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.

Yosemite Revisited: More Tips, Less Snark

You may recall that I had less than charitable things to say about our visit to Yosemite last July. The park is spectacular; it’s our timing that was all wrong.

Emily “You Can Embroider That Shit on a Toss Pillow” Rohrer

But with summer travel planning season upon us, I thought it might be a good idea to offer up some information that campers might find a little more helpful than my pissy rant of 2016. So here ya go:

If you’ve got your RV pointed toward California this summer for a swing through Yosemite National Park, be aware of three things:

  1. You’ll never forget the scenery,
  2. Unless you’re a photography genius, you won’t be able to capture all that majesty in pixels, and
  3. It’s gonna be crowded — really, really distressingly and disproportionately crowded, to DisneyWorld-esque levels. 1200 square miles is not big enough for all the people, because every single one of them spent significant time, effort, and money to spend part of their summer vacation there, and they are going to have their Experience of a Lifetime, visiting the same top 5 park attractions as you are.

For information on RV camping at Yosemite, click on Visiting Yosemite With an RV, but be aware that even the folks in charge recommend staying outside the park, and shuttling in using public transportation.

From the NPS web site, “Since parking for RVs and trailers is limited in Yosemite, we strongly encourage you to park your RV outside Yosemite and use YARTS to travel into the park if you’re not staying the night in Yosemite.”

If you do want to try to stay in the park, first make sure your RV will fit, and that you can survive without hookups for the duration of your visit. There aren’t any. However, dump stations with fresh water are available at 3 of the 10 RV-accessible campgrounds, and generator use is allowed, but only at posted hours.

Yosemite campground map
(Source: NPS.gov)

It probably goes without saying that you’ll want to make your reservation as far in advance as possible, or, if you’re feeling lucky and adventurous, you can try for a first-come/first-served spot.

When we visited Yosemite last year, we set up The Toad in a private RV park in Lee Vining, CA, which is about 12 miles east of the westernmost entrance at Tioga Pass, and a nearly 2-hour drive to the main visitor’s center in Yosemite Valley. (Be aware that Tioga Pass/Hwy 120 closes from October-May due to snow, so using Lee Vining as your home base is not always a good option.)

Source: Google Maps

We had to visit in the summer because my husband and our younger son were hiking the John Muir Trail, and that’s something you want to accomplish when there’s little or no snow. And if you’re hiking the whole 211-mile thing, like my husband did, you have to go through Yosemite.

But now that we know what the Yosemite crowds are like in the summertime, we will never do that again. Our schedule is no longer bound by school calendars, and we will use that to our advantage by visiting the more popular national parks at off-peak times in the spring and fall.

How bad was it? Imagine crowds of tourists from all over the planet, hollering to each other in umpteen different languages, trying to enjoy the exact same spot you are, stopping to consult their maps right in your path, posing for selfies in front of everything, dealing with children who have obviously just had it, and/or driving slowly with one arm out the window to shoot video that nobody will ever want to view.

Lower Yosemite Falls, and a very small portion of the day’s tourists

By about 2:00 p.m., I was eyeballing the bear lockers in the parking lot. You’re supposed to put your food items in there, rather than leaving them in your car for bears to tear apart while you’re off exploring. But by mid-afternoon, I was ready to take all the food out, and put half the tourists in.

These are bear lockers. Big enough for tourists, yes?

That said, I found the park to be most enjoyable in the early morning hours. If you can get in and get some sight-seeing and hiking done before what seems to be the Witching Hour of 10:00 a.m., you’ll have a lot more space and breathing room to take in and truly appreciate some of the most eye-popping scenery in the country.

And hey, if you’ve only got one day to spend in the park, try this itinerary from Oh, Ranger!, one of my favorite resources. Be warned: everyone with one day to spend is going to be trying to see the same list of attractions as you are.

There will be crowds.

You will need patience.

Good luck!


Author’s note: Portions of this article appeared previously at OwnLessDoMore, and a version of this post is published at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

True Tales of Wasted Money: 4 RV Accessories That Just Weren’t Worth It, and 1 Happy Turn-Around

Raise your hand if you’ve never bought an RV or camping product that didn’t work out.

No hands up?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s happened to us too.

We’ve all made regrettable impulse buys online or in camping and sporting goods stores. Sometimes even items we’ve carefully researched and budgeted for before purchasing just don’t perform as expected, or live up to the hype, or simply don’t come in handy after all.

