We got our RV!
And broke it on the first day 😦
Not what we wanted, but there are three things we have learned from times like this:
- Things go wrong in RVs, as in life – sometimes minor, sometimes major.
- Accept that there will be problems & trust we’ll figure them out.
- Understand that challenges make us smarter & stronger (although we’ll probably appreciate them more once we’ve got them sorted).
When I last posted about our RV deal, the seller was not happy. I feared he might back out of the sale. Then he was at the beach for a week and the RV was in the shop. Finally, after another stressful conversation or two, we had a deal.
We wish we’d paid a few thousand less, but decided that we liked the Dutch Star enough to move forward with no further concessions. I’m fairly certain that if we’d walked away from it the reality of the current market in our area would likely have meant buying in Florida or Texas – something that we know from our two previous offers would have been a logistical pain in the ass. We feel reassured by the inspection, and by what we’ve experienced with it so far, that it’s as solid a coach as they come.
To close the deal, Brian and I met the seller in the lot at Integrity RV Service Center (where the coach had undergone maintenance and a few repairs that we did not have to pay for, thank God).
After the paperwork was done I headed for the owners’ office to grab a copy of the inspection checklist. I hesitated when I saw that Dean and Peggy, Integrity’s owners, had a guest in the office. They motioned me inside, though, and it turned out their guest was a local city councilman I’m well acquainted with. Not always thrilled with the guy’s political decisions, but he’s a likable person who was usually on the wrong side of the former tyrant of a mayor. For that I can forgive many transgressions 🙂
Anyway, Mr. City Council Guy owns an RV similar to ours. He bought a year or so ago, I believe, and intends to live in his RV and travel full time when his term of office is up. He’s the first person I’ve met around here who’s actually going to full-time it (though I’m sure he’s past working age and will primarily just travel).
Brian had closed the shop just long enough to sign the paperwork and get the RV home. We knew we couldn’t do much of anything until we could level it; that would have to wait until Brian returned home that evening. I was done chit-chatting, though, and eager to get the RV out of Integrity’s lot and into our driveway.
“Ready to roll that bad boy out of here?” I asked Brian.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” he said.
A few minutes later we pulled out of the parking lot, Brian driving the Dutch Star and me following behind in our SUV. Concrete construction barriers loomed almost immediately, providing Brian with a white-knuckle moment or two. My point of view as he maneuvered past the barriers – 50-ish feet behind and at least a few feet closer to the road – only boosted my confidence in his giant-vehicle-driving ability. A few miles and a few turns later, we were home.
Turns out that dismissing gut instinct is a bad idea
By the time we got back to the RV and the business of leveling it later that evening, we were almost out of daylight. If everything went smoothly, however, it would only take a few minutes.
Of course, that meant the universe decided the giddy new RV owners needed a learning experience.
Brian pushed the switches to let the jacks down while I crouched outside the RV to see that they were actually coming down. They were, but they wouldn’t be long enough in some spots to reach the ground and raise the RV. The driveway I thought was “fairly level” actually has quite a bit of pitch when you have to consider over 41 feet of it.
We rummaged around in the RV’s storage bays to find the jack pads the seller left us. They were low quality, and there weren’t many. But with the two-by-eights Brian grabbed from the garage we might be able to make it work.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t paid a helluva lot of attention to mechanical RV stuff. Mechanical theory never makes sense to me until I can see or feel what’s going on. I’m still never (I hope) going to wrench on the RV, but I do want to understand its operation.
Until I’m able to get some experience under my belt, though, cluelessness is my default reaction. When Brian makes a plan of attack I just assume he’s read something or another and knows what he’s doing. Even if it looks wrong to me.
When Brian put the longer two-by-eight on top of the smaller jack pads, I thought to myself that unless the jack is perfectly centered on the stack – damn near impossible – the board will be forced to one side of the stack or another, so the jack wouldn’t have a flat, stable surface to rest on and support the RV. I knew the larger board should be on the bottom. But I didn’t say anything.
The stack was centered enough that the jack stayed put momentarily, and the RV began to rise. Then suddenly the left rear went down with a loud THUNK when the stack gave way. We looked underneath and saw that the foot of the jack had been shoved off its center. The foot, a square of maybe eight or nine inches of heavy steel, is held to the jack with big springs and a great deal of tension. Though the springs still held the pad fast, it was cockeyed and didn’t want to budge.
