Disappointment: “We own a new kingpin!” has nothing to do with the mafia. At all.

When Tim said, “Honey, I’m gonna order a new kingpin,” my mind went to drug lords and crime bosses.

I should have known. He meant something RV-related. I swear sometimes it feels like that’s all we buy.

For those who are unfamiliar with fifth wheels, the pin box and kingpin assembly are located on the “nose” of the trailer. The pin then locks into a hitch located in the bed of the truck used for towing.

We’d been wanting to upgrade to a smoother ride for The Toad, and after the usual massive amount of online research, Tim ordered the Flex Air Pin Box Long Jaw by Lippert Components, model 328492. Its integrated shock absorber and air bag should give us a lot less shake, rattle and roll than we’re used to, in both trailer and truck.

It weighs 240 pounds, and arrived strapped to a pallet.
How’s that for excitement?

Unwrapped, all shiny and new and hella sexy

If you’re gonna give this a go: as with any upgrade that is expensive and/or heavy, you’ll want to consult with both the item’s and your RV’s manufacturer before ordering, and make triple sure of all measurements to avoid costly returns. As you can see from the photos above, we definitely didn’t want to risk the hassle of sending this sucker back.

After opening the box came the fun part: off with the old, on with the new. We knew we were going to need a few more sets of hands for that.

Luckily, when it comes to living around other RV’ers, help is there when you need it, and sometimes you don’t even have to ask. Just put up the hood of your car or truck, and within a minute or two, help will arrive. Might work even faster if you are actually leaning over the engine, looking a little perplexed. “Hey, man, what’s going on?” “Oh, you got a busted thingamajig? I’ve got a tool for that.” “Let me tell you about the time this happened to me…” and so on.

I call it the Batman Beacon of the RV Park. Just lift the hood, and you’ll bring all the heroes to the yard!

We were lucky to have park hosts Ed and George, and our neighbor, Dave, show up right on time to help us get the job done that morning. Or maybe they just caught a whiff of the second best way to bring the boys to the yard: set out food and drinks. In this case, it was fresh pumpkin muffins and piping hot coffee. Feed them, and they will come.

Muffins from scratch, and strong coffee for the win!

The process took about three hours spread out over the whole day (you know how it goes), but included only one trip to a hardware store. The new assembly didn’t come with bolts, and the ones from our old unit were too short, so off Tim went.

Another thing that didn’t come with the new pin box? Instructions! Be prepared to spend some time on the phone or online with Lippert if you decide to buy one of these.

Off with the old…

Can you believe I got 18 seconds of video of men working, and not one of them swore? Again with the disappointment!

Take I
Its top edge should not be up against the nose of the 5th wheel like that, so there was a Take II.

Much better.
After a couple of adjustments, we got it into the correct position. Note gap between top of pinbox and bottom of RV nose.

Backing the BFT up to the The Toad to make sure the kingpin is at the proper height to fit correctly into our hitch

Bingo! Kingpin in hitch.
That’s exactly how it should look.

Adjusting the air bag (it’s that black rubber part that looks like a tire) to the recommended 40psi

Tim ended up moving the RV without me for the kingpin’s maiden voyage, and he assured me that the ride was indeed smoother. But he also noticed after the first trip under real conditions, that the thing needs to be adjusted one bolt hole lower for a better fit with the truck hitch.

Looks like we’ll be making use of the Batman Beacon again!

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

RV bathroom upgrade: Any excuse for a potty!

I’m sure other people are buying exciting new things like electronics, clothing, and airline tickets for the holiday gift-giving season.

Us? We bought a new toilet for The Toad.

It arrived quite appropriately on Black (Tank?) Friday.

It arrived quite appropriately on Black (Tank?) Friday.

But we’d finally had it with our old one, which was just not worth the hassle of yet another repair effort. Despite more than one round of disassembly and cleaning, plus replacement of critical parts, the flush ball mechanism would no longer seal correctly.  And as anyone with recreational vehicle bathroom experience knows, that creates some unpleasant issues, none of which are appropriate for polite company.

