Tuesday, December 29, 2015

El RV Nino

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I was very interested in last week​'​s column about the cold weather issue. We are new to the RV lifestyle. We left Wisconsin just before Christmas and headed for Arizona. I wanted to head straight south for Florida, but my husband convinced me that Florida was expected to experience below normal temps this winter with El Nino patterns.

We barely made it alive through Texas and Oklahoma. When we reached New Mexico we hit a white out. We are now in Arizona licking our wounds and trying to stay warm. Our new trailer looks like a snow cone made with mud. My husband can't even unhook because the hitch is so caked with crud.

Is this what we can look forward to every year?

We are also having issues with trying to stay warm with no hookups. Our batteries keep giving out because we are running the furnace constantly. Tell me things are going to improve.

I wish I was home in Wisconsin basking in the warmth of our fireplace. 
--Disillusioned in Douglas

Dear Disillusioned:
It can only get better from here. It sounds like you started your adventure with a real white knuckle ride through some of the worse weather experienced along your route in decades.

Like the movie, "The Perfect Storm," you never know what you might have to encounter headed for warm temps during the winter season and even headed home in the spring. I have covered this subject many times and there is no simple answer. Trying to schedule a departure date is never easy.

Not only does weather come into play but also emotions. People anticipate leaving, have everything packed and often decide to ​go for it and take their chances. I would prefer doing a lot of forecast models and giving myself the best odds I could hope for when planning a departure.

​It​ sounds like you are about as far south as you can get without heading into Mexico. I think you will find the days warming, but the nights still a bit cool. The desert tends to give up its heat quickly when the sun drops.

That brings me to your next concern. Everyone goes through this experience when the temps drop and stay down for awhile. You have several choices. Find electrical hookups in a park so that you can run your furnace fan without killing your batteries. You could invest in a generator, but that will involve dealing with fuel costs and noise. Another option would be investing in solar if you have the room for panels and battery storage. It really depends on what type of RVing you are interested in.

If you plan to spend your winter with full hookups, you probably have everything you need. If you want to spend time off the grid you will need to add a power source. Constantly draining your batteries will eventually ruin them.

If you read enough of my past columns you will discover I lean more toward the solar solution. I find it ​quiet, low maintenance, efficient, and cost effective.

Only time will tell if you picked the right destination this winter, but if you decide Florida looks warmer, choose your weather window wisely and head in that direction. The southern route across can be very interesting and enjoyable if Mother Nature cooperates.

Go to a truck wash bay and get all spruced up. You will feel much better when ​your new trailer is sparkling again.

If you are able to watch the news you should feel blessed to have come through as well as you have. Enjoy your winter and new lifestyle. You will begin meeting a lot of wonderful people on the same journey you are on. Most are more than happy to share their experience and knowledge with you.

--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

RV Polar Express

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I think we are suffering from "RV fever." I am not talking about the strain that makes people want to go out and buy a new rig. I'm talking about the strain that more resembles "cabin fever."

We decided to spend more time in northern Arizona this winter. We tired of the desert cactus and wanted more pine. Now I am pining for cactus but my husband wants to stick it out here in the Siberian region of Arizona.

He spent a lot of time and money insulating our water and sewer lines, increasing our propane capacity and adding skirting insulation. That all works very efficiently, but now we spend more time inside our rig than out. We might just as well stay at home in Minnesota sitting on top of the wood stove.

How can I convince him this is a failed experiment and we must abort the mission.
--Polarized in Payson

Dear Polar:
With the recent crazy weather flip flops it is hard to plan a pleasant destination. In the West it is all about elevation. You can research historic temperature data but it will only give you averages.

It also depends on what you enjoy doing and what temperatures you feel comfortable spending time outdoors.

You can run, but you cannot hide. We just experienced a snowstorm while visiting the Biosphere 2 north of Tucson, Arizona. The eight people that spent 2 years in that controlled environment experienced the same thing you are going through now. According to the tour guide they ended up in two separate tribes that were not communicating with each other.

You two need to start communicating again. A better plan might be to roam a bit with the seasons. The nice thing about living on wheels is the opportunity to relocate when your best laid plans do not pan out.

Northern Arizona is a wonderful place to explore and spend time. I would suggest spending fall and spring in the north and finding a place you both can agree on when the temps drop. If you find the north country is experiencing above average winter temps, you could be there in a matter of days, even hours.

One of the wonderful things about the RV lifestyle is flexibility. Use it to your advantage. Don't get stuck in a frozen rut.

--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

RV Home on the Range

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My husband wants to sell everything, buy a motorhome and drive all the way across the country to a big gathering he read about in a place called "Quartzsite." I think he has lost his marbles.

He's too old for a mid-life crisis, and too young for me to convince him he is delusional.

What can I do to dampen his wanderlust spirit enough to save our house from going on the block?
--Heading for Homeless in Hyannis

Dear Hyannis:
Selling the house before you actually give the RV lifestyle a try can sometimes work out and sometimes be a disaster.

You seem like you are not on the same page about this great adventure. That being the case, I would put off placing the house on the sales block and putting together this adventure on a trial basis.

 Taking a block of time and testing whether the RV lifestyle is right for you will make things much easier in the long run no matter what your decision is.

I come from a long line of irrational exuberance. That's me with my family in the above picture when my dad decided we should take our 1957 Airstream and go all the way across the country to the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962.

I can tell you from a lifetime of experiences that this move can lead to a travel addiction. Whether you dive in or tiptoe, most people find there is a strong undertow that often will drag you in and you will find it hard to escape the pull of the experience.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Monday, December 7, 2015

RV food fright

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We have just started our travel adventure with a new travel trailer. We have a fairly good sized refrigerator. An adequate amount of pantry space, and a few bins we can use for food storage. The problem is we do not like buying in quantity at the big discount shopping stores. We have always bought at our local food co-op where we find good, fresh, quality food.

Can we just kiss goodbye the idea of finding this on the road? Are we going to have to change our eating habits to align ourselves more with the diet constraints of the big box stores?

This may sound like a small problem, but we enjoy preparing good healthy meals and do not want to give up fresh organic fruits and vegetables. —Food Fright in Fredericksburg

Dear Fred:
Part of the adventure is that things will be different. You will have to adjust to the conditions you discover as you move along. It will also depend where you plan to spend your time. It makes sense that the bigger the population density of an area the more choices of everything, including food you will find.

That is not always the case, so using the internet will allow you to explore more rural areas for the type of stores you prefer. There seems to be a trend and demand by consumers for more healthy choices in food. I see much more in the way of organics even in the big box stores.

Health food stores are not as rare, even in rural areas, as you may think. It just takes a bit more effort to seek them out. Another option we use is to buy freeze dried veggies and fruits in #10 cans. At first you get sticker shock when you scan the price, but you have to do some math and compare the volume to fresh. As a long distance backpacker I am very familiar with several brands. Once rehydrated these products taste fresh and delicious.

Another thing to look for, and ask about, are farmers markets. They are popular gathering places all over the country with all kinds of fresh, locally grown food choices.

Soon you will be able to order online from anywhere and expect Amazon to drone it in to your campsite within the hour! Talk about fresh.

With a little homework I don’t think finding good healthy food is as troublesome as it first appears.

The world is full of fruits and nuts. In your travels you will run into a wide variety. —Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink 

The coolest RV products and accessories for RVers at Amazon.com. Click here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

RV big chill

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My husband is always a half bubble off plumb, or at least he thinks he is. He is a bit of a fanatic about our fifth-wheel being level. He thinks if it is the least bit off level our refrigerator will stop working.

I don’t see other people that concerned with being perfectly level. Will you explain to me how I can persuade him to relax and still chill? —Cold Hearted in Henderson

Dear Cold Hearted:
Manufacturers use a more vertical design for evaporator positioning in today’s cooling units. This makes it easier for evaporator coils, inside the cooling unit, to permit gravity flow of liquid ammonia through the system.

Give the poor guy a break. If nothing else, his efforts will keep your refrigerator efficient and running optimally.

Leveling is not the only important part of efficiency, but it is important. Being a half bubble off should not hurt a newer unit. That said, front to back and side to side leveling still remains a concern.

If you run the fridge tilted for any length of time you can and will damage the cooling unit. Running off-level will cause the unit to stop circulating.

I can tell you from experience that pulling a unit and having it replaced or recharged is expensive and a hassle.

In the good old days you could take the unit out and roll it, cross your fingers and sometimes get it cooling again.

It’s easier to do a job right, than to explain why you didn’t, or pay for the mistake. So what’s the problem. Let him be fussy, let him be precise, let him be perfectly level.

