RESET

Farewell my Lovely

2018-04-25_14-54-22_371In April 2018, we rolled Zane (our motorhome) into an impossibly tight spot between evergreens at a beautiful little RV Park in Show Low, Arizona for what we thought would be a month’s stay.

If you’re in Casa Grande, Arizona in April, it starts to get hot, really hot in the desert.  But at 6,350 feet elevation, Show Low is perfect.  Ahhh.  Time to relax and explore the area.

But after a week of cool relaxation, there was something rattling around in my mind that needed resolution.  The “rattle” had to do with our finances.  When we bought our beautiful 2004 Newell motorhome in 2014 we were making significant income and our plan was to retire with $X in the bank at some future time.

Fast forward to 2018 and our plans had changed.  We were now officially retired, significantly earlier than we had originally planned and with ½ $X in the bank.

Hmm.

When Wendy indicated in June 2017 that she was done, done, DONE with her medical career (but would still finish out her 6 month Eureka California contract),  I quickly began to adjust our investment portfolio so that I could pluck every piece of fruit (dividends) out of it without chopping down the orchard (stocks).  Then I created a budget based on that annual dividend income and we began living on that projected amount while she finished her last 6-month assignment. And we kept to our new, leaner, meaner budget.

Freedom is a wonderful thing.  It feels great!  But financial freedom requires some sacrifices.  If we were going to be done working, we would have to stay within this new budget.

And the one thing that was rattling around in my brain was the fact that Zane had a habit of requiring costly repairs.  She’s an older coach.  She has a massive diesel engine.  No, make that TWO massive diesel engines; one to drive her and another in the PowerTech generator which produces 20 kilowatts of electricity (enough to power a motorcoach and a house at the same time).  Everything in her is high end, including a Sub Zero fridge that keeps requiring $800 repairs, would cost $12,000 to replace, is custom built into the cabinet walls, and no appliance repair guy wants to work on it.

In the four years we have lived in Zane, we’ve budgeted $12,000 per year in maintenance and upgrades. And every year we blow through that $12,000 budget.  Like the Roadrunner zooming past Wile E Coyote.  Beep! Beep!

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[credit:Warner Brothers via twistedsifter.com]

How could we remain financially free (live within our budget) with this budget-busting motorhome?

Hmm.

But we love her so much!

One day, Wendy and I are sitting outside under the pine trees when in rolls a gold Ford F-350 pulling a 5th wheel into the spot next to us.  It looked very —nice! I turned to Wendy and said, “I could do that.”  (Meaning, I could imagine us trading down to a truck and 5th wheel.)  Next thing, Wendy and I are making new friends, taking a test-drive in their pickup (smooth ride, not clunky and mean-spirited like big trucks I had driven before) and walking through their spacious 5th wheel.

Hmm.

With a new pickup truck and 5th wheel we could cut our yearly maintenance budget to $2,000, or maybe even lower.  Especially since a new one would have a 1-2 year all-inclusive warranty! And by selling the motorhome, we could buy the truck and 5th wheel with a significant amount of equity left over to provide more cushion in our bank account.

Just for grins, let’s throw in the decrease in RV insurance:  $733 a year for a 5th wheel instead of $4700 for the Newell.  That’s a big, huge, whopping incentive to re-think this whole motorhome issue.

Hmm.

Do I love my freedom more than I love my motorhome?

The answer is a resounding “YES”!

Time to press the RESET button.

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credit:ThisTimeIMeanIt.com

Once the decision was made, Wendy went into action.  She is amazing!  She loves these types of challenges.  Ergo:

  • Where and how do we sell the motorhome? At what price?
  • Which 5th wheel should we buy?
  • New or used?
  • How do you determine which truck to buy? F250? F350? Single rear or dual rear wheel axle?
  • How do you manage the logistics of moving your stuff from a motorhome to a 5th wheel?
  • Should we wait to buy a truck & 5th wheel until the motorhome sells? Or should we cash out some investments to cover the cost and then reimburse the investment account after the motorhome sells? Or should we (No, don’t say it) borrow for the truck & 5th wheel until the motorhome sells?

