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.

Greetings from the corner of Centipede & Fourth

Curious little place, this.

We pulled into the Phoenix area on Sunday, January 17, with plans to set ourselves up before sundown at the Luke AFB Fam Camp, and stay for a few nights. That plan would have worked great, had we actually read enough of the description to learn that the fam camp is not on Luke AFB at all. Not even close. It’s an hour’s drive southwest of the base, at the Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field — the AFAF.

See? Gila Bend AFAF, right on the water tower.

See? Gila Bend AFAF, right there on the water tower.

So a good two hours after sunset, we finally had a place to stop for the night. All the spots with hook-ups were taken though, so we had to dry camp, and then play the vulture game in the morning.

For the non-RV crowd:

  • Dry camping = relying on internal water tanks and power sources, which is not a hardship if you’re prepared with fresh water in your holding tank, a working water pump, a fully charged battery, and, if you want to use anything that plugs in, a generator. We do not have a generator. Sometimes we don’t have any of those other things either. It’s all part of the adventure. Have I mentioned that we’re on an adventure?
  • Vulture game = Peering out windows, watching for other campers to leave, so that you can pull into their spot immediately, hook yourself up to shore power and water, make coffee, and take a hot shower.

Nothing wrong with waking up in the desert.

Nothing wrong with waking up in the desert.


And the base itself is quiet. The visiting officers quarters reminded me of our various stints in Navy housing during Tim's career.

And the base itself is quiet. The visiting officers’ quarters reminded me of our various stints in Navy housing during Tim’s career.

Life here is a bit hardscrabble. There are no amenities like you’d find on other military bases (no commissary, exchange, restaurants, bowling alley, or even a gas station), and the water is unfit for consumption — bit of an issue with arsenic — so you’ve got to fill up jugs at one of many reverse osmosis stations scattered throughout the campground. Plus, you’re parked in dirt.

But hey, the washers and dryers are free, and the rate for full hook-ups is $10/night, which is a steal. Also, truly the friendliest and most welcoming RV’ers we’ve ever met are parked here, probably because it’s so remote and so lacking in all the usual comforts. Newcomers need help figuring out how to survive, and the long-timers, some of whom have been wintering here for more than a decade, are very willing to provide advice and assistance. Hell, we’re borrowing extra hoses from one guy, sharing a water hook-up with another, and we only drank the wrong water for the first 36 hours thanks to these folks!

Nightly campfires are one of many ways this community comes together. We uh, we reduced the average age of attendance considerably, when we arrived.

Nightly campfires are one of many ways this community comes together. We uh, we reduced the average age of attendance considerably when we showed up.


Just behind the RV park? A boneyard for old military vehicles from decades gone by.

Just behind the RV park? A boneyard for old military vehicles from decades gone by.


They get used for target practice on the bombing range!

They get used for target practice on the bombing range!

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Some items are older than others. Wooden wheels with steel rims!

Some items are older than others. Wooden wheels with steel rims!


The business end is stamped "Bethlehem Steel," and some other stuff I couldn't make out. A relic!

The business end is stamped “Bethlehem Steel,” along with some other words I couldn’t make out.
A relic!

And even if you leave the base to go into the actual town of Gila Bend? Yeah, not so much there either.

One of two options for grocery shopping. The other was a Family Dollar. Yeah.

One of two options for grocery shopping. The other was a Family Dollar.
Yeah.


We may or may not have increased the Old Crab population.

We may or may not have increased the Old Crab population.


See? Corner of Centipede and Fourth. That's where we are for the next few nights!

See? Corner of Centipede & Fourth. That’s where we’ll be until Saturday morning, when the next set of vultures can pull in as we pull out!

 

And the left rear tire falls off. It falls off. It falls. the fuck. off.

Not kidding. (And also not willing to claim that line as my own. It belongs to comedian Ron White, and I thought of it immediately). Here ya go:

The drama started yesterday, about 3 hours into what was supposed to be an 8-hour driving day, taking us south from Portland, over the mountain passes, and into northern California for the night.

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We were here, southbound on I-5, just north of Roseburg.

Tim was driving, and here’s something you need to know: The man thinks out loud when he drives. He says things like, “Huh,” and “Seriously, lady?” and “That’s interesting,” without ever specifying exactly what, in the 180-degree view in front of us, he’s actually talking about. Since we are not often looking at the same things, I’ve given up trying to guess, and mostly I ignore him. But when the guy at the wheel says, “Uh, I think a tire just fell off,” that’s an attention grabber.

Neither one of us felt it. I mean, we’ve got nine others, right? But Tim sensed a disturbance in the force, and noticed two things simultaneously:

  • Hey, there’s a tire rolling down the highway behind us, and
  • Oh, shit. We’re missing one.

Thankfully, we were already in the left lane, and that left rear tire came to rest along the median, rather than careening across traffic and causing further mayhem. We pulled to the shoulder about 1/4 mile beyond it, and while Tim was on the phone with Good Sam Roadside Assistance (a call that took nearly an hour), an Oregon State Trooper pulled up behind us and made sure we were OK. Senior Trooper Gorman also went back to the tire, and rolled it over to the right side of the highway for easier pickup by the emergency assistance dude — who finally arrived at 3:00. We’d pulled over at 11:30.

Yeah.

I was bored. Really bored. So I created this series:IMG_4561 IMG_4562 IMG_4563

And there it lies.

And there it lies.

The emergency dude, Joel, worked for half an hour, in the rain, in the strip of shoulder between our rig and interstate traffic, and then had to leave to find… uhh… let’s just go with lug-related parts. He was gone for two hours. Lola was not the only one who looked like this:

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Could’ve been worse. Could’ve been kids in the back seat.

I scrawled BRING WINE, in the rear truck window, facing traffic. I know what to do in an emergency, people.

I scrawled BRING WINE in the foggy truck window, facing traffic.
I know what to do in an emergency, people.

While we awaited Joel’s return, not one, but two Kind Old Men pulled over to offer assistance, and sympathy too, I’d guess. One was pulling an RV, so he definitely felt our pain.

Old Man 1, in yellow jacket

Old Man 1, in yellow jacket

Old Man 2, on left. Both gentlemen gave Tim that hearty handshake-back slap thing that men do, before heading off.

Old Man 2, on left.
Both gentlemen gave Tim that hearty handshake-back slap thing that men do, before heading off into the night.

Joel returned at 5:30, by which time it was dark, and put in two more hours of work to affix the spare, and charge our truck battery, which had died at oh, maybe the 4-hour mark. Good times, y’all. Good. Fucking. Times. For which we are now out half a house payment, but hey, I got a blog post out of our seven-hour sit-down on the shoulder of I-5 in Oregon.

So now we’re parked at a fairgrounds complex, and the good news is that Tim was able to find a compatible wheel at a nearby dealer this morning, so we won’t have to cool our jets here through the weekend, as we’d feared. Yes, we could have continued driving on the spare, but then we wouldn’t have had a spare, and we’ve got mountains and desert to cross before we get back to San Antonio. Safety first.

Guess we’ll have to save exploring the Umpqua Valley — which is known for wine and ice cream, and is hella fun to say out loud — for another visit.

Also, as my clever and hilarious friend, Mark, pointed out, Umpqua answers the question, “What sound does Emily and Tim’s RV make with a missing wheel?”

Perfect.