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.

Get Along, Little Dogies

Free at Last!

After 13 days in OKC, we finally got back on the road Tuesday, October 27. Whew! The last week was spent trying to fix a glitch caused by an engine computer update, which they didn’t charge us for.  But it does cost to live in a motel and eat out every meal. And yes the repair bill was a Zooiinng, but Zane is working great and starts up right away now.

Farewell, Oklahoma!

Farewell, Oklahoma!

Then we drove south to Aledo, Texas (near Dallas/Ft. Worth) and the Cowtown RV Park for one night, so we could go to dinner at a cajun restaurant with my brother Mark Walton and his wife, Christy who live in nearby Saginaw. It was lovely to see them and to have our rig back!

Wednesday, we scooted down to Abilene, Texas and Wally-Docked (boondocked overnight in a WalMart parking lot). We realized that staying for free in truck stops and rest areas meant we were using our generator for the entire time (15 hours) and that added up in diesel fuel costs. Maybe WalMart would be quiet enough to just leave the generator off and open the windows. It worked out fine. Cheaper boondocking. Oh yeah, now the expenses are coming down.

Thursday, the next morning, I was anxious to see the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature Museum, which Clay so graciously found on TripAdvisor.com (things to do in Abilene, Texas)- wasn’t that sweet of him?  I love, love, love children’s book art. So we found the museum, walked up to the door, and discovered it was closed due to ceiling repairs. Drats and disappointment.

The consolation prize was the Frontier Texas! Museum. Neat displays and hologram images of characters from the old west and the conflicts between the buffalo hunters who wiped out the herds and the Comanche horse culture that depended on the buffalo for their way of life.  We learned some things and had fun doing it.

On we rolled in the afternoon.  We passed endless fields of ripe cotton and bales the size of huge trucks, oil rigs and windmill farms on our way to Hobbs, New Mexico for another Wally-Dock.  Because we have a big fridge and great food, we never eat out for any meal. And the Hello Fresh recipes are amazing.  The grilled chicken breast with peach and spinach leaf salad and garlic/olive oil toasted baguette croutons was so tasty and refreshing after a long day.

Carlsbad For Now

Friday we arrived in Carlsbad, New Mexico, our stay put destination for the next few weeks to a month. So tickled to be out West!  I keep clapping my hands like a little kid.

We had looked on the ALLSTAYS app for BLM (Bureau of Land Management) places to boondock without fees or hook ups of any kind. Our goals for this first extended boondocking experience are to:

  1. Spend no money.
  2. See how long we can live on our 161 gallon water and dump tanks before we have to refill and dump.
  3. See how long we can live on our 6 massive AGM Lifeline batteries before we need to crank up our generator to replenish them.
  4. Be completely alone.

(We’ll let you know how it turns out in a later post.)

Being new to this BLM dispersed camping routine, we drove 20 miles down the road to the first option as it appeared on the app, unhooked our toad (Jeep) to investigate the road condition and any potential problems. These are not official campsites– just pull off areas alongside dirt roads people have used for years and then told others about.  Although it looked like the perfect camping spot on the satellite views, the Dark Canyon area had piles of gravel blocking every entrance. Curses, foiled again.

Plan B: Go to the BLM office in Carlsbad and see where else we could camp.  Mr. Goodbar of the BLM graciously spent time with us, marking a survey map with potential spots we could try.  He was very enthusiastic and helpful.  With some hope, but not much confidence, we set out again in our Jeep, 25 miles out of town, off the main road and over a cow guard onto an unmarked two track hard pack dirt road.  About a mile or so driving through the desert over a rise and down again, we found a parallel pull off that would work great, and then drove further until we found a well head (natural gas?) with a cleared out areas for large trucks to turn around. Should work for Zane!

We drove back to get the RV and a heavy duty brush clipper from the hardware store. I got into my long sleeve work shirt, pants, boots and gloves and drove the toad up the dirt track, with Clay following in Zane, stopping every thirty feet to cut back thorn bushes with 1 1/2 inch long wicked thorns that might stick to the tires or scratch the paint until we got to our site.  It took about five hours to get this all done from the time we arrived in Carlsbad.

This is a good spot!  The coach cockpit faces South, with sun rising at the East-facing head of our bed and the sun setting at the foot of our bed over the low ridge of Guadalupe Mountains out the West-facing living room window.  We placed our lawn chairs on a mat and sat down in the hot sunshine. Home Sweet Desert.

You cannot see the rig from the highway, which we like, and we are surrounded by low desert scrub and cacti as far as you can see in all directions.

