May 15, 2014

Two Months of Changes and Ideas

It's another cold rainy day here in the tropics of Southern Indiana. It looks like another session of rain is about 2 hours west of me. So with nothing else to do, I've been looking through notes, old emails, forums, answering emails and making blog comment replies. Remember it's the rain that is holding up the test drive for the rig I left a deposit on. He has it parked on a concrete slab under a portable garage but needs to back it out onto a grassy wet area before we can turn right and take it down the driveway to the country roads. He offered to drive the 4 miles of curvy, narrow, hilly country road until we got to the highway and I will probably take his offer.

Anyway I was flipping through my notes and it was only 10 or 11 short days ago I was all set on full-timing in a truck camper. I had even contacted a couple of people, both were out west. After a discussion with a full-timer about all of the different options, he brought up some very valid points on different options that needed to be thought about if full-timing was ever in my plans. When I did that self analyzing I was able to sort between "want" and "needs". After that it was pretty obvious that the truck camper was not going to work.

I'll go through each option to explain why I did or did not choose that particular rig. Still as usual a two month period brings a lot of changes in my thought process.

Truck Camper
Those crazy boondocking pictures do it. They make you think you can do things that are not possible with a fairly large bloodhound and two short legged bassets, none of the three are great "problem solvers" but their intentions are good. I have the truck where I could slide on a camper and have all I would need if it were just me. A PahaQua 8x10 tent would also be used for a little added outdoor shelter. You could go anywhere and camp where few others could go ... that's the magnetic pull I felt. I realized not only I, but the hounds needed somewhere to stretch out, to be able to move around on those days where the rain is pouring or the wind is howling, even if an unexpected snowfall shows up.

So, even it if was very very tempting and the two campers I was looking at were fantastic I had to pass. Not enough room and when I thought about it, in the three years of reading blogs I had never heard of anyone full-timing in a truck camper.

Fiberglass Trailers
Almost bought a Casita locally last year, and also a Lil Snoozy last September but realized tanks sizes would never work for boondocking. While spending hours inside the Casita talking to the seller it seemed too small for two adults let alone 3 dogs. I would have gone insane eventually, I think. Plus at the time a follower that was living in a Casita with numerous dogs and cats sent me an email in capital letters shouting DON'T BUY A CASITA. That made the decision pretty easy. Another case of "want" verses "need".

Trailers 18'-24'
Just last week I was choosing between two trailers, the Nash 18L and the Starcraft Launch 17FB. Both had similar floorplans, both has similar options but the Starcraft fresh water, gray and black tanks were just too small to boondock for any length of time. The plumbing part of camping is rarely talked about on blogs but if it isn't going into the black tank ... where else is it going?

One thing said recently by someone with experience turned my thinking process in a different direction. What happens when you either pull over to rest or to set up camp, it's bad weather and your home is sitting outside your truck five to ten feet away from you? You are either staying in the truck until the bad weather dies down or you are sprinting (hopefully not in the dark) from the truck to the trailer. Well I know for a fact my 3 hounds are going to say 'no...but hell no'....not doing it. The bloodhound wouldn't care about the weather but the bassets get no further than under the house overhang in bad weather when they have to go out, then a quick sprint back inside the house.  So I could see myself in the trailer and the hounds in the backseat of the truck, pouring rain ... not a good option.

Also, the hitching and unhitching every time you want to head for a new camp. Would that get old? Probably doesn't take a lot of time once you get use to it. I've been told by trailer full-timers it does get old. I will see if that makes a difference towing a toad.

In the past I also asked a few close friends that are on the road "If money was no option, what would you buy". In every case it was a self-contained rig where everything from driving to living was all in one spot. That led me to a Class C last September.

Class C
The Class C Coachmen I bought last fall was in great shape, had a nice new TempurPedic Mattress, new Bilstein Shocks, new Fantastic fan and a new larger backup camera. I thought that was the perfect vehicle. It was 26' long, 22' from the back of the front seats to the back wall, both microwave/convection oven looked like they had never been used ... every thing was good. That is until I went to register it and found out it was not a 2004 as advertised but a 2003. What was a good deal sales price was turned into a I paid too much for a 2003. I did ask when I was inspecting and saw the 2003 label inside the cabinet, but the seller said that was the year of the frame. I knew from reading it was possible to have a frame a year older than the rig. So I believed him. I did match the VIN on the registration to the VIN by the front window but at the time didn't know the 10th digit would tell me the frame age.

So the rig and I were kind of off to a bad start vibe wise. I wasn't happy about the mistake. I had paid more than what I should have. The following weekend when I decided to do a full in depth inspection crawling on my back looking at every inch of the rig underneath, is where I found oil lines dripping. You can read about the repair on the right side of this blog, as it is one of my blogs most popular posts. So that was strike two.

The longer I would sit in the rig with the hounds during the winter while it was winterized, the smaller the living area looked. Sadie the bloodhound claimed the couch the first day, Heidi the younger basset liked under the dining table next to my feet and Winston the older basset liked between the front seats or in the passenger seat. That Coachmen probably would have worked, it drove great, had 81,000 miles  but very few of those miles were the past 5 years. After the flat tire while sitting for the winter, I began to have my doubts that the rig was "meant for me" ... I kept thinking Murphy's Law had taken residence. I found out it was not the tire but the extended tire valve that was bad. Still, I lost confidence in the rig and had not even hit the road yet. So I sold it, bought a truck large enough to tow more than 4,500 lbs and decided I needed a trailer.