Tim checked online reviews for newer models, and we settled on (pun absolutely intended) the Dometic ceramic bowl gravity-flush toilet, model 320. Being a handy guy, he knew we could handle this job ourselves, and it took even less time than we thought: only one hour from opening the shipping box to the first successful “test drive.”

Opening it up was an exercise in itself.

Opening it up was an exercise in itself.

It was the day after Thanksgiving, and although we still had visions of pie in our heads, we knew that was not whipped cream

It was the day after Thanksgiving, and although we still had visions of pie in our heads, we knew that was not whipped cream. At all.

I was positive we'd find the directions in the bowl, mainly because that's where I'd have put them. Close enough.

I was positive we’d find the directions in the bowl, mainly because that’s where I’d have put them.
Close enough.

I was the Reader of the Directions. I kept asking Tim if the toilet was flush with the floor -- and then giggling uncontrollably. That shit never gets old. Ha!

I was the official Reader of Directions.
I kept asking Tim if the toilet was flush with the floor — and then giggling uncontrollably.
Because that shit never gets old.

Some tips for anyone who decides to tackle this job:

  1. You will need to turn off the water supply to your RV while you’re working. Prepare accordingly by filling a pitcher with clean water for drinking, using the old toilet one last time before you disconnect it, and putting some soapy water in a bucket for washing hands.

    Critical tools: socket wrench set, and an iPhone (which served conveniently as both a flashlight and an internet reference guide)

    Critical tools: socket wrench set, and an iPhone (which served conveniently as both a flashlight and an internet reference guide)

  2. Choose a location — and time of year — for adequate ventilation. The floor opening to your black tank will be exposed for a while, so you’ll definitely want windows open!

    One of the toughest parts of any RV repair job: maneuvering in really tight spaces

    One of the toughest parts of any RV repair job: maneuvering in really tight spaces

  3. Tools and materials we used: socket wrench, screw driver, putty knife (for scraping deposits from floor flange), rags and paper towels, spray cleaner/disinfectant, plastic garbage bag, and rubber gloves. If your toilet model comes with a hand sprayer, you will also need a drill to install the mounting bracket on the wall.

    Prepping the floor flange by scraping out the yuck. It was about as disgusting as you'd imagine.

    Prepping the floor flange by scraping out the yuck.
    It was about as disgusting as you’d imagine.

  4. We also recommend talking with your RV and/or toilet manufacturer before you place your order, to make sure you purchase a model that will fit in your camper, along with any additional required parts. And if this type of project is new for you, you may also want to do the installation at a time when the manufacturer’s customer service department is open, so that you can call for help if needed (yet another use for that cell phone).

    Out with the old, in with the new!

    Out with the old, in with the new! Aside from being a requirement in this case, it’s also how we Own Less with other stuff: new in, old out. Always.

Of course the most important thing you will need for this job is a sense of humor. Toilets and bathrooms are funny, and making as many crappy jokes as necessary will help pass the time.

Our new throne. Let me just say that the spray nozzle is a total game-changer. That is all.

Our new throne.
Let me just say that the spray nozzle is a total game-changer.

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

Some funny things happened on the way to the Grand Canyon

We departed from Home Base San Antonio a week ago today, and arrived yesterday in Williams, AZ, which will serve as our base camp for a week or more as we explore the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and other northern Arizona destinations.

Our first stop was only an hour outside San Antonio, in Kerrville, TX. We wanted to spend some time with our friends, Jay & Kris, plus we had some tools of theirs to return, so we hung out with them for a few days at Kerrville-Schreiner Park.

It's a city park now, but until 2004 it was a state park, with the acreage, trails, riverfront and wildlife to show for it. Very pleasant stay, and highly recommended as a camping destination.

