An epic fail, advice from a stoner, and how we ended up with a new truck

A funny thing happened in March, on our way from San Antonio, TX, to Elkhart, IN, for a service appointment to take care of some welding issues on The Toad: the BFT is the one that failed us.

Irony: the dependably cooperative BFT dies on the way to having the notoriously lemony RV repaired.
WHO THOUGHT IT WOULD BE THE TRUCK???

Not what we were expecting.

Our incredibly reliable, tough-as-nails, much adored 2012 Chevy Silverado 3500 dually sputtered and quickly died while we were driving on I-35 just south of Dallas — a mere 225 miles into our 1300-mile trip.

We are very thankful that despite the scariness of the incident, the travel gods were indeed watching over us.

We were on flat ground instead of a hill.

There were no vehicles riding too closely behind us.

We were not in a construction zone.

We had a wide shoulder to pull onto.

And I was smart enough to start veering toward that shoulder at the same time I was saying, “That didn’t sound right.”

Why did that turn out to be a smart move? Because we had mere seconds before the truck shut down. All power: gone. On an interstate.

The tow truck driver took Tim and the Silverado to a service shop, leaving me on the roadside with the RV until they returned.
Why?
Because Tim can talk truck to the garage gurus, and I shouldn’t ever do that.
We both know I’d say, “You know what? Just burn it. We’ll walk.”

From my personal Facebook account that day: So I sat all alone in the grass next to I-35 for more than 2 hours, waiting for the tow truck to come back for the RV, and this is the only person who stopped to make sure I was OK: stoner on a fucking bicycle.
Said his name is Mondo.
He was riding to Austin for his birthday.
I don’t know where or when he started (and I rather suspect he didn’t either), but he had about 145 miles to go.
Mondo offered me use of his cell phone to make an emergency call, in the event I didn’t have one.
Clearly he’d never met me.
And then, in the way only the perpetually stoned can properly pull off, he told me I should just relax, and not stress out about it.
He then literally rode off into the sunset.

To make a very long story a lot shorter, the problem turned out to be what is rather evocatively known as “grenading” of the fuel pump. Upon its death, it sent shards of metal through the entire fuel system, leaving us dead in the proverbial water.

As Tim described it “The critical part seemed to be the Bosch-built CP4.2 HPFP, the exact same pump used in the Ford F-series Light Duty diesel trucks. If you google ‘F350 CP4 failure,’ you’ll find plenty of discussion on the issue. Same if you google ‘Duramax LML CP4 failure.’”

Tim, who is not an industry expert by any means, but merely a consumer who’s always trying hard to get smarter, further surmised, “A major culprit appears to be the quality of diesel fuel in the U.S. (i.e., the mandated ultra-low sulfur blend plus other things), combined with what might be less than acceptable engineering by Ford and GM. Reportedly, Bosch has been saying for some time that the lubricity of the fuel needs to be higher for these pumps to last, and U.S. diesel fuel doesn’t meet these standards.”

Within ten minutes of meeting our new BFT, Tim was underneath it, checking all the things.

What that meant for us was a $10,000 fuel system replacement (GM paid for part of it) that left us stranded for two weeks outside a really small Texas town. Middle of Nowhere was still a good 10 miles away. We were there so long we painted our RV’s interior!

And then, after the truck repair was complete, and we were finally sitting in Elkhart waiting for the work to be finished on The Toad, we realized that we needed to make a big decision: test our luck by keeping the BFT and its fresh new fuel system with the exact same type of pump that had gone spectacularly belly up, or upgrade to a truck that wouldn’t have that issue.

To make the second part of the story shorter as well, we knew we couldn’t live with the uncertainty of driving a truck that might croak again, any more than we could change the U.S. diesel fuel composition standards that were probably part of the cause.

The Silverado was our only vehicle, and it pulls the Bighorn, which is our only home. We couldn’t stomach the idea of going through a second catastrophic failure, or having it happen under far more hazardous circumstances than the first one.

We opted to upgrade.

Y’all say hello to our 2017 Dodge RAM 3500 dually, which we picked up at the end of May, just shy of 3 months after the Great Fuel Pump Grenading Incident of 2017.

For those who are wondering why we didn’t go with the 2017 Chevy Silverado, which does not have that same iffy fuel pump as the 2011-2016 diesel models, there were three factors that put the RAM on top.

  1. Shorter turning radius for easier maneuvering
  2. Larger payload and axle weight ratings for higher towing capacity
  3. More competitive pricing for better value

We look forward to thousands and thousands of miles together.

My birth announcement.
I figured our sons should know.

12 miles on the odometer, and it definitely does not make my butt look big.
What a great purchase!
Also, we had a terrific experience working with Jeff Taylor, Commercial/Fleet Manager, at Glenn’s Freedom Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram in Lexington, KY. Holler if you’d like a personal referral!


Author’s note: A version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

RV Travels: 13 Ways You Know You’re in a Small Texas Town

I have spent almost ten years of my life living in Texas: a four-year stint in college, and nearly six years in my 40’s, due to a military move. My parents, my brother, and his family have lived there for more than two decades, so we’ve visited a lot too.