I asked a few Heartland RV owners for true tales about “accessory fails” that they couldn’t wait to warn others about, and also included one of my own.

Vent covers

John Daniels, really liked the MaxxAir II vent covers he’d installed on his Trail Runner, but when he bought a new Prowler and tried to move the vent covers to it, he found that they didn’t fit.

“MaxxAir doesn’t intend to make brackets to fit the new E-Z Lift vent covers — the ones with the handle instead of the twist knob,” he said.

“I wound up buying three of their plain-Jane bottom line vent covers (author’s clarification: MaxxAir Standard covers), as they bolted right up. However, they don’t create the same air flow as the MaxxAir II’s.”

Close-up of standard MaxxAir vent
(photo courtesy J. Daniels)

Standard MaxxAir vents installed on a Prowler
(photo courtesy J. Daniels)

Head sets

Kelly and Michael Barnett, of RV There Yet Chronicles, and owners of a 2011 Landmark Key Largo, revealed that when they picked up their coach from the dealer, they also purchased two headsets for the purpose of communicating easily while hitching up and unhitching.

“The idea was that we wouldn’t be yelling back and forth, and would be able to speak calmly to each other while performing this task,” Kelly said.

“It’s a great idea, and we used them maybe half a dozen times, but they just weren’t us. I guess we prefer the old tried and true method of yelling at each other to get the job done.”

Sewer Flushing Attachment

Lisa and Dan Brown, of Always on Liberty, and owners of a 2016 Landmark Ashland, bought a Hydro Flush 45 by Valterra, and wish they hadn’t.

“There’s this clear elbow fitting that attaches to the sewer hose and the sewage line, that has a place to hook up a water hose for flushing,” Lisa explained.

“What a waste of money. After 5 minutes of initial use, leaking water and crap, Dan threw that thang….Oh wait, he ‘donated’ it to Mr. Dumpster, with words from a sailor.”

(source: Camping World)

Solar Powered Garden Lights

This one’s mine. We made an impulse buy at a big box store, thinking a cheerfully lit pathway would add some pizazz and safety to nighttime walks back to The Toad.

The fact that the things were on clearance should have been a big clue. Outdoor light fixtures that retail for less than $2.00 each were undoubtedly not built to last, and these didn’t. One never even lit up properly, and the other three gradually fell apart after only about 6 months of use.

(source: Harbor Freight)

Propane Tank Monitoring System

Finally, to leave things on a more cheerful note, here’s the story of an item that was at first thought to be a waste of money, but thanks to intervention from the manufacturer, turned out to be worth it after all.

Erika and Tony Dorsey, of Our Mammoth Travels, and owners of a 2016 Big Country, saw a magazine advertisement for a product that uses ultrasound to measure the level of fuel left in a propane tank, and sends a signal via Bluetooth to a smart phone to let users see that amount.

“Once it was available to the public, in February of 2016, I immediately bought it,” said Erika, about the Mopeka TankCheck monitoring system.

After a few struggles getting the sensors in place and syncing phones to the device, things went even more wrong. “The reading seemed good at first, but within a few hours, it stopped receiving the Bluetooth signal and read 0%. We tried multiple times to re-sync the sensors, and it would work for about a day, and then not,” Erika said.

“Propane season” ended, and the Dorseys forgot about the system, until fall rolled around and they were again wanting to know their tank levels. “We replaced the batteries in the sensors thinking maybe that was an issue, but nope, same result. Even with different tanks, repositioning the sensors, new phones, etc.,” Erika said.

She saw another advertisement touting the product’s 3-year warranty, so she contacted the company. “Surprisingly, it didn’t take much to convince them I needed two new sensors. They shipped them and did not require the old ones back.”

And now? “The new sensors work perfectly as intended, and we love the product! So much so that I asked if they would send us a couple to raffle off at the West Texas Chapter Rally. The company is based in TX, and the owner was happy to oblige!” Erika reported.

(source: Mopeka)

Buyers Beware

Here’s hoping that maybe — just maybe — these stories will help you keep some money in your wallet, or at least put it toward a product that adds value to your RV lifestyle.

Feel free to tell your own “True Tale of Fail” in the comments below, but do avoid manufacturer vendettas, please. Let’s keep things light, yet informative, as a way to save other RV owners a little money, time and frustration.

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and other contributors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Heartland RVs.)

9 Things We Learned When We Painted Our RV Interior

Wait. You did what? Why?