It’s a city park now, but until 2004 it was a state park, with 517 acres of trails, camp sites, cabins, wildlife, and riverfront access to show for it.
Very pleasant stay, and highly recommended as a camping destination.

Funny Thing 1: Giant crawdad at the boat launch. I really don't like knowing they grow this large, but...

Funny Thing 1:
Giant crawdad at the boat launch. I really don’t like knowing they grow this large, but…

... if we hadn't found it, we wouldn't have learned that Jay is some sort of crawdad whisperer! He unhooked the leash from one of his doggies, dangled it in the water, and used to to lead the crawdad out. I. Almost. Died.

… if we hadn’t found it, we wouldn’t have learned that Jay is some sort of crawdad whisperer.
He unhooked the leash from one of his doggies, dangled it in the water, and used it to lead. the crawdad. out.

The doggies, however, were most amused by this new plaything.

The doggies were most amused by this new plaything.

You think regular old dog breath is bad? Tim got a kiss from Pixie, who'd just licked the crawdad. Eeeeemwwww!

You think regular old dog breath is bad?
Tim got a kiss from Pixie, who’d just licked the crawdad.
Eeeeewwww!

Funny Thing 2: Unexplained teepee in the park

Funny Thing 2:
Unexplained teepee in the park

Funny Thing 3: There were signs everywhere advising against touching or feeding the deer, but I ask you, who can resist a face like that?

Funny Thing 3:
There were signs everywhere advising against touching or feeding the deer, but I ask you, who can resist a face like that?

Funny Thing 4: We took in downtown Kerrville's 2nd annual Chalk Fest. Let's just say that Linus and Charlie Brown weren't the only two characters we saw.

Funny Thing 4:
We took in downtown Kerrville’s 2nd annual Chalk Fest.
Let’s just say that Linus, Snoopy and Charlie Brown weren’t the only characters we saw on those sidewalks, and it. was. awesome.

We also went into the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center (it's free!), and looked up. Trippy!

We also went into the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center (it’s free!), and looked up.
Trippy!

Funny Thing 5: I giggled. And I make no apologies for having the sense of humor of an 8-year-old boy.

Funny Thing 5:
I giggled.
And although I make no apologies for having the sense of humor of an 8-year-old boy, wouldn’t “Kerrville Public Library” have been a less cringe-worthy name?

Funny Thing 5: It's not funny. The day before we left, Jay helped Tim tighten up our trailer brakes. And that's when they noticed we've got some suspension issues, probably relating the Tire Incident in January. I don't understand all the details, but we figured we could make it safely (albeit bumpily) to AZ with the springs and shocks in their current condition. We'll get everything back in better working order before we leave, though.

Funny Thing 6:
It’s not funny.
The day before we left, Jay helped Tim tighten up our trailer brakes. And that’s when they noticed we’ve got some suspension issues, probably relating to the Tire Incident back in January. I don’t understand all the details, but we figured we could make it safely (albeit bumpily) to AZ with the springs and shocks in their current condition. We’ll get everything back in better working order before we leave there, though.

Our itinerary: Three days of driving, from Kerrville to Roswell to Ruidoso to Pie Town to Williams

Our itinerary: Three days of driving, from Kerrville to Roswell to Ruidoso to Pie Town to Williams

Funny Thing 6: Pie Town, NM, is about as big as that crawdad we found, but the people there know it and play to it wisely. They're friendly as hell too. Our receipt might say we stayed at the Pie Town RV Park, but according to some folks we met it town, we stayed at Penny & Jay's.

Funny Thing 7:
Pie Town, NM, is about as big as that crawdad we found, but the people there know it and play to that particular strength wisely.
They’re friendly as hell too, as you can see from this welcoming sign on the RV park bath house, which is open to anyone who may need it. Our receipt might say we stayed at the Pie Town RV Park, but according to the folks we met in town, we really stayed at Penny & Jay’s.