Plus, although we spend most of the year traveling, San Antonio is still our home base, and our younger son is a second-year physics and math major right up the highway at UT-Austin.

That’s my way of telling you that when it comes to small towns in Texas, I’ve got some familiarity. And after a truck breakdown left us stranded in one of them for two weeks earlier this year, I became an expert on observing the endearing quirks that make these places special.

1. The local tow truck driver doubles back after spotting you on the side of the highway with your hazard lights blinking, figuring you’re going to be his next call anyway. And he is correct.

If you’re gonna travel in an RV, get the best roadside assistance plan you can afford.
You will not regret it.

2. The RV park your 5th wheel is towed to is so new that nobody at the service shop knows the name of it, but they know exactly where it is and that it’s open for business.

The Wagon Yard RV park was nothing fancy, but wow, were we ever glad to have it!

3. You are very thankful that the RV park is new and unheard of because that means it has space available during spring break week in Texas. Every public grade school and university in the state gets the same week off for spring break, which makes last-minute lodging arrangements nearly impossible to obtain.

4. You become celebrities in the grocery store because you got there on bicycles instead of in a pickup truck. The clerk, upon hearing that our truck was in the shop, felt so sorry for us that she even helped load the groceries into our backpacks.

Of course we were all ready to go when we discovered the tires were flat.
Why wouldn’t they be?

5. All heads turn when someone walks through the door of the dinette.

6. And when that someone is a big ol’ farmer wearing denim overalls and work boots, the waitress greets him with a smile and a 2-syllable “Hey,” to which the farmer replies simply, “Sweet tea.” And the waitress sets it on the table by the time his fanny hits the chair.

7. Every store on Main Street, whether it’s open for business or appears to have been vacant for 20 years, bears a sign supporting the local high school team, with the obligatory incorrect apostrophe. “Go Zebra’s!”

8. Other than the dinette mentioned above, socializing occurs in one of two places: under the Friday night lights or in the Sunday morning pews.

9. You’re never allowed to forget which state you’re in here. Never. Not even in the bathroom.

Jesus ‘n’ Texas, y’all.

10. Your camera roll boasts photos of a BBQ plate, wildflowers, a road runner, and a spray-painted sign for a tractor pull — all from the same day.

11. And the tractor pull causes a significant uptick in traffic.

12. Being located right between two airports means nothing, as the options lack anything resembling a terminal or even planes. They are grass strips suitable for landing crop dusters, and there are cows grazing on them.

Someone out there in the country has a good sense of humor.
(source: Apple Maps)

13. Related: more of your neighbors have four legs than two.

The RV park where we stayed for that little “detour” was in fact 8 miles from one small town we visited (Grandview), and 10 miles from the other (Cleburne).

Of all the places for the truck to break down? That was the middle-of-nowheriest.


Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission

Fridge Foibles: Dealing with the Tiny Space within our Tiny Space

Our 2008 Bighorn was built back in the day before residential refrigerators made it into luxury and four-season fifth wheels.

We’ve got one of the old “glorified dorm fridge” units, and its 8 cubic feet of storage is adequate for just the two of us in most cases, including the time we contributed half the dishes to the family Thanksgiving feast.

But there are occasions when that same amount of space can be either a frustrating curse or an unexpected blessing.

When our 19-year-old, 6’2”, 220-lb son lived with us in The Toad for two months over the summer of 2016: definitely a curse.

I had to play Refrigerator Tetris on the daily to make everything fit in there. Adding a third person to the mix — especially one that size — created an entirely new family dynamic, and not just in the kitchen storage department.

Full means full.

However, when we need to empty the fridge for extended non-RV travel or for a week-long service appointment: definitely a blessing.

If we’re willing to eat a few unusual meals (recently we ate ham and cream cheese sandwiches, because we’d already run out of cheese slices), the two of us can strip that baby down to condiments in less than a week!

Oh, and don’t worry about that wine bottle you see in the door.
I’ll make sure it does not go to waste.

Ta-daaaa!
See there? All that’s left is … ummmm… fruit.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

RV Travels: Where the Wild Things Are

~ a post in honor of World Wildlife Day, March 3 ~

Although we’ve encountered lots of creatures while RV’ing around the country in The Toad, the only Bighorn we’ve seen in the wild is the one we live in. Notoriously shy, those sheep!

Look! A Bighorn in the wild!

Most animals were outside the RV, living unperturbed in the environments where they belong — at least until I showed up and became the Annoying Human Taking A Selfie.

There was one notable exception. I don’t like talking about it, and I’m not sure it even qualifies as wildlife, but it definitely wasn’t a domesticated critter, and it was living inside our RV. I’ve got to work myself up to that one, so I’m saving it for last.

The others, in alphabetical order:

Armadillo – I’ve spent enough time driving in the Lone Star State to know exactly why these armored gray diggers are called Texas Speed Bumps. Yeah. Ewwwww. But I found a live one in Shreveport, LA, during an overnight stay at the Barksdale Air Force Base RV Park, so of course I positioned myself for a discreet selfie. The armadillo did not say no.