Well… we were tired of the gold wallpaper in our 2008 5th wheel, and we were stuck in a small Texas town waiting for a major repair to be completed on our truck, so we had plenty of time on our hands.

Also, we’d recently admired the interior paint job completed by new friends and fellow Heartland owners David & Cheryl of Landmark Adventures, so we knew it could be done by regular ol’ people like us.

Yes, yes, I remember that I once wrote this, all but swearing we’d never become those RV people. But then we decided we’d keep The Toad rather than upgrading to a newer model, and well, things started looking dated in here. Fast.

Dated, dated, dated.
Gold-tone wallpaper, decorative border halfway between floor and ceiling, and upholstered cornice boxes around the windows

So, like our two favorite major DIY projects of all time, this one also began in the bedroom. (Ahem. Sorry, sons!) But hey, we figured it was the best place to use our early painting mistakes as learning experiences, because not so many people see that part of the RV. By the time we worked our way out to the main living/visiting area, we’d be pros.

Or so we thought.

Here’s what we learned:

Lesson 1: Spending money on samples was worth it

We ended up buying eight color sample cups at about $4 each, which seems costly, but by the time we were ready to spend money on our full gallons of high end paint/primer combo at $44 each, we knew which colors and finishes looked best.

For that comparatively small investment, we were able to rule out three shades of green we thought we’d love, and we could also see that a satin finish looked rather flat in here, so we bumped up to a semi-gloss.

These two samples were no-go’s.
We ended up trying half a dozen more before getting things right.

Lesson 2: Prep time is, like, forever

We washed all the walls with a 50/50 vinegar-water mix, removed every fixture we possibly could, and rearranged items multiple times as we shifted operations from one area to another.

We pulled off the wallpaper border and unscrewed the window cornice boxes and said buh-bye to them for good.

We taped, and taped, and taped, using 3 full 60-yard rolls of 1” blue tape and several yards of a fourth.

Buh-bye border.
Peeled that shit right off!

#chaos #letspaintthervshesaid #ownlessdomore

A post shared by OwnLessDoMore (@ownlessdomore.us) on

Lesson 3: We should have checked the color of that first gallon against our sample

It would have saved us a full day’s work.

We put the entire gallon on our walls, then went back to the store for more to finish up the second coat (the label boasts one-coat coverage — don’t fall for it). We painted two walls before noticing the difference: they’d given us the wrong color in the first gallon. Argh!

It was Parchment Paper, not Parchment, and the difference in tone and warmth was important enough to us that we spent a full day repainting all the walls with our preferred color.

We feel like British royalty, as we are now riding around in Parchment and Royal Orchard Green

Lesson 4: It didn’t cost a lot of money

We made 6 20-mile round trips to Home Depot for a total of about $220 in paint and supplies, after deducting our 10% military discount.

Specific items we purchased:

  • 3 gallons of Behr Marquee Paint/Primer — 2 in our main wall color, 1 in our accent color
  • 1.5” and 2” high quality cutting brushes
  • 6-pack of 6” rough surface rollers
  • Roller handle
  • 4 rolls painter’s tape
  • 1 rolling pan
  • 2 paint cups with handles
  • Spackling compound
  • Plastic sheeting to protect furniture
  • 8 color samples as mentioned in Lesson 1

Other supplies we used included a drill, putty knife, sandpaper, utility blade, stepstool and ladder, all of which we already had on hand.

Lesson 5: It did cost a lot of time

Seven days scrolled by, from “let’s buy samples” to “let’s take the ‘after’ photos,” with four of them qualifying as intense, all-day efforts. Without the color mess-up, it would have been closer to three days.

Now 3-4 days doesn’t sound like a lot of time to spend on a complete interior paint job, but there were two of us working. And our total square footage is 355 feet, not much of which is actual wall. So yeah, it’s a complicated endeavor.

Lesson 6: Things were a hot mess until they weren’t

We chose to paint over our vinyl wallpaper rather than strip it, hence the high-end paint/primer combo. Vinyl wallpaper does not like being painted, so we needed a product that would grip, not drip.

We read a lot of tips, we consulted with others, and yet… it just didn’t go well in some spots, and we had to smooth out a lot of drippy-globby areas as we went along — with a brush or roller if we found them quickly enough, or by sanding and touching up later if we didn’t.

It was a lot like trying to become “experts” by reading about parenting before we had our own children: first thing we learned was that the babies don’t read the books! Well, the wallpaper didn’t read the tips, and it fought us at every turn.

