour out of town visiting an old friend when we got the “why are you still here” phone call. The park host was very forgiving. When we got back it only took me 30 minutes to pack out and hook up. I offered to pay for the new peoples first night stay for having to wait on us but she wouldn’t let me ( She didn’t charge them either).

Now you probably want to know why the fifth wheel. Our DP purchase has turned out to be a lot more work than I anticipated. I knew of several issues that needed to be addressed like tires, roof reseal, engine service, replace house batteries, and the need to build a parking pad at the house. I had budgeted $10,000 to make the needed repairs. What I didn’t know was that there were a multitude of unknown problems that only appeared when you tried to fix something simple. This would be the start of an emotional roller coaster ride where one minute I am ready to tackle the issues and look forward to getting to use the bus to the next where I feel like I was hit in the head with a brick with no hope of survival.

To begin I replaced the aged out rear tires ( dated 2003) with 4 new Toyo’s. The cost was $400.00 each plus $150.00 to mount. In the process of doing that I found one of the leveling jacks leaking badly and on the way home the check engine light came on. I have a friend that runs a truck shop so I went directly there. I had him repair the sensor, remove and rebuild the jack, service the engine, and flush the radiator. Cost $1500 but at least he didn’t charge me for the fence I backed over in his parking lot. I also noticed the dash gauges for oil pressure and water temp aren’t working but since they work on the Aladdin electronic monitoring system I decide to wait on repairing that till later.

When we got home and started looking things over we noticed most of the windows are fogged up between the panes. I hadn’t seen it before somehow. I got an estimate on those from a local place and it will run between 3000 and 5000 dollars to get them replaced with either single pane laminated glass or repair the double pane glass. This won’t keep us from using it but will eventually have to be taken care of.

The next thing we decided was to replace the carpet. First step is to pull the old carpet out. They put this crap everywhere ! It was inside cabinets, on the walls, and under the cabinets. This required removing about 3 times as many things as I had planned on. To make it worse they not only used 1.5 million staples but some type of NASA designed industrial glue. I did a little research and ended up buying an oscillating cutter. Using that with a scraper blade on it was a lifesaver. I don’t know how I would have gotten the carpet out without it. The new carpet installed is quoted at $2200.00 but should be cheaper since we did the removal ourselves.

The discovery that was made upon removal of the carpet was moldy wet floor and many old leaks. You could not tell it had been leaking with the carpet in place and new carpet can not be installed until the leaks have been stopped, another unexpected surprise. I had to replace a couple of small pieces of sub floor and begin searching for where the water was coming from. As it turns out all the wiper seals on the slides need to be replaced. I knew the roof needed to be resealed so I started there. While resealing the roof I found the slide toppers were all trash and were funneling the rain water into the damaged wiper seals. They looked fine from the ground but the back center of every one was shredded. To make it worse whoever had it 2 owners ago left it outside and put the slides in while they were covered with leaves and debris. This caused gaps in the inner seals that let water come in freely. At this point pretty much all I could see was a giant vacuum in my bank account sucking me dry. I called a couple of RV places and estimates were roughly a grand per slide to replace the seals and another 500 dollars for each slide topper. One even said that to replace the inner seals the slides may have to come out (they would) which would make the cost higher. I was completely ready to cut my losses and move on. After a little liquid relaxation and a small hangover I again got out the research tools and scoured the internet. I was able to learn how to do the toppers and order the fabric, replace the seals and order the correct similar replacement, and learned a couple of tricks for removing the old ones. Currently I have two of the slides resealed and two of the toppers repaired and all the seals and fabric to do the other two. It takes me about 8 hours labor to completely do each slide but the cost was only $1100 for all the materials. I did not have to do anything to the inner seals. After cleaning out all the debris they were fine. I am just waiting for the next rainstorm to see how effective the repairs are on that side.