If he is still a half bubble off plumb after all that, well, that would be another question and a different answer.
Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink 

The coolest RV products and accessories for RVers at Amazon.com. Click here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The RV Lifestyle "cookin' with gas"

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My wife is a bit paranoid about a coach fire. She recently saw a YouTube video of a motorhome just like ours go up in flames on a California expressway. She seems to think ours is going to blow at any minute now.

All of a sudden, propane is evil. I can’t seem to convince her that this fuel source has been used safely in RVs for decades. I want to make her comfortable with our new lifestyle. How do I get her over this latest hurdle?
--Classical Gas in Garland

Dear Gasman:
I would fight fire with fire (pun intended). It is easy to find additional YouTube videos that demonstrate how safe and efficient propane is.

I am sure your rig has a built in propane detector. If for some reason it does not, you need to install one.

Living in any home, fire safety should be a priority. I am shocked at how many RV owners do not realize they have escape latches on some windows, let alone how to operate them.

A detector is only effective if it is charged and operating properly. A fire extinguisher will only help if you know where it is, how to operate it, and has a charge.

Take your wife through a “Fire Drill.” It may sound like something you do with school kids, but it should be an annual event with all home owners.

Know where your shutoffs are located, what steps you will take and what order you will take them. The first thing most people do is panic. A drill is to hardwire, in your brain, the procedure you should follow. By running through a drill occasionally it will help in a real emergency to act quickly and correctly once the initial shock of an event strikes.

Show your wife you are on top of all these precautionary measures. Involving her should help ease her mind.
--Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink

The coolest RV products and accessories for RVers at Amazon.com. Click here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Hold on to your RV drawers

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My husband gets upset every time our drawer under the stove flies open.

The problem is weight. I love to cook with my iron skillets. I carry three in that drawer which is a very convenient place for them. Often we will make a sharp curve and the drawer comes all the way out and falls off the slides. My husband grumbles all the time he is putting it back on and saying we should store the skillets in some other space.

I do all the cooking. I don’t tell him where to store his tools, so why should I have to be told where to store mine?

Am I being unreasonable?
 --Slip Slidin’ Away in Salerno Beach

Dear Slip:
Nothing to squabble about. Tell your husband to go out to where he keeps his tools and fetch them. Run down to the hardware and buy a childproof drawer latch and have him install it. You might want two evenly spaced depending on the weight of those iron skillets.

Usually Velcro or a second latch would be enough to hold an aggravating drawer closed, but it sounds like you are doing some heavy-duty cooking.

These little problems that pop up as you fine-tune your rig are not for arguing, they are for solving to your individual tastes. Treat them as a challenge and figure out a solution by talking to others, searching online, or just putting your thinking cap on.

Between now and the time you find a childproof latch, hold on to your drawers every time you round a corner.
--Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink

The coolest RV products and accessories for RVers at Amazon.com. Click here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thelma and Louise RV Adventure

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
They say, “change is good”, but I am not so sure. We have been enjoying the National Parks and Forests our whole life. We now see so much poor management, price gouging and over-use, and we feel the parks are being severely depreciated. Slowly the parks are being whittled away and divvied up to the highest bidder in the public sector.

We just tried to have breakfast at a concession-run cafe in Death Valley. The two women that ran the place were Thelma and Louise and seemed like they were ready to drive off a cliff at any moment. We wanted to order a basic breakfast but they were out of bacon. By the time we figured out what little they had left and decided to leave, we were already seven dollars into two cups of coffee. Then we could not get Thelma or Louise to bring us a bill, so we eventually went to the cash register to pay. At that point both women showed up to inform us we had to wait at our table for the bill. We dropped a five and two ones and walked out.

I am not writing this to complain about this breakfast experience. I am using it as a reference to the direction federal land management has taken. Thelma and Louise are just cogs in the concessioner wheel. We see a pattern of park campgrounds being taken over by private companies who then start doubling fees, charging for amenities that were once included, and delivering poor service.

Isn’t this just another tax on top of the taxes we already pay to have the government run our Park System? Am I the only curmudgeon traveling around grousing about this degradation?

Should I just jump in the backseat with Thelma and Louise and go joy riding?
--Fuming in Furnace Creek

Dear Fuming:
I wish I could help you by waving a magic wand and solving the world’s problems, but that is not going to happen. Your cure is to deal with today’s challenges.

Thelma and Louise are small potato problems. (Were they out of hash-browns too?)

I have always said, “It’s simple math - multiply numbers, divide resources.” We now have 7 billion people on the planet and will move quickly to 8-9 during this next generation. That’s a lot of people to manage.

That’s the big picture. Narrowing it down to your observations, I agree with everything you say. I have been camping in our parks and forests since the fifties. Management has evolved in lock-step with society. It has gone from Ozzie and Harriet to The Simpsons.

The reasons for doling out management to concessioners, good or bad, is one of economics. Using part-time seasonal, volunteers and concessioners, these agencies cut their legacy costs and benefits, and along with that some erosion of dedication in a flux of public and private employees flowing in and out of the management of our National Treasures.

This all puts our resources in jeopardy. I just spent a few days hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the Sierra Nevada through the Granite Chief Wilderness. I was almost run over twice by mountain bikers who are banned from riding in Wilderness Areas. This was during hunting season, which should indicate a need for more management in the area, but I never saw a ranger. Obviously, the mountain bikers are also aware of this lack of supervision.

Multiply this attitude exponentially and you begin to see the problems we face in protecting precious resources.

Many people today want less government. As it turns out we can’t afford government and government can’t afford us.

--Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

RV oil change

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My husband is not a trusting person. He likes to do his own work on our motorhome when he can.

When we are on the road for months at a time he would rather do his own oil changes but the parks we stay in will not allow it. We always have to find a facility that will accommodate our big rig. The little quicky places are designed for smaller vehicles.

I tire of him grousing about the cost of the oil change and his worrying over what else the place might have done while under our rig. He checked after the last job and found the drain plug loose.

Does everyone go through this misery or just he and I?
--Lube Brooding in Bristol

Dear Lube:
It is often a problem finding a place to work on your rig while traveling. Many of the parks that have a maintenance area only allow resident owners to use it for liability reasons.

An oil change should be a fairly easy and straightforward job. I would think many parks would have an out-of-the-way place for you to do such a quick procedure as long as you were careful to catch your drained oil and dispose of it properly.

I have never found it a problem, and I change mine every three thousand miles. I always put a tarp down as insurance against any accidental spills, and most auto specialty stores will take your used oil.

If you use a service facility, you should give them specific instructions on what you want done and check the drain plug and filter when the job is finished. Many facilities offer a plethora of services accompanying the oil change that you may not want them fooling with. Be specific.

If a park does not allow this procedure it may be they have had issues in the past with people leaving a mess. It is no different from businesses offering free parking lot overnight stays. One bad apple can spoil the barrel. We have seen where people have dumped their gray water in Walmart parking lots. It would only take one person to create a mini-oil spill to turn a park owner or manager sour on trying to work with those who want to do a little precautionary maintenance.
--Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

RV smoke signals

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We were recently at a commercial RV park in Arizona with terrible Wi-Fi reception. We specifically chose this park because it advertised Wi-Fi. We paid for a week before we realized the Wi-Fi was only available if you sat on the bench outside the office.

My husband spent a hundred dollars on some crazy device that was supposed to reach out and grab the signal. It worked to some degree, but I would rather have the hundred bucks than mediocre Wi-Fi.

The park had many permanent residents with a separate internet service. Near the end of our stay a guy came over to talk to my husband. He was trying to figure out if we were getting on their internet and if we had their password. My husband was trying to help him with the password that was given to us by the park office and told him about the receiver thingy he had bought. As the conversation continued my husband finally figured out the guy knew more than he did about this techie stuff. He was actually one of the residents on the separate service and thought we were stealing their Wi-Fi.

I thought it a bit rude for him to come over and pretend he needed help. We can hardly spell Wi-Fi let alone hack into someone else’s signal. I’m sure I had smoke coming out my ears when I realized what was going on, but I held my tongue.

When we left we felt like people had probably been watching us suspiciously for days and treating us like criminals, when we were actually the ones who paid for a service we never received.

I don’t really have a question, I just wanted to let off steam.
--Smoke Signals in Sedona

 Dear Smokey:
Many parks have discovered that Wi-Fi is very important to customers. Putting in an adequate system to cover a park and supply the data is not cheap, but many parks are investing in better coverage. There is no such thing as a “free lunch.” You will often pay more for this service, cable or any other amenity.

Like your husband and many other readers I have tried several signal boosting, long-range adapters such as those produced by Alfa Networks. They work to some degree, but often the park is putting out a weak signal and it is only meant for guests to use at the clubhouse or near the office.