In fact, when it came time to remove all the painter’s tape, we had to use a blade to help the process along, otherwise the paint pulled right off with it. Talk about time consuming!

Scoring with a blade helped the paint stick to the walls and ceilings, not the tape.
Damn vinyl wallpaper.

Lesson 7: It’s possible, and rewarding, to correct mistakes with kindness

After we’d finished painting, we decided to go back to Home Depot with our empty paint cans and our story of Parchment Paper vs. Parchment.

We were polite, we showed a before & after photo, and we asked for nothing in return but a listening ear. Yet to our surprise, the paint department manager made up for our troubles by giving us a $30 voucher toward that day’s purchases. Turns out we were the first folks (fools?) he’d met who’d tried to paint the inside of an RV!

This is the photo that helped win the day.

Lesson 8: It’s not for everyone

We were conscientious and careful, and we used high-end materials, but we can see flaws and oopsies everywhere — and some of them were caused by issues we couldn’t control, like buckled wallpaper in difficult-to-reach areas. If you can’t handle tons of work for results that might not leave you overjoyed, don’t do this yourself.

Overall, we’re happy with the transformation we’ve pulled off in here, but if a professional painter had left things like this? We would have withheld pay and filed a formal licensing complaint.

Here’s the deal: You think you know how many tight spaces your RV has, but you don’t — not until you try to paint them all. If you can’t handle spending hours in contorted positions, painting with your non-dominant hand around blind corners, and then living with the less-than-perfect results of that? Don’t do this yourself.

You have to hate the wall coverings you’ve got hard enough to commit fully to changing them. Otherwise? Don’t do this yourself.

Lesson 9: It will lead to more projects

Now that we’ve removed the window cornice boxes, we’ve got naked blinds, so we need curtains.

And our walls look really bare without the textured wallpaper and decorative border to break up the space, so we need artwork. (Good news: we know where to find tips for hanging it!)

And our furniture, in addition to already looking shabby, also no longer coordinates with our wall colors, so we need a new sofa, recliner, and set of dining chairs.

Carpet’s pretty worn out too…

Project creep: the struggle is as real in an RV as it is in a house!

For now, enjoy our befores & afters. I know we are.

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

From My RV Kitchen: Sinful Chocolate Fudge Pie

We encountered a bump in the road two weeks ago, with a catastrophic fuel pump failure in the BFT, stranding us just south of Dallas. Luckily, we were able to have The Toad towed to a park with hookups, so we could live somewhat normally for the duration.

But after five days of trying to keep my spirits up by making lemonade out of our proverbial lemons, I decided I needed something stronger to soothe my soul.

Chocolate.

There are times when only chocolate will do, and this was one of them.

Beware:  This pie is so sinfully rich and intense that you may want to draw the blinds and turn up the volume on the TV to disguise any embarrassing noises or facial expressions you might make while eating it.

Yes, it’s that good. Remember the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from When Harry Met Sally? That.

Sinful Chocolate Fudge Pie

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate morsels, melted

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, softened

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3 eggs

2 tsp. instant coffee

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup flour

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Microwave chocolate in microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 min. or until almost melted, stirring after 1 min. Stir until chocolate is completely melted; set aside. (Alternate: melt over very low heat on stovetop in heavy saucepan, stirring frequently.)

I prefer melting chocolate on my gas stovetop to the microwave method, as I’m less likely to scorch it that way.
You use the method you’re good at.

Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.

It’s gonna look like this.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well blended after each addition.

Add chocolate, coffee, and vanilla extract; mix well.

Chocolate going in.

I used my very precious pure Mexican vanilla, purchased in Mexico on a recent vacation.
You can find it in the states too, but read the ingredient list: if it has anything other than water, vanilla bean and alcohol in it, don’t waste your money. You’d basically be buying vanilla-flavored corn syrup.

Stir in flour and chopped walnuts.

I used walnuts.
You use whatever nuts you like, or leave them out.

Pour into pastry shell.

That nice glossy uncooked batter yields a nice glossy top crust after baking. Underneath it?
Gooey fudgy moan-inducing filling.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until pie appears set. (I used my gas oven for this pie. I have not tested it in my convection oven.) Toothpick test is unreliable. It will come out coated with filling, which is exactly what you want. Don’t be fooled into over-baking!

Cool pie on rack, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Top with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.

My version is adapted from this original recipe.

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