April 2016

Bison – This guy was blocking our path to Frary Peak, the highest point on Antelope Island, in Utah’s Great Salt Lake. “Bison encounter” was one of those bucket list items I didn’t even know I had until I experienced it, and I wrote about it here. We’d been warned by multiple signs not to approach or feed the bison, but the signs didn’t say anything about begging them repeatedly to get out of the way, so that’s what we did. I think the poor bugger eventually got tired of listening to us, and trotted down the hill toward the females.

July 2016

July 2016

Burros – Wild burros are a common sight in rural western Nevada, and this group took their own sweet time crossing the road to the Rhyolite Ghost Town near Beatty.

January 2017

Cat & Deer – Yes, together, and I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. There’s a posse of feral cats at Kerrville-Schreiner Park in Texas, and we watched them interact with the deer on several occasions. Most of the time, each regarded the other in some bizarre form of woodland creature détente, but we once witnessed one of the kitties deliberately baiting one of the deer by sneaking up behind it and pouncing. The deer was not amused.

February 2017

Elk – There we were, walking along a paved path on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, when I was able to take advantage of a unique opportunity: sELKfie for the win!

October 2016

Fox – We were driving to a trailhead in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon with fellow Heartland Owners, Dan & Lisa of Always on Liberty, when we saw this fox trotting across a parking lot. What does the fox say? I can’t tell you. What I said was, “A fox a fox a fox!” It’s very difficult to remain eloquent when faced with such a rarity.

December 2016

Llama – On one of our first trips in The Toad, we went to Blanco State Park in Texas for a weekend escape. I was supposed to be guiding Tim as he backed the rig into our spot, but it took more than one try because — and I am not making this up — I was distracted by a llama. It kept grinning at me, I swear. See?

November 2014

Whale – While visiting family in western Washington, we drove our whale of a rig onto the Port Townsend – Coupeville Ferry to get from one side of Puget Sound to the other, and were rewarded with a visit from a pod of orcas, right off the bow. So majestic!

December 2015

Wild Ponies – The highest point in Virginia is Mount Rogers. To get to it, we hiked through Grayson Highlands State Park, which is home to a herd of wild ponies. I tried for a selfie with one of them too (it’s what I do) — and became a victim of what can best be described as “pony shenanigans.” While I posed with Pony A, Pony B took advantage of my distraction and tried to eat my backpack. Emily = stupid human.

October 2015

 

And now…

The Thing That Ate My Pastry Brush – We had a critter in the RV last fall.

Based on the droppings we found, we were pretty sure that cockroaches were afoot (although it could have been a mouse), but whatever it was, it nibbled. the bristles. off. my silicone. pastry brush. Ack!

Nothing like spending an evening researching various types of vermin poop to make a girl feel sexy. I seriously though I was going to throw up, and contemplated bathing in boiling Purell, but instead set about cleaning and disinfecting every reachable surface in our kitchen.

And then I set out dishes of a vermin-eradicating cocktail composed of equal parts powdered sugar and Borax. Success! Emily = smart human.

October 2016
See the middle finger? Unintentional, but oh so hilarious!

To learn more about the real World Wildlife Day, visit http://wildlifeday.org

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

If the tiara fits…

Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale.  ~Hans Christian Andersen

Once upon a time in a land called Suburbia, there lived Queen Emily and King Timothy, a couple of 40-something royals who had grown tired of living in their oversized brick castle.

The royal couple, circa 1996

Their sons, Prince Alden and Prince Dane, had already departed to seek fortune in foreign lands, leaving behind empty bed chambers and a dust-filled game room. The long table in the dining hall, once the scene of ample family feasts, had become a surface used solely for folding linens.

One day, upon recalling a fun-filled family excursion many years past, Queen Emily proposed selling the castle and moving into a modern-day coach-and-four instead — the kind a couple could live in comfortably while making epic journeys throughout the kingdom.

The royal couple in 2006

Not wanting to disappoint his queen (who is wont to become royally feisty when not obeyed), King Timothy quickly procured both chariot and horse team, in the form of a 2008 Heartland Bighorn 5th wheel, and a 2012 Chevy Silverado 3500.

But woe befell the king and queen, as they soon realized that an evil witch must have cast a spell on their 6-year-old coach, turning it into a toad. Among other issues, the royal front welding failed, the royal landing gear met an untimely fate, one of the royal tires came undone during travel, and the royal commode developed leaks.

“Forsooth!” spat King Timothy, upon each occurrence. “What fresh Hell is this?”

(image created at myplates.com)

Valiantly ignoring his desire to park the chariot conveniently in front of a fire breathing dragon, the king instead turned to this Forum of Benevolent Wizards, whose sage advice and helpful spells enabled him to wave multiple magic wands (and swipe multiple magic credit cards) to remove the toad’s warts.

Queen Emily was most pleased.

King Timothy got to keep his head attached to his shoulders, so he too was most pleased.

They continue to travel throughout the kingdom, living their Happily Ever After.

The royal couple in 2016
(Photo credit: Lisa Brown, Always on Liberty)

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)