It can be frustrating for those who share a connection with others. If someone is streaming video it can throttle everyone else. Your guy should be looking at members of his own group. I assume they have their network password protected, so someone in his group must be giving it out.

You might want to call ahead or ask more specific questions when you reach a park, before you reach for your wallet. Some parks will use language like, “Wi-Fi Available.” Sometimes that means you can buy short-term service from a nearby provider. Sometimes that means you have to be parked next to the office pointing SE, up on one wheel and hold your computer over your head next to the slideout window.

A Long-Range USB Adapter will only let you see a signal and sometimes tell you its strength. It will not let you access data if it is protected, as most are.

Those little "receiver thingy’s” are great in certain situations, but you can’t count on them all the time.

I met a guy who hooked one up to a Pringles can. It wasn’t working so I told him to try two soup cans and tie them together with a long string. He just gave me the stink eye.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Jesse James RV Repair Service

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I know you have covered breaking down on the road in the past. I read your advice carefully. I always wondered how we would fare if we had to deal with a major problem during our several months away from home. At home we are familiar with area service people, or have enough friends for recommendations. On the road it is not so easy.

Now we see, with Amazon’s recent lawsuits, that people can be paid to give online reviews.

We recently had engine problems. We asked people in the park and the management who they would recommend, checked online reviews for those we could, and we still got ripped off.
--So low in Show Low

Dear So low:
Life’s a crapshoot, and an adventure. You can do all the preparation in the world, but sooner or later you have to throw the dice.

I can answer with a personal experience. Just recently our Saturn transmission decided to start shifting with a clunk. Sounded like a sledge hammer hitting a rail spike. We were staying at an SKP Park on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. I could drive it carefully if I stayed in second. When we returned to the park I asked management and a few permanent residents for a recommendation. I went online and read many reviews. My first thought was to find someone local.

I also Googled my problem on several online forums. I made a list of several shops in a 50-mile radius and started interviewing. That’s right, they were going to go to work for me. I wanted someone nice, polite, competent and honest.

Everyone I talked to seemed to fit the bill. They were all nice, polite, seemed competent and all had the same diagnosis.

From my online studies it sounded like the transmission valve body needed replacing. Everyone I talked to seemed to agree. I finally made a couple choices and decided to haul the car to the transmission shops with the motorhome. I picked two places about 40 miles away in close proximity to each other. If I didn’t like the first one I could move on for a second opinion.

The first guy was really nice. Took the car in immediately, ran the electronic codes, test drove the car and told me I needed to have the whole transmission rebuilt. He had so many code errors my car should have died three years ago. For just under three thousand bucks he could have me back on the road in about a week.

That’s when it hit me. Railroad employees always used to say that Jesse James was nice and always polite, but he still took all their money.

I paid them $52 for their advice and moved on. When I was leaving the guy said, “Reverse doesn’t work very well.” I said, “That’s okay, I’m not coming back.”

By the time I hauled the car to the next place it was four o’clock in the afternoon. I was hoping they could at least take a look at it before they closed. It was at a business called Tranco Transmissions in Port Angeles, Washington. It looked very clean and organized. In fact, I think you could eat off the floor.

They brought me right in, and let me watch them as they plugged the code reader into my car.

Surprise! There were no error codes.

They said that 95% of the time it is just the valve body gone bad. They could order one (out of state) and have it there by the next morning. With the hour they had before closing they could have the old one off and ready for the new one in the morning. I would be “Back on the Road Again” for $752.

I pulled the trigger, “Let’s do it.” Went out for Chinese dinner, spent a quiet, beautiful night in Olympic National Park and the car was ready for pickup by nine o’clock the next morning.

My old Saturn is now purring like a tomcat in a creamery.

It pays to be a little suspect. Stories do not always have a happy ending, but if you go through the motions, control your emotions and dial out all the commotions, you have a better chance than being treated like lambs to the slaughter.

Chalk your recent adventure up to experience and move on.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Monday, October 12, 2015

More power to the RV relationship

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We agree with you and love our solar power setup. However, we are seldom hooked to the grid. On occasion we will get too many overcast days to keep our batteries topped off. When that happens it takes us a long time to recoup even if we plug in.

My husband wants to spend over three hundred dollars for a 35 amp golf cart battery charger. He says it will enable him to quickly recharge our 4--6volt golf cart batteries when we use the generator or plug into the grid. This situation only occurs a couple times a year as we are usually in a sunny clime.

The disagreement is this: I think we should invest those 300+ dollars into more solar panels or more battery storage. My husband is a great guy and knows a lot more than I do about these things. I don’t want to come across as a know-it-all.

Am I missing something, or am I a common sense genius?
--Powerplay in Pahrump

Dear PP:
Don’t pooh-pooh your ideas just because you might be stepping on your husbands expertise.You are getting the “love of power” confused with the “power of love.” The great thing of having a partnership relationship is input.

This question involves many different decisions-- budget, investment, solution and agreement to mention a few. I can’t make the decision for you. You both are on the right track.

A cheap, 10 amp car battery charger is not going to do you much good when your battery bank drops significantly. Most RV converters act as a trickle charger. The fact that you say it takes a long time to recoup suggests your converter fits this category.

In defense of your common sense idea, I would have to agree. If I were going to invest the money, I would rather have panels that were paying me back year-round, than a charger getting me out of trouble a couple times a year. However, adding panels and batteries can be challenging if you do not have the space.

If the two of you decide that the charger is a better option you do not necessarily have to buy new. Using Craigslist in the different locals you travel into will most likely score one that is used in good condition.

I just did a quick Ebay search and saw two at just over a hundred bucks.

If you only deal with this low battery problem a couple times a year, it tells me there is no abuse of power in your household. I think the same can be said for your relationship.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Strapped for RV space

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My husband and I have a lot of toys. We travel full-time hauling bikes, kayaks, diving gear, golf clubs, tennis rackets, backpacking gear, and now a drone. We look like the Clampett’s going down the road with stuff tied and clamped everywhere.

It doesn’t bother my husband, but I would like to have something a bit more organized. I think we should buy a big motorhome with basement storage, but he likes the unit we have. He argues we have everything figured out with this one. He solved all the storage problems with bungees, and he knows where everything is. I call it his “pile file.”

He now wants one of those fold up boats you tie to the side of the the motorhome. I have been fighting that because every time we put the slides out we would have to dock the boat somewhere else.

I need help Doc, and I need it fast. He is on the computer right now looking at bungees in bulk.
 --Stretched in Stratford

Dear Stretched:
Let me begin with a bumper sticker I saw that said, “He who dies with the most toys WINS!”

It sounds like you two have lots of interests, an active, healthy lifestyle, and a storage problem.

Since you backpack, I’m sure you’ve seen people on the trail with a pack full of gear, and more strapped and tied to the outside that just will not stuff inside. That would be you on steroids. Many people make this work, but the advantages of organizing it all inside under cover are many.

Anything that will fit in, or under cover, will benefit from protection against the elements. That said, basement storage will come with the cost and hassle of switching rigs to gain that organized space. If you pull a toad, you might want to consider something larger with storage capacity, if you haven’t already.

Some people prefer to rent equipment when they visit an area, but that rarely works out for spontaneous activity. It puts you on the rental company’s schedule and geographical location.

You should consider the safety issues involved in tying equipment to every bracket you can attach to on your rig. I have seen rigs going down the road with equipment tied to the roof ladder that made me back way off. Many of these ladders are simply screwed to the frame and not engineered to carry a heavy load.

Bungees can, and often do, fail. How many do you see on the road as you travel?

Weight distribution is also an important safety factor. Some people think they can save on tire wear by strapping a Harley on the rear bumper to keep the front tires off the ground.

Many people start out their RV adventure with a rig that fits their needs at the time. Soon they discover it is too big or too small. Others find they don’t have all the amenities they would like, or it has too darn many.

Your situation is no different. Maybe you should look into a Toy Hauler fifth-wheel. They come with their own garage.

 --Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Monday, September 28, 2015

Power to the RV people

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:

My husband wants to spend a couple grand on a solar panel system for our fifth-wheel. He complains every time our lights go dim while dry camping. We had to leave Big Bend National Park early because we were out of battery power. It was cold and we had to run the furnace every morning. The furnace fan seems to suck a lot of juice from our batteries.

I argue that we can buy a lot of full hookups for two grand. He is not listening. He is too busy studying the solar system. I tell him he has stars in his eyes.

Do you think I am being unreasonable, frugal or cheap?

--Powerless in El Paso

Dear Powerless:

It really depends on how often you dry camp. You can easily pay for a system in a year if you dry camp the majority of the time. Because so many RVs now have solar, many parks will have a reduced rate if you do not want to plug in. Some Arizona State Parks will reduce the rate and lock the electrical box if you opt out of the electric.