Because it is now summertime, I am limited to working outside the rv in the morning hours. My routine is start the generator and the a/c’s, work outside till I can’t stand it, then go inside. On the interior I have replaced all the halogen lights with LED’s and am in the process of painting. We also decided we wanted new furniture. The questions to be answered are matching or complementary colors, will it fit in the space, and will it fit through the door. After carefully measuring, shopping, measuring again and finally finding what we wanted that met the above criteria we ordered a power reclining love seat ($1200). I began the removal process of the jackknife sofa and got it out after completely taking it apart. Once removed I was greeted with the surprise of a 24″ deep platform that the sofa was built on. The love seat would require 39″ to support it. Not only was I going to have to build a platform that would support our weight but it had to move in and out with the slide and it needed to be removable to aid in the carpet installation. I was able to bolt in a couple of pieces of angle iron and used 2×6’s between them to create the platform. To help support the weight I put furniture movers on the bottom side to protect the carpet. On the other side we wanted an electric fireplace ($200.00) to go with the eurocliner and ottoman we already had. To accomplish this I had to remove a table and cabinet. After taking it out I also had to relocate an outlet and light switch. All in all not to bad right, wrong. In the midst of this the generator is now on the fritz and randomly shuts down and the refrigerator has stopped working.

There are many little things I had to patch and repair along the way and many more left to discover. I hope there is nothing else major. It is very hard to keep my eye on the ball when it keeps getting further away instead of closer but I am learning to stay focused on the project at hand then just move to the next one. At this point everything I am doing has to be done no matter whether we keep it or sell it because it is unmarketable the way it is. I think from a financial standpoint I will still be at least even( value vs investment) and when we are done everything will be working properly. I have saved thousands of dollars in labor costs by doing everything myself. So far the budget is looking a little unrealistic. To date I have spent about $9000 of my $10,000 budget. $2000 of that was for the gravel parking pad and electrical pedestal and another $2000 for the towbar and brake setup for the car which I installed myself. I still have to buy carpet, fix or replace the fridge, service the Aqua hot unit, service the generator and or repair it, and replace the television. I know I will be over budget the question is by how much. The good thing is by spreading it out over time I can keep everything paid for as I go instead of dipping into savings like I had planned to. The downside is I will not have the rv paid off as quickly as I had planned. I am about 40% done with the renovation and will just keep on keeping on. Hopefully it will be complete in time for our next vacation at the end of October. Its ironic that when I posted on the IRV2 forum about our purchase someone responded that I should plan on 20-30 thousand dollars to get it up to speed. At the time I thought they were being facetious, turns out they were probably spot on.

No more RV shows !!

Well after the disappointing RV show we Started casually looking around and found a friend of a friend that knew a guy ….. Our full time plans are now possibly delayed while we pay down some additional debt that we hadn’t planned on. We got a really good price and although it needs a few things I believe we will end up with a low mileage Diesel pusher in great condition for under 50k. This is a 2004 Beaver Monterrey Laguna and it is a dream to drive. So much easier than dragging a 38′ fifth wheel around and setup is so easy. We haven’t moved in yet and probably won’t camp in it till June. I will be replacing the carpet and a couple of window shades. Adding a safety device to the Norcold fridge, Installing new TV’s, and another round of new furniture. The biggest expense will be replacing the dual pane windows with single pane laminated glass because they are beginning to fog up. All the cabinets are solid cherry wood and are in excellent shape. New slide topper fabric is in order but all the major components work perfectly. The factory DVD was still in the DVD player lol.

I am beginning to think I am addicted to renovation projects. Really though this is where we were going in the long term but fate decided it was time to do it now.

Off Season

Don’t really have much to post as the weather has not been good for camping. Last night it was 20 degrees. I didn’t want to winterize so I turned on the propane heater and left it set to 55. I checked this Am and the basement was a toasty 45 degrees so I am not worried about anything freezing. The down side is we used a 1/2 of a 30lb tank of propane in one night. I don’t have enough power on that circuit at home to use the electric heaters out there.

We did go to the RV Show again this year and it was a little dissappointing.
At each of the vendors, they seem to carry one top of the line model then everything else caters to the newbies. I will say every year we go we seem to make some changes. Well this year we are making a big one. I will say Our final stay in our 5’er will probably be the last two weeks in March. Stay tuned…….

Bonded leather… UUUGH

Not mine but it is where it was headed.