At the time, these questions were almost overwhelming.  But we’ve dealt with much bigger challenges, so we could handle this one.  Here’s how we ordered our thinking:

  1. Research 5th wheels.  When we bought the Newell we had researched motorhomes using www.rvreviews.net, which is an independent reviewer for recreational vehicles, similar in nature to Consumer Reports. So we got their guide for 5th wheels and began to pour over the reports.  We were looking for a 4-season, high quality product for full-time living.  Answer: DRV, followed by Redwood and then Grand Design.  We’d have to look at them and see where the price point / quality met our comfort zone.
  2. Where can we find some 5th wheels to look at? We can go anywhere in the United States to look, but let’s start where we intend to sell the motorhome.  So we set off for the Dallas, Texas area and unloaded all of our earthly possessions into a 10’ x 10’ storage unit.
    2018-05-07_Storage Unit

    Our few earthly possessions.  Something of which to be proud.

    Then we put eyes on some 5th wheels and selected a brand new 2017 DRV that had been sitting on the lot for over a year (the 2019s were coming in and they were ready to deal!).  We negotiated a great price with the full 2-year warranty.  We gave them a couple weeks to clean up some issues we found before we would come back to pick up the 5th wheel (by which time we hoped to have a truck with which to pull it).

  3. Where to sell the motorhome? That was pretty easy for us.  Motorhomes of Texas (MOT) sells used high-end motorhomes like our Newell and they draw buyers from all over the continent into their little town of Nacogdoches, Texas. What an amazing experience.  It took less than an hour.  We signed consignment papers with them, they suggested a listing price we liked, and the coach went immediately into their shop for a thorough review.  Their technicians were highly skilled and their service was reasonably priced.  They polished, spiffed it up, took pictures, video and advertised it on their website as well as on RVTrader.  Our experience with Motorhomes of Texas has been excellent!
  4. Next up, lose the Jeep and buy a truck. It’s important to identify the 5th wheel before you pick the truck so you know what pulling capacity you need.  Or be extremely realistic about what your current truck can haul.  The DRV is well built (a.k.a. heavy).  So we did the research and  determined we needed an F-350 Duly.  And thank goodness Wendy’s sister Kerry is married to Jeff who retired from Ford and was kind enough to give us the magic code for family to purchase a Ford for a killer price (Thank you Jeff).  With all these moving parts it just was not practical to try to sell the Jeep on our own so we traded it in as part of the transaction.
  5. So now we’re driving this big Ford beast and it’s surprisingly comfortable and quiet. 2018-06-12 Ford F-350We headed back to Dallas, picked up our DRV, loaded it with our stuff from the storage unit, and off we go.  We also went to the Cat Scale at a truck stop and went through the rigamarole to weigh the truck and fifth wheel using the workbook page in our B&W Hitch instruction booklet to calculate the final weight.  We are not overweight! Those who do chose not to weigh, do so at their own safety and insurance risk should their rig and truck go turtle.  And, you really should know if that bridge tonnage limit will hold before you try to cross it.
  6. We chose to buy the truck and 5th wheel using credit as a temporary stopgap until the sale of the motorhome. We HATE being in debt and it pained us every month to make payments, most of which was interest.  Interest is just — poof — money down the hole.  But it provided us the convenience of staying on the road (and visiting lots of family that summer) while we waited for the right buyer for the motorhome.  And wait we did.  We put our Newell up for sale in May 2018 and she did not sell until January 2019.

So that was our RESET. And it feels like we made an excellent decision.  Yes we loved the Newell.  It was a sweet ride!  There is nothing like rolling down the road sitting way up high and watching the world roll by in a Newell, with the massive semi-tractor engine 45 feet behind you.  You just have to experience it to appreciate it.  We miss her.  But she was demanding.  Her complex systems required constant maintenance and money.

Meet Zane Too.  Our 39 foot, 2017 DRV Mobile Suites 38RSSA.

2018-06-07 Zane Too

Uuuhhh… which way do we tow this thing?? There’s gotta be a manual around here…

We chose to make Zane Too as simple as possible, with no washer/dryer or generator.  Just pull her to the next RV park and plug into the power pole. The truck’s alternator charges the house batteries as we go down the road to keep the residential fridge contents cool.

I find myself with much more free time because I don’t have anything to fix on her.  And our budget is much happier with Zane Too.  And we remain free.

Life is soooo goooood!