Yes, the furnace fan is a power hog. Another option would be to install a catalytic heater such as an Olympian Wave. They put out a very nice radiant heat without the need for a fan. You can recess mount it or use a long hose with a disconnect to enable you to move it around.

I am solar biased, but it really depends on how you use your RV. If you seldom dry camp, solar is probably a waste of money.

You will start to see more manufacturers offering a solar option. They need little maintenance, give you quiet, continuous power, and as Elon Musk recently said, "We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky, called the Sun."

Another point to be made is the fact that many RVs now come standard with a generator that people put few hours on. For the same money you can put on a very efficient solar system. If you can live with the 12v power that is generated, it will not be necessary to spend another thousand or so for an expensive inverter. You can buy small inverters (400 watt) that are capable of running a coffee grinder, recharge computers or power an electric razor.

You can easily add up your energy needs and see if it is a good investment, a fun project or a worthwhile convenience. You are not going to run an electric heater or refrigerator from a small RV solar array. They have their limitations.

I can tell you from experience that once you can live within the means of a 300 watt system it will set you free.

LED lights can also be a good, long-term investment that will extend your Big Bend, out of the way stay.

And don’t forget CONSERVATION, it gives “power to the people.”

--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wishy Washy RVer

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
One of the drudgeries of RVing is finding a decent place to do laundry. They are often expensive, poorly managed, dirty and/or busy. I think we should have a washer/dryer in our motorhome, but my husband thinks it’s a bad idea.

We share the laundry duty, but he thinks a machine will take up too much space and add too much weight for the convenience it will afford us. It just sounds so sensible to me.

Don’t you think the full-time lifestyle deserves a guaranteed, clean and personal machine to wash our clothing?  --Wishy Washy in Wilmington

Dear Wishy Washy:
I will agree that finding a clean, affordable laundromat on the road is a constant challenge. Most often you are better served using a commercial campground laundry that is used only by paying guests. If the park is highly rated, you will usually find the laundry facilities reasonable, clean and much less busy.

I have nothing against a washer/dryer combination installed in an RV. Many of them have a very small load capacity, and take a lot of time to cycle. It does allow you to work on the chore at your convenience and not let it all pile up for a trip to the mat.

These units will also suck your water tank dry, so if you are not hooked up to utilities you will find yourself needing fresh water and a dump much more often.

If you decide against an onboard unit, another thought is Googling the laundromat you plan to use. You will often find sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor rating such businesses. The problems with using machines that you find in public parks, such as state and local, can be frustrating. If it rains you will find wet campers throwing their dirty bags and tents into dryers. At fishing sites you may find your clothes come out smelling like the day's catch. 

If you come to an onboard agreement you should weigh the difference between a separate washer/dryer or a combination machine. They can usually be installed in a closet and your unit might even be plumbed for it if you check.

Another alternative is “The John Steinbeck Method.” If you read “Travels with Charley” you will discover that Steinbeck, one of our more prolific literary laundrymen, used a plastic garbage can hanging from bungies to do his wash. He would let the road do his agitating as he meandered across America. Wash all morning, add the rinse water at noon and hang and dry when he stopped. 

Not a bad idea and you save yourself about a grand in machine costs. 
--Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I'm going to Disney World--NOT!

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are in the mouse house and I am not talking about Disney World. We just spent a week parked at Many Glacier campground near Babb, Montana. It is starting to feel like fall here and the mice decided they would like to go to Arizona with us. We trapped five last night. The cat caught two, and we still hear gnawing in the underbelly of our trailer.

I want to use d-Con but my wife hates poison and says it is cruel. That sounds Dopey to me. She thinks a quick broken neck is much more humane. Isn’t dead, dead? How can I convince her that we need to take decisive, defensive action before we are overrun with vermin?I’m not getting much sleep lately. In the middle of the night the cat catches a mouse, my wife catches the cat, and they both run outside until the cat drops the mouse. I think at that point the mouse beats them both back to the trailer.

This is our full-time home. Help me.
--Grumpy and in Babb

Dear Babb:
As tight as an RV seems to be, mice can wiggle their way in. It is a problem that must be dealt with quickly before wiring is chewed, material is collected for nesting, food stores are cached, and plumbing tubing is damaged. They can do a tremendous amount of damage in a very short time. I agree with your wife, poison is not your best solution. d-Con is designed to drive the mice out to water after it starts its deadly process. These poison carcasses will move their way up the food chain very quickly as other predators find them, harming things that do not want to travel with you. You will often find the mice have stored it all over the RV and never eaten it.

You need to continue running your trapline and know you have eliminated the last one. At this point you don’t know how “Minnie” Mickeys you have. You will most likely be able to tell you have solved the problem when the cat stops acting Goofy.

Don’t forget to tie a string to every trap and secure it to something. Even after the trap does it’s deadly deed, the mouse will dance a distance. If it ends up in a place you cannot reach it will decay and begin to smell.

Once you get the situation under control you can try home remedies like peppermint tea bags (they hate the smell). For now I would stick to playing cat and mouse and using cheese and traps. Remember, the pioneers got the arrows and the settlers got the land. Same applies here. The second mouse gets the cheese, so use several traps.

The only positive thing you can take from this experience is the fact that this is the most excitement your cat has had in a long time. Living in a small RV is not easy for a cat, even if it sleeps eighteen hours a day. It has most likely raised your cat’s spirits, given your cat much needed exercise, and made your cat feel like the Lion King.

Seriously, set traps everywhere and deal with this problem immediately, before it gets real expensive.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

RV Phone Home

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are going to begin our RV adventure this fall. My husband and I are both newly retired and almost ready to head out, beginning with a fall color tour through the Rockies. We have been in almost perfect agreement on every issue leading up to departure until now. We are trying to decide on a service provider for our phones and wireless needs. My husband thinks we need two smartphones, a hotspot with a couple dozen gigs of data and two different service providers. I think that is overkill and a waste of money.

I know you are always suggesting the use of online data for everything from dump stations to gas stations, but do we really need that much coverage?

Besides the data, we just need to phone home once in awhile. Please give us some of your common sense therapy.
--ET in D.C.

Dear ET:
This is a real common concern for people starting out on the road. It also varies for each individual. Expense, affordability, need and desire can be all over the data scale. I would suggest you look at what you use at home. This is only a starting point because you will most likely need more on the road if you both are heavy computer users.

I constantly look for a better deal than I have and switch when it is advantageous. We are grandfathered in to an old Altel plan that Verizon bought out. We get 20 gig for what most people pay for 5 gig. That sounds like a lot of data, but we use it every single month. We don’t stream movies or watch much video, which eats up a lot of data. We do watch Nightly News if we cannot get a TV channel, which is most of the time.

I have a dumb phone and my wife has a smartphone. We cannot tether it, but that is an option if you use the right service and the right phone manufacturer.

My wife has a Walmart Straight Talk plan with a Samsung phone and a Verizon chip. For under fifty bucks a month she gets unlimited talk, text and data. It works almost everywhere we travel. We have RV friends that have Straight Talk, AT&T service and an HTC phone, and they are able to use the phone as a hotspot. Again, unlimited everything.

We were told we would be throttled occasionally if we used to much data, but after a year we have not noticed that ever happening.

You can start out with what you currently have and work up to what you feel you need as you travel. I can guarantee that you will more than pay for data service, in savings you will realize, using the many cheap and often free apps that direct you to fuel, camping, dumping, road construction, directions, and ME, of course!
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

RV Road Less Traveled

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
Are we the only ones who always seem to choose the wrong routes? We like to stay off the major highways and see rural America, but we are always in some kind of trouble.

Last month we had to unhook our toad and make a U-turn at a low overpass. Today we spent over two hours along 30 miles of North Dakota road construction that was worse than anything we experienced on the Alcan Highway 30 years ago before it was paved.

We are not sure if the North Dakota Department of Transportation is in charge out here or the “fracking” companies. We had dropped off Hwy. 2 in Stanley, ND, heading for the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Unit, and there was no indication that our route was a virtual nightmare. There were no detour signs, no flag people, inaccurate mileage signs and narrow passage points.

This seems to be a pattern for us. Are we poor navigators, or does everyone deal with situations like this?
--Newbies trying to learn in North Dakota

Dear Newbies:
I applaud your sense of adventure -- keep it up. The alternative is staying on boring, exit-laden, super highways and reading billboards.

There are a few things you can do to alleviate some of your headaches. Many GPS systems have major construction updates and low clearance warnings. You can make a habit of asking locals when you make pit stops to see if you can garner any information about possible surprises ahead of you. Some companies like AAA are well known for travel map information that is very up-to-date.