Few things make me smile like an honor system cash box. This is how we paid for our spot, one of six in the gravel lot adjacent to Penny & Jay's.

Few things make me smile like an honor system cash box. This is how we paid for our spot, one of six in the gravel lot adjacent to Penny & Jay’s.

And yes, when in Pie Town, you find whichever of the three restaurants is open (unusual hours: plan ahead), and prepare to be treated like family when you walk in the door.

And yes, when in Pie Town, you find whichever restaurant is open (unusual hours for all three, so plan ahead), and prepare to be treated like family when you walk in the door. “Hi! Where y’all from? Before I forget, we’re out of meat loaf and mashed potatoes tonight, but we can give you a second side with whatever main dish you choose. Is that OK?”

We ate dinner at The Gatherin' Place, saved room for Very Berry Pie, and left our mark on one of their door frames. Can you find ownlessdomore.us?

We ate dinner at The Gatherin’ Place, saved room for Very Berry Pie, and left our mark on one of their door frames.
Can you find ownlessdomore.us?

Very Berry Pie: just the right mixture of tart and sweet, with a wonderfully flaky crust. Worth every calorie!

Very Berry Pie: just the right mixture of tart and sweet, with a wonderfully flaky crust. Worth every calorie!

Funny Thing 7: We learned a lesson in kitchen storage upon our arrival in AZ. Don't let the pizza cutter ride next to the pastry brush. Poor thing got a bit of a trim!

Funny Thing 8:
We learned a late lesson in RV kitchen storage upon our arrival in AZ. Don’t let the pizza cutter ride next to the pastry brush.

Coming up in a few days: the best Grand Canyon photos a girl can get on an iPhone. See ya when we’re done exploring!

We are feeling famous, and also road ready!

We’ve recently been featured as RV Lifestylers on the RV Like A Girl blog — and just in time to announce that after this 3-week visit that turned into two months, we are ready to roll away from San Antonio once more. The medical issues I alluded to in this post have been resolved to a point that we are confident about traveling again!

To learn more about why we're living this way, check out our interview at RV Like A Girl.

To learn more about why we’re living this way, check out our interview at RV Like A Girl.

Meanwhile, Tim hasn’t been the only one with issues.

The Toad developed a few as well -- I know you're shocked -- and we've done some further repair work on the AC, 12-volt electrical system, and slide out sweeps (the black rubber gaskety stuff that keeps the rain out).

The Toad developed a few as well — I know you’re shocked — and we’ve done some repair work on the HVAC and slide sweeps (the black rubber gaskety stuff that keeps the rain out).

The main AC died, and since it's still damn hot in Texas in September, fixing it became a priority. Old guts out...

The main AC died, and since it’s still damn hot in Texas in the fall, fixing it became a priority. Old guts out…

... new guts in.

… new guts in.

Old thermostat off...

Old thermostat off…

... new thermostat on. I did the wiring myself -- and nobody got fried! Best part is that the new motor is not nearly as loud as the old one, so we no longer feel like we're shouting at each other over a jet engine when the AC is running!

… new thermostat on.
I did the wiring myself — and nobody got fried!
Best part is that the new motor is not nearly as loud as the old one, so we no longer feel as though we’re shouting at each other over a jet engine when the AC is running.

We took on water -- in the living room -- during the last round of heavy rain storms here in San Antonio, and luckily Tim was able to trace the source to failing seals around our slide-outs. Also luckily, it hasn't rained much since then! This is still a work in progress, due to having to special order the stuff.

We took on water — in the living room — during the last round of heavy rain storms here in San Antonio, and luckily Tim was able to trace the source to failing seals around our slide-outs.
Also luckily, it hasn’t rained much since then! This is still a work in progress, due to having to special order the stuff, and um… messing up the first round.

We expect to depart San Antonio within about a week. On the Planning Table of Possibilities: Big Bend, the Grand Canyon, and winter in Arizona, perhaps with a side trip to Mexico.