Dead in the water (or driveway, as it were)
Until we got the foot back in place we couldn’t level the coach. Without being level we couldn’t put out the slides and really look at the RV we’d just bought. Brian laid on the ground wrestling with the thing over and over, trying with all his might (I held the flashlight…so helpful). It was not happening. We gave up for the night and went inside.
We were down, but not out. For at least a year we’ve networked online with RV owners, and we’d heard enough from them to know we could expect mechanical setbacks. The best way to deal with problems is usually to first step back from them. Fortunately we were in our driveway and not stuck somewhere by the side of the road.
I bet it wasn’t a half hour after giving up that Brian had a solution (thank you, internet). Turns out we made a common rookie mistake 🙂
The fix…uh, make that fixes
While trying to fix the cockeyed jack foot, Brian laid on the driveway under the RV, pulling with everything he had and trying to get the huge spring and heavy steel foot back in place. In that position, though, he had no room to gain any leverage. The fix he found involved using wood shims to open up and extend the spring, making it easier to put the pad/spring combo back on the jack where it is supposed to be – no leverage or muscle strain needed. Once you put the shimmed-out spring back onto the jack/foot assembly, letting the jacks down allows all the shims to fall out.
Before heading to the shop the following morning, Brian pulled the springs off the jack and took them with him. At the shop, a big gunsmith vise provided all the muscle necessary to expand the springs while Brian shimmed the bejeezus out of them.
Back at it again that night, the shim trick worked perfectly to fix our screwup. We still couldn’t get the leveling to work right, though. Turns out that someone – not us this time! – screwed up some connections under the hood (or whatever you call it in an RV). Instead of leveling in matched pairs, the switches fired the jacks at diagonally opposite corners. This can level an RV about as well as a bunch of politicians can level a playing field.
Brian quickly diagnosed the problem and switched the connections (hooray for plug-and-play!), but once again we were out of daylight. And anyway, he’d ordered more (and better) pads to go underneath the jacks (they would arrive the following day) and had an idea to raise the left rear a bit more (that part of the driveway was really too low to get us level).
Are we there yet?
The next night, Brian put together a ramp out of 2 x 10s. I guided him onto the ramp, centering the tires. The ramp was a great idea. It brought the RV much closer to level – a little jack action and we’d be good to go.
Crap – Brian used that tone of voice.
“What’s wrong with this picture?” he asked. I crouched down next to him to look underneath the coach, and groaned.
“The ramp is partially underneath the jack. Lowering the jack would screw up the foot. Again. Damn it.”
We brainstormed solutions for a few minutes before Brian decided that cutting the interfering 2 x 10 off at an angle would probably work just fine, since the adjacent tire (there are two on each side of the rear axle) had a full ramp.
We had to move the RV a couple more times, but the trimmed ramp worked just as well and finally – OMG finally – we were able to level the coach and pop out the slides.
Suddenly, right there in our driveway, we had a home.
Good to go
I began writing this post before we’d solved the leveling issue. I sat in a recliner in the RV, slides in. It was tight. There was no electricity. Yet even in the driveway, in that packed-in space and with no power, the RV offered a relaxing work environment with sweet views.
Before sitting down to begin writing, I’d walked through the coach imagining what would go where, and how we would live. Yes, it’s small – especially with the slides in – but as I opened drawers and doors, and sat on the bed and chairs, I felt like we had everything we needed to live.
Ever since we began looking at RVs I’ve realized how inefficiently laid out our house is. Not so with our RV, where every square inch matters. Even at 14 years old its design is a marvel of technology and ingenuity.
We know we want to make some modifications to the RV, and I’m sure that as we live in it we’ll think of a few more. We’re shaking the last of the coins out of our RV piggy bank, though, so we’ve reprioritized and already removed a few things from the list. But I think if we had to live in it as-is starting tomorrow we’d be just fine.
As I write today, slides out, windows open, gorgeous views all around, I’m looking forward to many more days like this. Well, except without having to return to our big ol’ house…and with Brian puttering around nearby…and two big dogs taking up a third of the floor space.
Anyone want to buy a house?
Roll With It – Steve Winwood
…When life is too much, roll with it, baby
Don’t stop and lose your touch, oh no, baby
Hard times knocking on your door
I’ll tell them you ain’t there no more
Get on through it, roll with it, baby
Luck’ll come and then slip away
You’ve gotta move, bring it back to stay
You just roll with it, baby
Come on and just roll with it, baby
You and me, roll with it, baby
Hang on and just roll with it, baby, hey…
Written by Edward Jr. Holland, Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, Will Jennings, Steve Winwood • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.