With all that said, I still go back to using today's technology as your best source of information. Services may be out-of-date, locals may be ill-informed, signs, as you well know, can be deceiving.
As far as who is in charge in the new hot fracking areas, that could fuel a great debate. So much activity and new infrastructure makes some of my old stomping grounds look unrecognizable.

I just asked Dr. Google for North Dakota road conditions. I was directed to the Dept. of Trans. North Dakota site. There I found a state map. On it I found your route lit up like a Christmas Tree. When I clicked on the construction site it warned of “poor road conditions.” If you would have stayed on Hwy. 2 you wouldn’t have a tale to tell. Now you have this great campfire story and it only cost you a bit of slow going and maybe an RV wash.

Chances are you will hit as much construction or more on major travel arteries than you will on the back roads of America. Keep doing what you enjoy and deal with the challenges.

--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V.Shrink

Monday, August 24, 2015

Cat in the RV Hat

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We live in a moderately sized motorhome most of the year. At the present time we have one cat on board. We love this little furball, but he does cause a lot of anxiety. He also causes a lot of arguments.
I seem to be more attached to him than my husband. He enjoys the cat, but doesn’t enjoy the hassles that come with pet ownership. Our biggest problem is playing “Hide and Go Seek.” Every time we pull up anchor and set sail, the little bugger hides. We spend a lot of time trying to find him so I am assured he hasn’t jumped out. This last time he was wedged under the front dash. This drives my husband nuts because I won’t leave until I know my cat is safe.

Is this asking too much? He gets as much companionship from the cat as I do. I would love to hear your take on our situation. --Cat Calling in Calgary

Dear Cal:
Traveling with pets has its pros and cons. It should be decided upfront if the companionship is worth the effort involved in taking proper care of your animal(s). They can crimp your style if you want to be absent for any length of time. They have to be fed, watered, exercised and cleaned up after. These are all responsibilities that are required if you live in an RV or not. It is obvious that you have already discussed these matters and came to some type of decision because you have a cat on board.

I am an expert on “cat search and rescue” missions. I have been on many in campgrounds all over America. Our last cat was self-taught. She learned how to slide the screen open and jump out. Many times we gave up trying to find her. In a sea of RVs she would always find her way home, climb up the ladder to the roof and cry at the vent. We finally had to tape the screens shut.

Hiding is a cat thing. I think you should just allot time to do a thorough cat scan before traveling. Put it on your departure list. It is no different than waiting for the jacks to go up, or insuring the awning is down. Our cat likes to climb in any cupboard or closet we leave open. So checking to make sure the cat is in sight even if you leave for a short hike will assure you never have a cat-astrophe. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

Pets can add a lot of joy to your life if you have the right attitude toward them. That means both of you. A little give-and-take will solve a lot of small problems that seem more complicated than they are. Our newest cat has never escaped and seems to have no desire to jump out. When they constantly have that urge, they can be much more challenging.

Hiding in the coach is a much easier problem to deal with. Once you know all the usual places it’s as easy as finding a two-year-old.

Let’s not forget the financial pains of pet medical care. We just spent $328 to find out our cat had the “Big C.” Yup, he was Constipated!

--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

RV tail gunner

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My husband gets so upset when driving our motorhome all day. He is constantly talking to people that annoy him and it gets on my nerves. Someone is always doing something stupid in his opinion. It doesn’t make traveling pleasant when he is grousing all the time. He does all the driving and I sometimes think I should let him vent, but it gets old after a while. He says some pretty obnoxious things.

Do you think I should sit quietly by while he goes through his ranting or continue to work on administering anger management?
--Annoyed in Annapolis

Dear Annoyed:
There is a big difference between driving all day and riding all day. Nowadays a driver has to be alert and driving defensively every minute. That can lead some people to fatigue and anxiety.

There are so many fellow drivers on their smartphones texting or with their heads up their Apps that if you aren’t paying attention constantly you might be their next contact.

If you can’t put up with your husband’s constant vocalizations, you might want to buy him one of those steering wheel sound simulators. With the pressing of a couple buttons he can fire a burst of machine gun fire, a rocket launcher or short bursts of sniper fire. This would let him vent his anger without loud, R-rated outbursts. Although this may drive you more crazy!

Part of compatible traveling includes understanding your traveling partner’s needs, wants, dislikes and idiosyncrasies. Working together to meet in the middle of any issue will take you a long way into the realm of Happy Camperdom.

Keep working on his anger management, be a supportive co-pilot and eventually he will mellow, knowing it bothers you.

I just had another thought. You could work together: He can be the pilot, and you can be the tail gunner.
--Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

RV Corps of Discovery

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We found your articles while surfing the web. We are thinking about buying an RV and traveling like so many others. Our biggest question seems to be how much money it costs to live on the road. Can you give us some idea of the expenses we might encounter? Is there a rule of thumb, like the 4% rule of making a retirement nest egg last and not outliving your money? Any input would be greatly appreciated. --Bean Counter in Bend

Dear Bean Counter:
One size does not fit all. You can’t lump everyone’s RV cost of living budgets into one figure, anymore than you can lump together the sedentary lifestyle cost of living budgets.

Wherever you weigh-in on the financial scale you can find a niche in the RV lifestyle. Put pen to paper and create a road budget. It is so easy to find regional costs online for fuel, camping, maintenance, food and services.

You should be able to calculate your capabilities into a travel scenario that fits the ideas you have. From the type of rig you plan to travel with, to the type of camping you plan to do, will make a huge difference in your cost of living. You may not get it right the first time, but experience will reveal to you the possibilities of a nomadic lifestyle that fits your interests, needs and means.

So many people never get out of the driveway because of the unknown. The adventure is the unknown. The steeper the learning curve the more fun it is. Once you get it all figured out it becomes less exciting.

There are many sayings that originated with the flintlock rifle. They are all well suited to beginning a life on the road in an RV. “Going off half-cocked, ” “Flash in the pan,” “Straight as a ramrod,” Lock stock and barrel,” and “Keep your powder dry.”

These come to mind because we met a couple just beginning their own RV lifestyle at Fort Clatsop, the winter encampment for the Corps of Discovery. It was their first volunteer job and they were doing reenactments. All those sayings were part of their program.

I thought how ironic, Lewis and Clark, two of the first North American explorers, are being historically represented by modern day North American explorers.

So do your homework and come join the rest of us in the Corps of Discovery.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

That blew that RV theory

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
It is not nice to fool Mother Nature, or fool with her. Don’t you think you should be more careful stating that you can always leave at the drop of a hat during a natural disaster?
--R.V. Shrink

Dear Me:
Yes, I am writing to myself. It’s okay, I have been talking to myself for years.

If you read last week’s Shrink column, you would have seen my advice on trying to foresee coming natural disasters and moving out of harm’s way. In my feeble attempt to be funny I closed with, “When you think about it, you only have a few conditions to worry about -- wind, heavy rain, hail, tornado, fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake, tsunami, blizzard, sand storm and maybe a dust devil or two.”

Well, I left out Mesocyclone and the very next day Mother Nature reminded me.

We were at the Traverse City, Michigan Film Festival, inside an auditorium, watching the new documentary film, “A Brave Heart, The Lizzie Velasquez Story” (which I highly recommend). Unbeknown to us a vicious storm was raging outside the auditorium. We emerged to a street full of broken trees covering broken cars. Our car was parked a block away and we hurried to find our vehicle unscathed but surrounded by downed branches big enough to heat a house for a winter.

It was a labyrinth working our way out of town. We were turned back several times by large trees blocking roads. We passed the Traverse City State Park and it looked like a box of broken match sticks. We could see the pop-up camper pictured above and feared we may be headed for the same kind of surprise.

Our motorhome was parked in an open area next to a couple large trees that had the potential to do damage. Luckily we found our rig intact. Although a couple dozen trees had been broken or uprooted within 50 yards in all directions of our motorhome, nothing had come close to causing us damage. The point I want to make is, you can run, but you cannot hide. This storm came in so silently and quickly that there was no choice but to ride it out, wherever you were, and to find safety wherever you could.

This has little to do with whether you RV or not. Disaster can strike anywhere and at anytime. This whole region of Northwest Michigan has been reeling from this storm, and its aftermath, all week.

Our next stop is Glacier National Park and the fire there is still burning. You just have to roll with the punches, be as careful as possible and hope for the best.

Last year, at the Winnebago factory in Iowa, a beautiful motorhome pulled in next to us with cannonball-size dents, broken windows, and hundreds of chips in the full paint finish. They had run straight into a storm dropping large hail.There is no way to ever predict this type of event. It is the reason we all have insurance coverage.