~ Clay

 

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Time to Bolt!

Our coach is an amazing creature which provides us with mega comfort.  No matter where we explore in the U.S., we always come home to our comfy pillow and pick up where we left off in our novel or watch something on one of our satellite TVs.  No more hotels for us.  We LOVE this lifestyle and we love our coach.

Bedroom

The sleeping quarters of our comfy little castle.

But when our coach has a hiccup, solving the problem can be a real adventure.  Anyone who has a coach knows that there is always a list of things to be looked at or repaired.  Early on, most of our issues were “How in the world does this widget work?”

Let’s face it, this is a complex machine.  A house that rolls down the bumpy road.  Someone once said that if 80% of the stuff works 80% of the time, be happy.  That’s the approach we take.  We fix what we can and live with things that aren’t perfect until we get back to the factory for maintenance once a year.  But sometimes something really important requires that you change your plans and get it fixed — stat!

Uh Oh.  Big Problem!

In February we had such an issue.  Our furnace went out.  Not good when you’re wintering in the Pacific Northwest!  Our furnace is an Aquahot system.  The Aquahot circulates hot liquid to provide:

  • heat to each of five zones (front, middle, bedroom, bathroom and basement of the coach)
  • Engine pre-heat
  • Continuous hot water for ultra-hot, endless showers

The Aquahot can use either electricity (from our generator or a 50-amp service pole) or diesel (from our 238 gallon fuel tank), or both to heat the water.  It’s a complex, whiz-bang system that we absolutely love.  But after 12 years, she had sprung a leak and the Aquahot factory told me — “gotta replace it.”

Shower

We can stand in our shower all day long with our endless hot water and de-stress from our stressless life.

So we patched her up as best we could and headed to the factory to have the furnace replaced.  One thing we have come to realize is that, although it is never convenient to go to the Newell factory in Miami, Oklahoma, it’s where she was born.  And those folks are the only ones on God’s green earth who really know how to fix her and provide the right maintenance.  Since Newell only makes 24 custom coaches each year, no other maintenance shop has seen enough of them to really know what they’re doing.  And the longer a shop takes to figure out this beast, the more we pay for their service.  It seems that anything we have ever had done to our coach by someone other than Newell, had to be undone and redone by the Newell factory.  And the factory hourly rate is lower than most other service shops we’ve been to.  So I think we have finally learned our lesson.  We go to the factory.  It’s cheaper.  They provide better customer service, and they’re much faster because they know what they’re doing.

Time to haul rear!

Up until now, we’ve not had a reason to drive hard.  We typically get on the road by 10am and off by 3pm, with a lunch in between.  Why hurry?  But in this case, who wants to lally-gag across Wyoming in the wintertime?  It was darn cold and we had furnace issues.  So we covered 2,400 miles in four days.  We can really haul when we need to!Hurry to the Factory

It was actually a fun trip.  Quite an adventure.  Our big concern was Wyoming, land of the big winds and snow.  And, true to form, we had to stop in western Wyoming for the night at a truck stop (Little America) because I-80 was closed across Wyoming.  First thing in the morning I checked and I-80 was open again, so off we rolled, passing trucks that had skidded off the road from the prior storm.

Driving all day is really pleasant as we roll along and listen to our books on tape (We borrow audiobooks from all the libraries we belong to in Maine, Florida, and Washington.).  Each morning we were up with the sunrise and we would find a place to stay the night before the sun set at a casino, Walmart, rest area or a truck stop.

Newell Factory.

We actually enjoy our visits to the Newell factory.  They must have close to 30 service bays.  It’s quite a site to see 20 or 30 of these big beasts lined up in the service bays.

As a Newell owner, you are free to walk around the service bay, climb in your coach while they work, watch them work on your coach, ask questions, and inspect what they do as they work.  After three years of owning our coach, we now know these Newell technicians.  And they know us and the coach.  They even remember the first owner of the coach (We are the second owners.).  Our electrician helped build our coach 13 years ago.  The technicians are the best Newell has, having worked in the factory for a decade or two before they are hand-selected to work in the service area.  I think they must select them not only for their technical knowledge, but also for their ability to work well with customers.  Amazing customer service!

Factory Tour.