¡Vámonos!

The husband, the wife, and the holy canopy

Remember when I wrote about damage we sustained after a San Antonio hail storm back in the spring? You can refresh your memory here.

We ended up finding more damage a week or two later, when we rolled out our awning and discovered several holes along the edge closest to the RV roof, i.e. the part that would have been exposed to hail while the thing was rolled up.

The stains and mildew were pre-existing. The holes? Not so much.

The stains and mildew were pre-existing in this 8-year-old sheet of vinyl. The holes? Not so much.

Having a skylight in your canopy rather defeats the purpose.

Having a “skylight” in your canopy rather defeats the purpose.

Thanks to the existence of our insurance company, internet commerce, and YouTube, we were able to deposit a check, order a new canopy, and take care of the installation ourselves. Couldn’t have done it without the help of this video from the RV Geeks!

Step 1 was Tim's favorite: buy a new tool!

Step 1 was Tim’s favorite: buy a new tool!

The new canopy arrived in a long cardboard tube. I'm sure UPS drivers love those.

The new canopy arrived in a long cardboard tube. I’m sure UPS drivers love those.

Removing the brackets so that we could grab the old canopy by the legs and walk it forward -- across the street -- to slide it out of its channel.

Had to remove the brackets so that we could grab the old canopy by the legs and walk it forward — across the street — to slide it out of its channel.

Got it to the ground, and now we unroll it and slide it off.

Wrestled it to the ground, and then had to unroll it and slide it off.

Off with the old, and to the dumpster with it!

Off with the old, and to the dumpster with it!

Slot A, Bracket B, blah blah blah.

Slot A, Bracket B, blah blah blah. Mostly I take photos so that we have a visual record of how things are supposed to look when we put them back together.

New canopy, sliding cooperatively onto the roller

New canopy, sliding cooperatively onto the roller

This is what the riveter does: jams in the rivet thingies.

This is what the riveter does: it jams in the rivet thingies.

Tim the Riveter He can do it!

Tim the Riveter
He can do it!

That post sticking out on the left is part of the spring-loaded assembly that allows the canopy to roll in and out. There is a right way and a wrong way to wind it, as usual. We did it the wrong way first. As usual.

That post sticking out on the left is part of the spring-loaded assembly that allows the canopy to roll in and out.
There is a right way and a wrong way to wind it, as usual.
We did it the wrong way first.
As usual.

See? Wrong.

See?
Something is not right.

A few tweaks later: ta-daaaaa! It's so clean and shiny, and it smells like a new car!

A few tweaks later: ta-daaaaa!
It’s so clean and shiny, and it smells like a new car!

Yes, I helped. See? And so did the guy in the spot next door, who saw me struggling to hold up my end of the top-heavy assembly, and came over to take my place. Thanks, Bernie!

Yes, I helped. See?
And so did the guy in the spot next door, who saw me struggling to hold up my end of the top-heavy assembly, and came over to take my place.
Thanks, Bernie!

But wait. There’s more. And this one makes us look even more incompetent.

We shifted to a new spot, see? And we were in a hurry, and we convinced ourselves that those low branches were not going to be a problem, but...

We shifted to a new spot, see? And we were in a rush that day, and we convinced ourselves that we could back in just below those low branches, but…

Scrape Snap Pop And there goes the the forward AC cover. Again. Yep. Second time we've done this. Different tree, same bonehead maneuver. Sigh. But better the cover than the actual AC!

Scrape
Snap
Pop!
And there goes the the forward AC cover. Again.
Yep. Second time we’ve done this. Different location, same bonehead maneuver. Lesson: the tree will always win.
Sigh.
But better the cover than the actual AC. Not as much of a cha-ching, but plenty of self-flagellation.

Thanks for tuning in. Coming up next on the Rohrer & Wife RV Repair channel: Crappy Jobs. The toilet’s malfunctioning — again!