Do not let the possibility of something like this scare you from a life of adventure on the great open road. If you don’t go out and find a storm, one will come looking for you. Either way you will have to deal with it.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

RV forecasting

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I need scheduling help. My wife is refusing to camp in certain areas. With all the drought in the West the news is full of fires and floods. I told her the TV broke because one more night of news and we will have to start camping at fire stations across America for her to feel safe and know help is close by. Just when I thought I had her convinced she was overreacting, our Glacier National Park campground reservation was canceled for Lake St. Mary Campground. Fire was threatening the area and we were not allowed in.

I tried to explain to her that we live on wheels and can move at the drop of a hat if things looked sketchy wherever we camp. Now my every suggestion is suspect. It is driving me nuts. Should I buy a fire truck and convert it into an RV? It would already have a large fresh water holding tank. Do you think that would make her feel safer?
--Disaster Dave in Deer Lodge

Dear Dave in Deer Lodge:
There is nothing wrong with preparedness. Worry and stress are another issue. I heard that “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Traveling to avoid everything you see on the news will limit you to a padded cell.

I can see how your wife works herself into a frenzy. I was watching Nightly News last week when I saw a 5th wheel float down a road in Wickenburg, Arizona.

Keeping your head in the sand will not solve any problems. Information is key to safety. I would suggest you camp where you want but have a backup plan. Know your escape routes, incoming weather events, fire conditions and terrain.

Words from a sage much wiser than myself fit here perfectly. Forrest Gump sums it up with two of his famous quotes: “Stupid is as stupid does.” (This would be good advice for people who put themselves in harm's way, ignoring the conditions.) Also, “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.'" (This would be to emphasize the fact that you have to be prepared for anything.)

There are five other campgrounds in Glacier still open. One is a reservation campground and the others are first come, first serve. Think of a change in plans as an adventure. You may discover something new and enjoyable because your original plans were altered by conditions out of your control.
When you think about it, you only have a few conditions to worry about -- wind, heavy rain, hail, tornado, fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake, tsunami, blizzard, sand storm and maybe a dust devil or two.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

RV Looney Tunes

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I don’t mean to be an annoyance, but I need more help. I wrote a few weeks ago about my husband not fixing the hot water heater that was singing to me. Since I last wrote, my husband spent several hours and dollars trying to fix our hot water heater as you suggested. He couldn’t get the element to unscrew and finally sought professional help which was not cheap.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but the hot water heater is still singing to me. This time it’s a different tune and a whole lot worse. The sound comes from the tank every time I turn on the hot water. I hesitated to bring this issue up with my husband. He is still agitated by the last episode. To my surprise, he brought it up. The noise seems to be bugging him also.

We are five hundred miles away from where we had the element changed. My husband called them and they said it was not the element. They suggested we now need new “check valves.” Is our hot water heater possessed? Are we getting scammed? Should we just play loud music all the time to drown out the water heater noise? Please send more advice our way.
--Sounding Board, no longer in Bozeman

Dear Boze, again:
You are not getting scammed. It is also a common occurrence to have check valves start making noise. Perhaps something was flushed into one when the element work was done. Regardless, it is another simple fix. If your husband doesn’t feel confident doing plumbing work, you might want to have another repair shop handle it.

Depending on the model hot water heater and RV floor plan, it can be quick and easy or a real pain. It is usually all about access.

I am imagining your husband trying to get the element out. It can be challenging. The last time I tackled mine, it was a task. It is on the inside, backside of the heater, which meant taking part of the under cabinet apart to reach. Most people find the element very hard to budge. The element nut is very thin and hard to grip. The often sold, thin-walled element socket is not really the best tool for the job. I use a regular inch and a half, six point socket that fits my half-inch ratchet. It allows me much more leverage. Even with that, I had to use my torch to heat the tank wall before it would budge.

You will find one or two check valves on the backside of your tank. They should loosen a bit easier than the element. The valves that often come with your unit have plastic inserts. I would recommend you switch them out with brass. 

The biggest problem in doing the job yourself is finding the valves. They look like a fitting that would come from any hardware, but I found they are not. Because they just made noise and everything worked, I took my time looking for the parts. I tried every home improvement store we passed. I tried every hardware I passed. I tried every plumbing business I passed. Every place had female thread check valves, but it would cost an arm and both legs to buy enough fittings to make them work in this application. I finally went online and found several places that offered them. The going price seemed to be north of twenty bucks apiece.

If I had it to do over, I would not have invested my retirement in the stock market. I would have invested it all in brass fittings. I would be a billionaire.

Some people would say I’m cheap, but I like to think of myself as frugal. Just because I refill my expensive wine bottles with boxed wine, does not necessarily make me cheap.

My point is, you don’t have to take the first bid. I surfed around online and found two places that sold the exact check valves for less than ten bucks apiece. One wanted $35 dollars to ship them to me and the other wanted $4. Guess which one I bought from!

So here is the bottomline. Your husband can go to another professional and spend one hundred plus dollars to silence the hot water heater, or take a crack at it himself. It means taking one or two water lines loose, extracting the valve(s), replacing them, and hooking up the water lines again. I like to think of these little annoyances as an adventure. You also get more acquainted with your rig and have a better understanding of how it all works.

Don’t be afraid to tackle these jobs. There will always be something that needs tweaking, so don’t turn them all into mountains, they are just mole hills.
--Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

RV Chairman of the Road

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I don’t know who engineers motorhomes, but they need to work on TV placement. When we were shopping for our rig we finally gave up finding one with a TV located in a comfortable place for viewing.

The problem is my husband solved the problem by purchasing one of those outdoor, reclining La-Z-Boy-type chairs to put in the hallway facing the TV. Even though we have a slide-out, it still leaves no room for moving around. Once we get in our positions (me on the couch, he in his chair) to watch a movie, there is no getting up for popcorn without a major shift in furniture.

I think we should get him a chair that takes up less real estate, but he likes his new recliner. The motorhome is small enough already. I don’t think I am asking too much to have the walkway clear.
Your opinion would be much appreciated.
--Hall Monitor in Manchester

Dear Hall Monitor:
I do agree that many RVs are engineered with the TV taking up whatever space might be left after all other appliances have been placed. Some models have two to four televisions and they all seem to be in an awkward location.

Besides the space that your husband’s chair takes up, it sounds like a great idea. Perhaps he could find a similar model in a smaller frame. I don’t think that is asking too much.

Another idea would be to relocate the TV, or invest in a portable that could be placed in a position that would make viewing comfortable for your particular floor plan. Depending on the amount of time you spend watching TV programming, you might want to consider using a laptop computer to watch movies or news.

Another thought would be to shop TV mount options. Some allow swivel positioning side to side and up and down.

If you can wait a bit longer, LG is coming out with a TV that is only 0.97mm thick. It will stick to the wall like a fridge magnet. Maybe Google Glass will allow you to watch in the side frame of your glasses, sitting anywhere you please.

What will they think of next to entertain couch potatoes.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Down in the RV dumps

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
In our relationship, my husband is the RV technician and I am the cook. If I were the RV technician nothing would work, and if he were the cook we would starve. In our respective specialties we get to make certain decisions that affect our daily lives. This has always worked out fine.

Since recently moving into a small motorhome things have changed in both departments. I cook simpler meals, and he hauls fewer tools. Everything seemed to flow smoothly in our new lifestyle until I was advised we could no longer deposit any solids into our new RV holding tank. My husband told me it would mound up in the tank and clog the outlet. We are now inconvenienced with running to the campground public restrooms. I find some of them rather disgusting.

I don’t want him telling me how to cook, but I question his decision on the toilet. Why would millions of RVs have toilets and holding tanks designed into them if they were not usable?

How should I approach this question without stepping on his turf?
--Down in the dumps in Dawson

Dear Dawson:
As odd as it sounds each time I hear it, this practice is not uncommon. Many people seem to have a hangup with using the toilet in their RV the same way they would anywhere else. In some cases perhaps they watched Robin Williams dump his “RV” in the movie with the same name and developed a phobia.

Some I have asked feel RV toilets are not engineered well enough to flush out solids and therefore create constant blockages. Others simply find it disgusting to have to deal with the doo.

You will have to figure out which category your husband falls into before you can solve your problem permanently. If it is a simple phobia issue, you can help solve that by volunteering to take on this simple and sanitary chore yourself. If it’s an engineering question you will only have to give him a few lines of instruction to solve all doubt.

Your husband is right. If not managed properly, solids can mound in the tank and clog outlets. There are certain precautions that must be taken from dump to dump. You must start with a few bowls of water in the tank. Do not flush solids into a dry tank. Adding some septic safe chemicals can help break down solids, suppress odors and lubricate slide valves.