Class A
I looked at these a long time ago but they always seemed too big and too expensive. The repair cost scared me and in a way still does a little. One thing it had though was room, even without slide outs. A few people that travel with large dogs always suggested a Class A 30'-34' long, preferably a slide out. Still the times I sat in them, I didn't see me buying one. The used ones all smelled and showed wear and tear at the RV dealers I visited. The one I looked at locally and almost bought in March 2013 was a great 32' with a slide out but had spent most of it's life sitting with only 8,300 total miles if I remember right and a generator that didn't have 100 hours on it. I passed on it.

The ones I wanted were more than I wanted to pay. I felt the fastest  and best financial way to get on the road was a truck/trailer combo so that was what I was focused on most of the time. I never considered an 'old' Class A. Everyone said if you buy anything old be ready to be handy because there will always be something to fix. I remember that and stayed away from "vintage" anything. With my H3 Hummer I couldn't tow more than a small fiberglass trailer. Until I bought the Chevy truck that could tow 10,000 lbs, my trailer options were limited.

Yet, when I took my 586 mile round trip to Arkansas last September, a large majority motorhomes on the freeway were all towing a toad but were all "older" Class C's or A's. A few 5er's were on that freeway but I didn't see any of the older RVs on the side of the road with mechanical problems. The more forums I read or blogs from the left side list, I found that no matter what you lived in or drove ... there were repairs. New ones, old ones .. it is what it is. So basically what do you want to spend your money on when it comes time you need to fix something. Still I was looking only at trailers, then I started looking at used trailers that were nice, maybe even built a little better than the newer ones. So it even shocked me when I realized I liked that 1987 Holiday Rambler I saw on Craig's List just 50 miles away, this past week.

1987 Holiday Rambler
When I saw the photos, I knew it had just been washed because of the 5gal bucket in the photo and the shined wheel covers. The rig looked in great shape on the outside. I could tell it had been taken care of from comparing it to what I had seen at different RV lots I visited. I thought it was strange the ad would only have 5 exterior photos and no interior ... it must be trashed was my first thought. So I emailed the seller asking for interior photos. Within the next few hours of going back and looking at the exterior photos form the ad,I had the feeling described on this blog a few days ago. My interest was peaked enough that I told the seller to forget about taking the interior photos that I would be over on Tuesday to look at it. While looking at it I realized when they placed the ad they were in the process of cleaning it and de-winterizing it and wasn't expecting a visitor just a week after the ad was placed. It was clean inside as the pictures showed on my blog but they were in the clean up process.

It was storming with hard rain the night I looked at it, so I couldn't look as much as I wanted in the portable garage. Rain was blowing on us at times. With my bright small LED flashlight I could see enough and see quite well this rig had been taken care of. I slide my fingers between the tire tread, they felt like new. Glancing down the sides shows smooth surfaces with zero dents. The roof was in great shape with fresh caulking around the vents but was dirty from sitting inside. As soon as I stepped inside I knew this was the one or I hoped it was because it was better than I had expected, was the right color of furniture but it had not been test driven yet. The engine at idle sounded great, the oil on the dipstick was new, spark plug wires were new but it didn't have enough gas to fire off the generator. It was too wet to back out and take it for a drive, with a chance of getting it stuck in the saturated lawn.

All the solid oak cabinets were in mint condition and close straight and flush, no warping. No water stains anywhere, inside the open cabinets, under the sinks, below the windows, up along the ceiling ... the ceiling was in perfect shape. The carpets were in great shape even though they might come out later. I was impressed with the interior because it was in better shape than I had expected and what I had sat in at different RV dealers these past two years. There were no smells of any kind, nothing to hide smells, it just smelled clean.

I knew the CL ad was only 6 days old when I saw it. I also knew based on the condition of this rig it would not last long at the suggested price. It was below NADA and what comparable rigs were priced online. The seller claimed he did not know what it was worth, so I am not sure how the sales price was decided. My paranoid analytical brain gets in the way sometimes, so I let that low price pass. He was the 2nd owner and had bought it from his dad 8 years ago. The sellers family had rv'd every summer while growing up, making multiple cross country trips. It had not only been used on a regular basis but had been taken care of. One thing that did bother me, the tags showed 2010 so that means it has been sitting for 3-4 years. Yet, he had driven it recently to install new tires, the oil on the dipstick was new and had just de-winterized it. Everything worked as it needed to except the generator would not start even though it tried due to not having enough fuel in the gas tank.

As I looked around the two open garages I could tell the seller took good care of everything. His rebuilt 67 Camero was spotless as well as his Harley. The house garage was full of cars and clean. So I could tell the wheel covers on this rig were not just clean to sell it, they were clean and shiny because that was just the way the seller was.

You may not use all of them but a Class A gives you options that other trailers or Class C's that I was looking at don't. More storage, more room for the hounds and I to co-exist, enough room for a tv if needed and room for a desk to hold my iMac and 2nd monitor if I decide to go that way. Yes mpg is low, probably between 5-8mpg but a Class C towing a toad or a truck towing a trailer isn't going to do much better. I guess those would get 8-10 mpg, so a slight difference. In all my estimates I had always used $4/gal for gas and 5mpg for any rig. I don't plan on driving every two weeks, I plan to stay months at a time if I like the location and am able to stay that long. Racing from campground to campground will not be in my itinerary.

I can still boondock like Paul & Nina or Al & Kelly do with their Class A's. I will tow something, just not sure yet. Tom kind of liked the idea of a small covered cargo trailer with the Mini Cooper inside.

Since I knew the seller had a lot of calls about this rig and had people coming this weekend to look at it, I decided since it was in great shape, sounded good at idling speed and was priced right, that I would leave a deposit to prevent it being sold before I could make it back for the weekend.

I think we are close to finally hitting the road! The test drive this weekend will determine that.

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