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Zane in her native habitat

Zane in her native habitat

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There is no noise, no wind, no sound except
the other night, about 3 in the morning, cool air through the open windows carried the spooky call of a coyote very close to the RV. Aaawwwwoooooooooooooo.

Next up: Carlsbad Caverns and Bats!

Wendy

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.

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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

That Doesn’t Sound Good….

We rolled out of bed to a sunny, beautiful day after an overnight at a truck stop in Tulsa, OK. It’s my turn to drive and I’m going through my pre-flight checklist (as any good pilot would do). Everything checks out so I release brake and start rolling forward between semi trucks to the sound of grinding and screeching and not much forward movement.

“Woah!” We both said in unison, “That doesn’t sound good!”

How suddenly our world can go from trouble-free fun to …. the other thing. We had just left the Newell Coach factory the day before. What bad timing!!

So what was that sound? Maybe it will go away if we pretend it didn’t happen and try again. So I push the accelerator and again we get an agonizing noise. Nuts!

So what could it be? Well, remember last night when we rolled in here and Wendy had a difficult time getting the parking brake to engage? (The parking brake on this beast is a rectangular yellow knob which you pull to engage. When engaged, it releases all the air from the disk brakes and their springs put the jaws of life clamps on the brakes).

Parking Brake [Square Yellow Knob]

Parking Brake [Square Yellow Knob]


So maybe we have a locked brake? Wendy goes out to investigate and hears a constant hissing sound by the main/tag tires. Hmmm. Maybe we have an air leak. But I’m checking the gauges and am showing full pressure on all the air systems. (We sound pretty sophisticated at this point, right? Well, just wait.)

So I call the factory and they ask a bunch of questions and get a specialist on the phone who asks a bunch of questions, which culminates in a suggestion that I look into the belly of the beast (behind and above the main and tag axles) to see if a brake line has come loose.

The ground at truck stops is filthy. The underbelly of Zane is nasty and it’s a really tight space, with 56,000 pounds of beast on top of you and only air bag suspension to protect you from getting squashed. I’m not enthused about getting in there to have a look-see. So the next question is: Do we call CoachNet (for emergency services) or do we see if the small mechanics shop at this truck stop can resolve our problem? We opt for the mechanics shop and meet Luis. (There are people in this world who love to solve problems of this nature and do it with a smile. And Luis is one of them.) He crawls under and around and in and out. I don’t know who cleans his uniform, but, wow!

Luis hard at work

Luis hard at work overshadowed by worried RV owners

Two hours later Luis has jacked up the coach, removed the tag wheel and …. “Ohhh, he says, “I see what the problem is!” I’m thinking, hmmm. What is it: An air leak? Is the brake caliper shot? Who has parts for these things? Luis says, “Let me show you. Do you see the skid marks on the bottom of your coach? You’re dragging bottom! You see this big mounded hump in the asphalt? You’re just in a low spot.”

I had mixed feelings about the diagnosis. On the one hand, Yay! A simple problem with a simple solution! On the other hand, Duh.

But as we looked around the truck parking lot, which is in really bad shape, there was a pot hole that could have swallowed a Smart car, and a trio of trucks hauling 70,000 pound rectangular metal structures: one had tried to get out of lot and his rig slipped its king pin, leaving the huge trailer dropped to the ground, with no jacks to get it back up. It took them as long to solve their problem as it did ours. When they finally got their rig back together, they gave me a thumbs up.

We’re learning all the time. So what do I take away from this? My world is filled with good people who are ready to help me. The Newell factory was right there on the line ready to help me troubleshoot. And there are people like Luis who are ready, willing and able to crawl around in the belly of the beast to discover and solve problems.

What was the bill for this adventure? Would you believe our 2-hours of Luis’s time and equipment cost us only $53?

So how did we solve the problem of bottoming out? Usually, when we arrive at a campsite (or truck stop) we push a little button and the suspension goes from travel mode through a processes of filling and removing air from the corners of the suspension to find level.

Our Way Cool Leveling System

Our Way Cool Leveling System

It’s pretty cool to hearing little hissing bursts and see the world sway as it finds level. This system also allows you to raise or lower the entire coach. So I simply manually raised the suspension and we s-l-o-w-l-y rolled on out, with the high air suspension alert pinging, found a flat spot a few feet down the road, then put it back into travel mode suspension. No muss, no fuss- just 2 hours of fun and games to start our day. And we got to meet Luis, a really awesome guy.

Clay