Another important point is tissue type. You want it to dissolve quickly. Buy tissue designed for RV holding tanks or test the brand you choose by sloshing it around in a jar of water. It should quickly disintegrate into small specks of thin tissue. Whatever it does in that jar of water is exactly what it will do in your holding tank.

The tank emptying procedure is also very important. Having a tank near full when you empty is ideal. If it is not and you have access to water, fill it. It’s simple physics, or math if you prefer. An abundance of No. 1 (liquid) will help eliminate No. 2 (solids). Pressure and gravity equal a forceful flush.

One common mistake people make is leaving the blackwater valve open when hooked to a campground sewer. This immediately empties the tank of liquids and leaves the solids to accumulate and harden in the tank. Precautionary maintenance in the form of knowledgable fill and emptying procedure should give you trouble-free use of the RV toilet facilities. Having the right equipment (rubber gloves, hoses, connectors, hand sanitizer and assorted fittings) should make dumping the holding tanks quick, sanitary, and efficient.

It should not be a gender specific job. Like everything else when dealing with RV living, everyone should be prepared to handle all duties. Perhaps your husband should attempt a quiche, while you practice sanitary engineering. The old dirty-swirly is not as difficult as it’s cracked up to be.

If your problem is actually a foul odor in a small confined space, consider Frasier Fir spray by a company named Thymes. A short burst and it smells like you are sitting in the woods.
--Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Editor: Here are some items mentioned in the post which are available at Amazon:
Septic-safe toilet paper
Citrus-smell air freshener
Holding tank deodorant
Sewer hose rinser
Liquefy solids in holding tanks
Disposable dump gloves
Thymes Frasier fir spray

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

RV community

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I want to start living on the road for extended periods of time but my wife is afraid she will give up community. She likes our social life and is afraid she will not know anyone if we are moving all the time.

We spend the winter in three different RV parks and have many friends. I am trying to convince her we will meet people in a travel mode, but she says it won't be the same.

Can you shed some light on this subject, so we can expand our horizons?
--Community Centered in Carbondale

Dear CCC:
Community comes in all forms. It sounds like you two are very outgoing, so finding friends will be no problem whatever you decide to do. Community does not have to be local, such as an RV park or home and city.

As you are out doing things you enjoy, you will meet people who like the same things. You can connect with these same people year after year. With all the social media available today it is so easy to keep in touch with people you meet on the road.

You will make life-long friends while doing something as simple as a ranger walk. Every time you move to a different location you will end up with new neighbors. You will have ample opportunity to meet like-minded people whatever mode of travel you choose.

My advice is to expand your base and raise your peak. The world is your oyster and you will find it full of pearls if you open yourself to meeting new friends as you travel.

The only downside could turn out to be your wife not wanting to ever come home again.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

RV singing telegram

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I love living in our small, secure, warm and dry space. Sometimes I feel like we live in a space capsule. We find these incredible places to park. The weather can turn sour, yet we are still warm and happy in our 5th wheel home.

This might sound petty, but it is driving me nuts. My problem is noise pollution. It doesn't bother my husband, but I can't take it any longer.

Because of our small square footage, I can't escape the annoying sound coming from our water heater. It is a high pitch, constant squeal. My husband insists it is normal because the water heater still works fine. But I never heard this before. It only does it when we have electric hook-ups.

Am I being too fussy? Is this something I should try to block from my mind? Is it a sign that something is about to happen? Should I sing in a high pitch to my husband to demonstrate how annoying I find it?
--Sounding Board in Bozeman

Dear Boze:
Singing to your husband will just complicate a very simple situation. It should never come down to solving annoyance with annoyance. What you have is a failing heat element. It could be solved by flushing the tank and cleaning the element, but if you are going to the trouble of pulling the element, you might just as well replace it for twenty bucks.

It really doesn't make any more noise than when you are heating with gas, but I agree the pitch could drive you nuts.

I would explain to your husband that he will be dealing with the problem sooner or later. There is no time like the present. Your husband is in hot water right now, but the singing telegram you are getting is a sign you will soon be changing your tune to the "Sound of Silence." I can't remember all the lyrics, but it goes something like this, "Hello darkness, my old friend, there's no hot water once again..."

It is a good idea to flush the tank at least once a year. If you have a tank that is not aluminum you might want to consider adding an anode rod to help prevent future buildup on the heating element.

--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

RV go si'

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I know it is only June, but I am in a heated discussion with my wife about where we are headed this coming winter. We have tried all the supposedly warm southern destinations in the U.S. and are often holed up in the motorhome because it is too cold outside.

The problem is, I want to go as far down the Baja Peninsula as possible and spend the winter where I am guaranteed warmth. My wife watches too much news and thinks everyone that goes to Mexico is in grave danger. I am not ignorant of the facts, I just know that a lot of RVer's go into Mexico every winter and seem to have no problem.

Am I asking too much? Do you think I would be putting my wife under too much pressure?
--Baja in a Bounder from Boise

Dear Bounder:
Before you go, I think you should both be comfortable with it. Having your wife spend the winter out of her comfort zone would defeat the whole purpose of living the RV dream.

It will take some studying on your part. You'll want to make sure you know the rules and regulations of entering and traveling into Mexico. Carry the right insurance, have your passports, and take no weapons. That is just the beginning of what you should be aware of. My suggestion would be for you to read and study the many up-to-date forums and blogs of RVer's who do this every winter. I would share this information, good and bad, with your wife as you progress.

Knowing that thousands of others are doing the same thing might make her begin to feel more comfortable about the adventure. Many people who RV to Mexico will tell you they have never had a problem. This might very well be true. However, if you read the U.S. Embassy Report online, you will find it's not true for everyone that travels there.

You might want to find others to caravan with. Safety in numbers can be a much less stressful way to travel into Mexico. Most people find services very accommodating in Mexico, some say more accommodating than many of the snowbird areas of the U.S.

The bottom line: There is a lot of insanity in the beautiful areas just south of our borders. Caution is advised, but with the right preparations you are most likely not to have any problems. Traveling close to the border in the U.S. can have its own dangers, but you will find a heavy law enforcement presence and the insurance that they are there to help you.

It's not like the old western films in Mexico where the good guys wear the white hats and the bad guys wear the black hats.

It's a personal choice. My only suggestion is that you are both comfortable with the decision before going.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

RV carpet concern

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My husband thinks I am stuck in a groove. He says I keep playing the same song over and over. The problem is I want to be a carpetbagger.

I don’t know why RV manufacturers even put carpeting in rigs. Carpet starts out looking nice, but quickly becomes soiled, path worn and matted. I want to rip ours out and replace it with tile or linoleum.

My husband continues to resist the idea. He thinks it would make the trailer look bare and less warm. He also contends that it might have some function to play with the slides, since it is only carpeted where the slide comes in. I think it is a catchall for dirt, hair and everything else that hits the floor.

I am constantly sweeping handfuls of droppings from the tiled sections of our trailer, so I know that the carpet is just as dirty, holding onto this collection of debris in the fibers.

The other problem is we seldom stay in parks with power. We have solar and love to find remote places to spend time. The only option we have for vacuuming is to fire up the generator and annoy everyone near us that came for the same reason we did, quiet and solitude.

Should I just learn to live with this stuff? I am not a germaphobe, but I do like a clean trailer. We live in a small space and I want it spotless. I would appreciate any advice you could send my way.
--Not so magic carpet in Kalispell

Dear Kal:
If you are sounding like a broken record it is obvious you are not solving your disagreement in a satisfactory way. Manufacturers tend to offer what people want, what sells and what adds value to different models. I agree that a smooth surface is much easier to clean, but carpeting does have its plus sides. If removing it is not an option, you should start brainstorming about ways to deal with it that make it more desirable.

A couple things come to mind immediately. There are many 12V hand vacs on the market that do a good job of sucking up carpet debris. Another option would be area rugs. Not only for the carpeted sections, but also the smooth surface areas. They offer the advantage of removing and beating them outdoors. When they become too worn, or you tire of the design, it’s a simple matter of replacing them with another throw rug.

Because of the constant pounding a carpeted area takes in a small space, you might want to consider raking the carpet before you vacuum. A small scrub brush works great for this. It yields a lot of hair and loosened debris you would otherwise miss.

Having the carpet completely removed and replaced with tile is very doable. You would have to check with your manufacturer on your slide system. There may be some consideration as to how it rides in areas you want to redesign.

Don’t sweep your disagreements under the rug. Get them out in the open and make some decisions that both of you can live with.

If you don’t get your way this time, you will just have to “suck it up.”