Newell recently completed construction on a new factory, which replaces the old one.  So we got a tour of the new factory.  It’s mind-bending to see a coach go from the early stages of creation, to the ugly guts-hanging-out almost-done stage, to the finished gleaming product.

Newell - Early Stage

You’re looking at the south end of a north-bound Newell in an early stage of production.

Newell - Missing Technology

This is the — guts hanging out ugly stage.  Left front view.

Newell - Needs Paint

Almost ready for paint.  Still a homely beast.

Newell - Final Touches

There’s a newborn getting her final touches.

The list price on a 2017 Newell is just shy of $2 million (and they always sell for list here).  Wendy and I just smile at each other when we consider that we get the same level of service for our 2004 coach as the owner of a $2 million dollar 2017 coach.  Sweet deal!

Everything works now!

We arrived at the factory with our gripe list.  We always keep a list of issues so we don’t forget anything at our annual factory visit.  Topping our list was to replace our Aquahot.  Here’s our newly installed Aquahot.

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The Aquahot 675D.  Our endless hot showers make us happy, happy, happy!

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The Aquahot gets neatly tucked away behind these two stainless steel doors.

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Everything disappears, neat and tidy behind the basement door.

This adventuring thing is not for the faint of heart.  It can lighten your pocket book in a big hurry.  There is a reason we call her Zane.  Because you have to be “in Zane” to roll down the road in this castle on wheels.  But we are happy and off on new adventures, nice and snugly-warm as we see new wonders from our coach.

Frigid Water and Sunshine Sandwich

There is a children’s book by Remy Charlip called “Fortunately”. It starts out:

Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party.
Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.
Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.
Unfortunately, the motor exploded.
Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.
Unfortunately, there was a hole in the parachute…

So, our week has kind of been like that.

Fortunately

On Monday, October 12, we woke up bright and early at our parking spot outside the Newell Factory for a 6:30 am appointment.

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After the beast was brought into the bay, it only took them 50 minutes to get most of the work done, then another few hours for the only guy who knows how to restring the old style motorized window blind to get it completed. By 12:30 pm, they were done and ready for us to leave.

2015-10-12 06.58.07

Then we loaded in our fresh groceries and headed down the road to Oklahoma City for our first routine inspection of the 515 hp Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine. We want them to fix a few things as well: it takes a long time to finally turn over from a cold start and there is some stray exhaust leaking out by the muffler. We just want to be safe on the road.

Unfortunately

And then it got interesting.

Fortunately, the engine repair shop was on our way out west. Unfortunately, they don’t take appointments.

Fortunately, when we arrived on Wednesday morning, they said we could stay on their front parking pad until they could get us in. Unfortunately, it might be two days from now.

Fortunately, a few hours later, they came and said, Hey we have a spot for you inside! Unfortunately, you cannot stay in the RV, so you have 10 minutes to gather your stuff and find a motel.

Fortunately, we have no place to be. Unfortunately, the coach will take a long time to fix.  The engine shop didn’t call Newell Factory until Friday to find out how to get into the engine from the hatch in the floor of the rear bathroom. So, 3 days wasted. Then no parts available until next week. Worst case scenario, lots of time and money to fix the injectors and manifold. Some dollar figure between Ouch and Zoooiiiiiiinnnggggg.

Fortunately, we found a lovely, inexpensive little motel with a pool, microwave, fridge and free full breakfast. Unfortunately, all the non-smoking rooms in the city were completely booked for a national horse show, no matter what the Hotels.com online reservation showed me.

Fortunately, the kind desk clerk worked some magic and gave us a non-smoking lovely patio room facing the pool, which was still open in October! Unfortunately, the water was FRIGID.

Fortunately, the sun was blazing hot.

So the combination of icy cold on the bottom of my wonderful floaty thingy with roasting sun on top, idling around the pool (with no one else crazy enough to swim in an outdoor pool in Oklahoma City in October), soothed by the drifting current and bright blue sky – it was a bliss, contentment and zen sandwich.

For the foreseeable future, we are living in a Howard Johnson motel in OKC. We went to an RV show yesterday and there is a professional rodeo finals event tonight in Duncan. I haven’t been to a rodeo in decades- really looking forward to it.

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So, Yeehaw, Oklahoma- looks like we’re staying a while.

Wendy