In anticipation of living in our RV full time there were some obvious updates that needed to be made. We had the wonderfully comfortable and beautiful when new Thomas Payne furniture. When we bought the unit the couch had a couple of suspicious spots on it so we bought a cover. One day after a bike ride I came in and sat on the recliner and fell asleep. When I got up there was a circle of missing leather behind my head. It went quickly down hill after that. We decided it was time to either save $2000.00 and trade in or replace the furniture. After looking at many different layouts, including Class A’s, we couldn’t find anything that met our needs like the current unit does. The fact it is paid for was also a factor but not the deciding one. After much research we went with the Rec Pro replacements. Fabric samples confirmed it is not bonded leather but is similar to “pleather”. I ordered it and it showed up in three days.

Hopefully they don’t need to be able to read stickers to build furniture.

Unboxing and installing was easy and it was perfect. Removing the old furniture was a challenge with fractions of inches to spare. We had to dissassemble the couch into 4 pieces to get it out. The replacements were designed to take the backs off and was simple to install.

original stuff was so dark.
I do have to say this love seat was extremely comfy.
The lighter color gives it a whole different feel.

Time will tell but I am very happy with this furniture. It feels sturdy and the company was very easy to deal with. We also decided that since we hated the dining chair and table we would replace those also. More storage is always better so we went with ottomans instead of chairs.

That table is a moisture magnet. I wanted something we could put our paper plates on with hot food and no worry about fogging. I thought about stone but its too heavy. I considered butcher block counter top material but its too narrow. I found a place that makes restaurant tables from reclaimed wood. They had the perfect table top , the exact right size, and already finished with polyurethane. Best part is it was only $125.00 ! I entered the order and bam…. $350.00 for shipping, Um no. Rather than give up in disgust I called them and their website has a flaw in that it only calculates LTL shipping rates. They agreed it would go Fedx ground and the total bill was $200.00. I mounted it to the existing pedestal and it was perfect as expected.

We are all updated and ready to begin the next few months of half time living. From March through August we will be in the rv 50% of the time with a full 30 day stay in May. In june we are going straight from a week of vacation camping in Nashville to 2 weeks back locally without visiting the S&B. So far we are on track to be full time by next spring. I will still be working but saving tons of money till retirement time. Stay tuned !

Best mod ever !!

I am finally coming down to our most recent updates. When we had our TT the brakes worked perfectly. You had to keep the controller turned down to keep from sliding the tires. On the fifth wheel this was not the case. I had the brakes inspected, adjusted, and voltage tested on three separate occasions. Nothing I did would make the brakes do anything but pretend to work. Don’t get me wrong the truck braked fine under normal circumstances so it wasn’t unsafe just unacceptable. The deciding factor was when we were travelling down a 4 lane bypass at 65 mph came around a bend and there was a stoplight turning yellow. I really wanted to stop but there just wasn’t room. Fortunately, everyone was paying attention and we rolled through without incident.

I immediately began my search for something better. Research sent me to Kodiak Disc Brakes. I assembled all the items necessary from etrailer.com ( who is awesome btw) and had a friend of ours that owns a truck shop install them. The brake setup with the pump cost around 1800.00 and the installation was 1200.00. What I didn’t expect was for it not to work. Having knowledgeable friends do things is awesome as long as they are as smart as you give them credit for. I had studied and knew that the setup should work with my factory brake controller , not always the case. The mechanical portion of the installation was flawless but electrical was completely wrong. I yanked out everything they did and rewired it all myself. From that point forward they are amazing. It was expensive but this was by far the best upgrade I have ever done. Far cheaper than having even a small accident, it was well worth the money. From a safety standpoint I believe all large RV’s should come with disc brakes. I don’t have any pictures of the installation since I didn’t do it so I can’t share those but would be happy to answer any questions anyone may have about upgrading theirs.

Ventilation

I promise we are getting close to being caught up and these pesky daily posts will slow down quite a bit. Today’s post covers another must have modification, Max Air vent covers and remote controlled ventilation fan.

There are equivalent fans in other brands like Fantastic Fan but after researching many reviews and pricing options I chose the Max Air fan. It only takes one time of leaving the roof vent open during a rain event to consider the vent covers so If i was crawling up there with tools anyway I figured I might as well do both. The vent cover was so easy. It basically bolts right over your existing vent. It did require drilling 4 holes to mount the brackets but not in the roof. the hole are in a place where even if you mess it up they are not really exposed to water. The installation took only a few minutes and I believe pretty much anyone that can climb the ladder could do it.

While I was there I covered the seams with Eternabond tape. I plan on doing every seam on the roof eventually.

The fan installation was the scary part. If opening up a giant hole in the roof of your RV isn’t intimidating I don’t know what would be. Removal of the old fan was pretty straight forward. A billion screws and disconnect a couple of wires and done.

ridiculous factory fan is a total waste of time and money.


The most time consuming part was cleaning off all the old sealant. I used mineral spirits sparingly. Mineral spirits will damage your roof if left on too long. I kept the container inside that bucket to prevent spills. pour a little on the rag and rub it into the sealant. Using a putty knife ( plastic is safer) gently scrape and peel the old sealant off. Do not get in a hurry because you can cause the roof membrane to pull away from the underlayment. gently rolling stubborn areas with your fingers seems to work on those tough spots but be wary of blisters. It took about an hour to get all the old sealant off. Installing the flange, wiring it to the existing wires, and self leveling sealant to close it all up was a snap.

I did go back after the sealant had cured and put the Eternabond down over it. The fan lives up to it’s reviews. It pulls plenty of air in to keep us cool in the shade up to 80 degrees. It is relatively quiet but at high speed you can hear it running from anywhere in the RV. Down side don’t run it while flushing the toilet because you will pull fumes from the black tank. I also don’t run it for too long with the bathroom door closed for the same reason. The remote is the only way to go on these. It also has a thermostat to automatically turn it on and off but I have never needed the option. Only a couple more to catch us up and I will start posting about actually camping 🙂

Off the Grid

Today’s catch up post is about my biggest modification. As fairly new RV folks we had considered the prospect of dry camping as something that sounded like fun. The thought of be all alone and self sufficient seemed very appealing. The first step to this was making sure we could make coffee. Actually what I really wanted was to be able to be able to run the refrigerator in the outdoor kitchen while driving and run the indoor refrigerator while driving without using propane. I needed to keep the beer cold. Having to buy ice and deal with a heavy ice chest just wasn’t making me happy.

The idea was to upgrade from the toy like single battery that came in RV to 4 6 volt golf cart batteries. I did a lot of measuring and had plenty of room for everything in the front storage locker.

Removing the old was no problem. It was actually a brand new battery so I sold it to recoup a little of the cost of the new ones.I located a 4 battery box on amazon that would just fit in the space. Making sure there was a vent and drain in the bottom was first on the list. You don’t want battery acid in the compartment and you need an entry point for fresh air.

Making a drain out of pieces of the old battery box and rtv’ing it in place was my solution. It was a perfect fit.

Next up was properly venting the fumes to the outside. I used the existing vent hose and again utilized pieces of the old battery box.

Hooking everything into the existing electrical was a challenge and not for the faint of heart. I have some electrical experience and would not recommend this for a layman. There is a ton of conflicting information out there on the internet and you need to be able to weed out the BS or it is not going to be safe. The first thing I needed to do was open everything up and see where I was going to run the wiring.

Hmm. That’s a lot of extra space! I wonder if I can use it for something …. TBA

It’s a jungle in there.

Having a fifth wheel made this project a lot easier. There is plenty of room to crawl around in there and have access to everything. The inverter I am installing is a Xantrex Freedom 2000HFS 2000 watt with a built in 3 stage charger. The 3 stage charger will help extend the life of my new batteries. Disconnecting the old converter was easy. I just unplugged it and took out the fuses for the leads going to the batteries. If I ever need it due to a failure It can be hooked back up in a few minutes. With this setup I needed a transfer switch to go from shore power/Generator power on the cord to the inverter power. It was easily located in that compartment.

Because I was in there anyway I chose to also install a built in EMS with surge protection. This allowed me to monitor my electrical usage from inside the coach. This is very important when you have a 50 amp setup and are trying to use 30 amp power. Watching the amp draw from each on board appliance as it is used lets you really get a handle on energy management.

For the 120v side I used 10/3 Romex for everything and on the 12V side I used 2/0 cabling. I know this is all overkill but in the case of electrical more is much better than less. I also had the equipment to build all my own battery cables which made for a cleaner installation than premade ones. To protect the 120v input to the charger and the 120v output to the coach I purchased a breaker box with two 30 amp circuit breakers and for the 12v side I purchased a 200amp resettable circuit breaker. I think the final product came out pretty well.

The only hiccup to my set up is that because I wired the inverter into the whole coach system I have to make sure it does not engage automatically when we lose power. I wouldn’t want it to kick in while the a/c’s are running for example. It isn’t a big deal because it has a remote panel inside to turn it on and off and I knew this was an issue going into it. Overall it performs as expected and I have no issues with it. I have camped overnight using only the inverter because I didn’t want to go out in the rain and plug in the power cord when we got to the campsite. It keeps the fridges running indefinitely while travelling down the road so the beer is always cold when we arrive and there is no 100 lb ice chest to lug around. We have yet to truly use it dry camping but someday ….

Making it our own

Although we proclaim to love our fifth wheel there are always things that can be improved upon. Personalizing our possessions makes it feel more like our own. There are other things that are just downright annoying. Who in their right mind would use a 2″ tall backsplash. It’s like ” Here’s an idea let me start it for you and tease you with it.”

After a small amount of research I found similar vinyl tiles at Lowes. Removing the old was easy. Installing the new took a bit of patience.

It really was’t that expensive, if you try to forget it’s plastic, at around $150.00 total cost. I couldn’t stop there though and had to go all the way up.

The finished product alleviated my ocd stress and I think it looks very nice and most importantly complete.

Modification number 2 wasn’t even really for us. I always hated the way the step on all RV’s felt like they could fold in and collapse at any moment. Our TT was very difficult for our older pup to climb into because the steps are so far apart the new fifth wheel made it impossible for her. I did a lot of research and did not want steps that required modifications to the rv or that folded into the doorway. We finally decided on the TorkLift Glowstep Revolution. They looked a little dicey but got great reviews. They are also more expensive than other choices.

I love these. Very sturdy, very adjustable, and a snap to install. The wife loves them and the pup can go up and down with no problems.

Everybody is happy now. That’s all for today. My next post will be on my most complex project. Inverter installation and battery upgrade.

A little history

This completely describes how we felt when we got our first RV.

The next few posts will be playing catch-up on some past upgrades and experiences we have had with our RV hobby. I will try to be educational when I can and explain why we made some of the choices.

When we began our search we had decided we were bored. I am a cyclist and ride my bike quite a bit for fitness and enjoyment. Between full time work and 150 plus miles a week on the bike I was away from home a lot. I felt like we were drifting apart and wanted to do something to bring us closer. The answer was a camper. We found what we thought was the perfect one for us a 34′ TT with all the modern amenities. It was a great camper. Of course after a bit we began to realize a little more room here or less room there, doors blocking recliners, the work of leveling, jacking, hitching, ….. Oh and I don’t care what anybody says one ac unit in 105 temps in the sun don’t cut it. Coincidentally the local RV show was coming up so we decided to just go look. OMG so many floor plans ! We knew right away that there was a better choice in our future. I had just upgraded to a 3/4 ton truck because my 1/2 ton didn’t really like working so hard. With that added capacity after looking at everything available we decided our next camper would be a fifth wheel. Used was the only way we could afford one. The next weekend we went just to see what was available for our price range and next thing I knew we were pulling it home.

We had to move out of our TT and was amazed at how much crap we had collected in only one year of part time camping.

When we moved into the new one we only took about half this stuff. The dogs felt right at home immediately.

Moving to a fifth wheel was the best decision we could have made. It is so much easier to set up. The storage tanks are twice as big so we can go 2 weeks without dumping, Three if we conserve. This one was going to be our permanent RV. If you have the tow rig and you really want to glamp in style a fifth wheel is the way to do it. I was concerned with losing storage in the truck bed but there is so much more storage in the RV it wasn’t an issue. I can still keep the generator and the firewood in the truck in front of the hitch. This truck has a 6′ bed and I was concerned about jack knifing so I bought a slider hitch. I have never used the slider. If you have any questions about the move from a TT to a Fifth wheel shoot me an email. That’s it for today. My next post will be about my first upgrade.