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

You might want to read Richard Carlson’s book: “Don’t sweat the small stuff. And it’s all small stuff.” --Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Pedal paddle or battle

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We live full-time on the road with no garage. We have a mid-sized motorhome and pull a small car. I love to pedal and my wife loves to paddle. The problem is I don't think we can carry both bikes and boats. She wants me to store kayaks on the motorhome roof, but I think that is inconvenient, dangerous, and a nightmare waiting to happen every time I need to get them down.

How do you think we should solve this issue? Taking one of each is not an option.
--Toyless hauler in Harrisburg

Dear Toyless:
Many people go through this same process when first starting out in the RV lifestyle. Where there is a will, there is a way. The process should begin before you even choose a rig. Thinking ahead as to what equipment you may need to bring along and how to organize it is very important. In this situation I can think of several solutions you may consider besides arguing.

Inflatable kayaks would be easy to fit into a storage bay or car trunk. Hard-sided kayaks could be racked on the car roof. I have even seen racks that fit kayaks vertically on the rear of motorhomes. Same with bikes. Rack them on the car or the rear of the motorhome.

If you use the car for hauling, you will often want to off-load when stopping for some length of time and slide the boats under the motorhome.

Having a bike rack for just the motorhome can be a problem when you want to transport them to a trailhead. Having the capability to transport both with your tow car will be convenient in many situations. I have seen people hauling everything you can imagine.

There are all kinds of racking systems. You are working on a common combination with many workable solutions. They even have kayaks with pedals. Check out Hobie Cat kayaks.
Good luck.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I don't do RV windows

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We laughed out loud when we read your column about the guy constantly working on his rig. My husband is just the opposite. When he retired he thought it meant he never had to lift a finger again unless it was to push a button on his remote.

To keep him from becoming a total couch potato I do encourage him to work on a few honey-do jobs occasionally. Recently he cleaned all the windows on the fifth-wheel. We are spending a month in Colorado and have a mountain view out our picture window that should be on a calendar. It looked great in the full sun but at sunset we could see all the water spots and streaks as if he had never cleaned them.

He thinks his time was totally wasted and never wants to work on a window again. I am not looking through spotty windows for the rest of my life. It is causing some friction to say the least. Am I asking too much? Is an RV any different than a house? Does everyone with an RV have to look through stained glass?
--Glass Half Dirty in Durango

Dear Dirty:
It can be frustrating when you spend the time to do a job and it comes out looking bad. Cleaning methods can differ from a stationary home to a home on wheels. RV owners are always battling road grime. Your husband did not waste his time. He probably removed the worst layer of dirt and is now down to the tough marks from hard water.

 If you check the internet you will find dozens of window cleaning methods that all work to some extent. In my humble opinion, the best method is steel wool. You need to purchase a package of "four aught" steel wool. Four zero's on the package. This will not scratch your glass unless it has some type of coating. Do a small area to experiment, but in most cases there will be no problem.

Steel wool (0000) will take off bugs, road tar, hard water spots and sap. When you're done with that use any kind of window cleaner to finish up.

Once your husband finds out how easy this method is, and how well it works, he may go into the RV mobile window cleaning business. He may discover those mountains outside your clean windows and watch something besides TV.

When you need the windows cleaned in the future, you will say, "Where four aught thou." Then you will hear, "Thou is here on the couch."
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

RV venting

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We just let a dealer talk us into a vent cover for our automatic roof fan. It sounded like a great idea at first. When we leave for the day we like to leave the roof vent open and the fan on for our cat. It has a rain sensor, which is good and bad. It shuts when the weather turns wet, but then the cat gets less ventilation and that's not good on a hot day.

We figured with the cover it could stay open rain or shine and give Fuzzbutt continuous ventilation. Now that we are five hundred miles down the road we find the vent doesn't open completely under the cover, airflow is significantly restricted and after a hard rain the sensor still actuates the fan.

My husband says, "Live and learn." I, on the other hand, want to call the dealer and give him an earful for misrepresenting the product to us. Am I just creating more stress for myself? Should I call it a bad investment and move on?
--Venting in Virginia City

Dear Venting:
You have learned a great new lesson. In the future, before you make a buying decision, do an online forum search. You will find dozens of people who have already made the purchase and posted their thoughts on the pros and cons of almost every product on the market.

Perhaps the salesman was thinking less ventilation 100% of the time would be better than great ventilation part of the time. Most fans with all the bells and whistles have a manual mode. You should be able to bypass the rain sensor. If not you could easily remove it.

If you decide you really can't live with the purchase, the dealer may offer you a return if you ask. If not, sell it on eBay, recoup some of your loss and move on.

Sometimes it helps to give a product some time. It may work out better than you originally think. The cover should allow the fan lid to open the majority of the way, so the restriction you detect would be in the cover louvers. If it has a screen you may want to remove it since the fan is already screened into your interior.

If you are upset and venting more than the fan cover, you could overheat and blow a gasket. It's not good for you, your husband or Fuzzbutt.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

RV cleaning out the pipes

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I hate to sound paranoid, but recently we put cash in a Forest Service Campground fee pipe and it came up missing. A ranger came around to collect from us and we showed him our receipt. He said there was no matching envelope in the pipe. After convincing him that we had paid, he took our word and honored our receipt.

Now every time I put money in one of those seemingly secure fee pipes I worry about it. Do you think I am being silly? We do this all the time and my husband says, "Get over it!"
--Nervous Nellie in Nevada

Dear Nellie:
Believe it or not, crooks with low aspirations have learned to fish envelopes from fee pipes. If you talk to a few host volunteers you will hear stories of string and gum, coat hanger fishing and super glue tangling.

Fee pipe security is really not your problem. Pay your fee, keep your receipt and leave crime solving to management. I am sure the ranger who talked with you has dealt with this problem in the past and will again in the future.

When dropping cash, check or charge card info into those pipes, you now know they could end up in the wrong hands. If it would help you sleep better, try using checks. Most low-level crooks, trying to support a meth habit, won't deal in checks, they want hard cash. But for security reasons, cash is probably your safest bet. Pipe heists are probably very uncommon, but caution is advised.

We always look the fee pipe over very carefully. Fake fee pipes have been used by crafty crooks. We also eyeball gas pumps for card readers that have been placed in the credit card slot to steal information. Having your card info ripped off is much more of a problem.

It happened to us in North Central Florida this winter. By the time we figured it out, the bad guys had pumped three hundred bucks worth of gas, Simonized their vehicle, ate at McDonald's and then celebrated with a stop at a liquor store.

The card company removed the charges from our account, but we were without a credit card for awhile until they issued us a new one.

There is a difference between paranoid and cautious. Two out of every five people suffer from paranoia. The other three are watching them suspiciously.

--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

RV Tow Row

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We bought a motorhome we love. My wife and I studied many RVs, how we would use one, where we would take one, and what type of floor plan we desired. That process went very smoothly. Now we are trying to figure out what type of tow vehicle to purchase and are currently at polar-opposite ends of the scale on what we need, what we can afford, and how we will use it.

We are not looking for any brand information -- we just want some clue as to what we should be considering so that we can both back off our demands and find some middle ground.
--Tow to Tow in Tampa

Dear Tampa:
It sounds like you two are very methodical in your approach to making a purchase. It's refreshing to hear you are both actively engaged in making decisions together. These are large investments that will affect both of you for many years. Getting it right the first time is not as common as you might think. With little information as to what your needs and wants are in a toad, let me just give you some food for thought. In the end you will have to make the final decision on your own.

There are all kinds of contraptions for pulling a vehicle behind a motorhome, protecting it from stone damage, and keeping it within safety regulations. If you like to explore back roads, you might want to consider high clearance and four wheel drive. If you are looking for extra storage, shop a small to mid-sized pickup. If you are hauling bikes or kayaks on the vehicle, think about rack space and fit.

Consider weight and towing capacity and how it will affect your fuel mileage. Even a light vehicle will most likely cost you a mile per gallon.

New or used? No matter what you do to protect a toad, expect stone damage, tar and road grime maintenance, and some additional tire wear from towing sway. If you observe the many other RVers pulling a vehicle behind a motorhome you will see a wide variety of choices. Some will need more accessories than others. The additional expense can include brakes, transmission pumps, dollies, lights and wiring.

I'm sure if you read the comment section of this post you will find many others willing to share their thoughts and experiences on how they made their choice.

Personally, I continue to buy old Saturn SL's on Craigslist. Unfortunately, they aren't making them any longer. They were too reliable and economical. They are also under 2500 lbs. and easy to dingy-tow four wheels down.

Our decision is based on easy to fix, easy to connect and disconnect and, because of the weight, fuel efficient while towing. Also, I don't have to take it to Best Buy or the Apple Genius Bar to get it fixed.

List all your needs and wants. Once you agree on those, there are many vehicles to choose from today. 

--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink