Wednesday, December 14, 2016

RV TV location solution

Dr. RV Shrink:
We bought a used motorhome recently. We love the layout better than any new models we've looked at. The only problem is the location of the TV. I think the engineers put it in the only place they had left. I am surprised they didn't stick it in the freezer. It is driving my husband nuts. He isn't an engineer, but he thinks he could play one on TV. Now he wants to play engineer with our TV. He has so many ideas where to put it, I can't even keep track anymore. Should I just give up and let him do his thing? I'm afraid he will put it somewhere that is worse than where it is now. --Misplaced in Middlebury

Dear Misplaced:
I have agreed with readers in the past that many RV models have the TV stuck in some odd location. Many of the older motorhomes had full-sized TVs placed in a huge cabinet in the front cockpit. It meant craning your neck to look up at it all the time.

I suggest you let your husband do his engineering. You should not only encourage him, but also give him some input.

I am no engineer, but I solved our TV location problem with a full motion TV extension mount. (OmniMount Play). It gives you many options as to location because of its range of motion and long multiple extensions. I studied a million brackets before I decided on this one. It has exceeded my expectations. I mounted it in a storage cabinet and it easily pulls out and adjusts in many directions.

Once your husband finds out about this engineering marvel -- look out, you may find your TV almost anywhere. Don't forget to give him input. --Keep Smilin', Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The RV beast

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are looking at a 38-foot motorhome that is like a McMansion on wheels. It has all the creature comforts of home. It has been my husband's dream for years.

Don't get me wrong. I love it too, but I can't get over the poor gas mileage. I keep thinking every time we drive five miles it's going to cost us whatever a gallon of gas costs. It seems absurd.

Am I just thinking too hard?  Are we nuts buying this gas hog? --Gas Math in Maitland

Dear Gas Math:
I would say you are not thinking hard enough. You have to do the math several different ways and see if this RV, or even the RV lifestyle, is going to work for you. I can tell you your fuel bill is, in most cases, not going to be your biggest expense.

Most people with a rig your size are pulling a toad. Your gas-hog expense is going to get you from point A to B; from there you will be driving the toad.

I suggest you sit down and run through what you would like to do for a six-month trip. Figure your mileage, your gasoline costs, camping and maintenance. That will give you a better picture of what your costs are going to look like overall.

Many of your costs are not going to change whether you stay at home or travel. You will still eat, heat, cool and entertain.

You should also compare your trip expense with other travel options. Figure the same trip without the motorhome and add the expense of rooms, meals and fuel. Try doing the trip using a train and a berth. Compare it to some organized tour package.

All these travel methods can ring up dollars quickly. Running the numbers may make you feel better about how you plan to travel and the cost of getting the beast down the road.
--Keep Smilin', Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

RV Lonesome Dove

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We have just started doing more remote camping or, as some of our friends call it, "boondocking."

My husband is much more comfortable with this arrangement than I am. We are not just parking on the side of the road somewhere. We are birders and we like wild, natural places.

I am very comfortable staying in most of these areas, I just don't like heading out for the day and leaving our RV and all of our worldly possessions. We have never had a problem, but I think about it all day long while we are out hiking or driving around the area.

Should I just "get over it?" Am I being too paranoid?

Thoughts please.
--Unsecured in Utah

Dear Unsecured:
We all have our own threshold when it comes to security. Every boondocking site has its own set of circumstances. Sites can be too populated, too unpopulated, too remote, too accessible or even on the cusp of illegal. I think we have stayed in all those places and I will admit some of them made me a little nervous, and my wife very nervous.

You have to decide between the two of you where you draw the comfort line. Personally, I would feel better leaving my RV for the day in a well used BLM desert than a Walmart parking lot. When traveling we use Walmart for overnight stops a lot, but seldom do we leave our rig there and go off to town.

I would suggest making your RV look occupied as much as possible, learn as much about the area as you can, and try to find others camping.

Once you have made your decision, go with your gut and enjoy chasing your birds. Stuff happens, and it can happen anywhere. If you talk with other RVers that boondock, you will discover that few have ever had major problems.

That said, my good friend just had half a bike stolen off the back of his motorhome while parked next to a very nice urban bike trail. He had his expensive mountain bike locked, so the thieves just took the front suspension and wheel.

“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.” --George Burns

--Keep Smilin', Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

RV water world

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
It's jump or swim around here. I need your help. I feel like I am married to Jacques Cousteau. We have had a water leak for almost 2 years. My husband refuses to have someone else solve his problems. We did stop at the Winnebago factory last year on the way home, but they were too busy to look at it. He then bought a cable with a camera on the end to explore the nooks and crannies of our rig where the holding tank is situated. That device turned out to be a joke and he sent it back to Amazon.

Yesterday he came in with a big grin on his face and said, "Eureka, I found the leak!" Although the leak seemed to be coming from the top of the tank, it actually turned out to be a small crack in the tank just at the top edge. This crack location made it look like the water was coming over the top edge of the tank like a waterfall. I felt relief until I realized that now he is on to the discovery phase of the fix. You might say he is fixated.

Should I just let him do his thing or have him committed? --Donna in Dripping Springs

Dear Dripping:
It seems like a long time to have a water problem. I hope it has not caused more problems than you currently have. There is an old adage, "Penny wise and pound foolish." Letting a problem go too long might cost you more than just aggravation in the long run. Glad you finally discovered the cause.

I know that Winnebago roto-molds their own tanks. I believe they use low density polyethylene. About the only way to repair them is plastic welding. Your husband can attempt it himself inexpensively by purchasing poly welding sticks of the same material as the tank. It can be melted with a soldering iron. I have also seen a new product called "TAD poly weld" that claims it will adhere to, and seal, polyethylene.

Your other choice would be to have the tank replaced, which in most cases involves more labor costs than material. Hopefully one of the cheap fixes work.

I would wait until the work was complete before having your husband committed. --Keep Smilin', Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Beady RV tire people

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I have heard that owning a motorhome or a boat has been compared to throwing money into a black hole. We have been experiencing that lately. We bought six new tires a couple years ago at the cost of almost $4,000.

Recently, we decided to add a tire monitoring system that we see advertised in (TireTraker). What we didn't realize is there is a possibility of problems if our tires have balance beads in them. We never even thought about this when we purchased tires. We now see on our tire invoice that our tires were balanced with beads instead of weights.

My husband wants to just buy the monitor system and take our chances that everything will be fine. I don't want to spend $500 to see if the beads will clog the sensors or not.

Can you talk some sense into my husband's careless attitude about sensors?
--Tired in Tucson

Dear Tired:
I emailed TireTraker and received this answer from the company:

 "As long as a filtered valve core was/is installed there would be no issue. If it’s just the normal valve stem, then the beads could leak and damage the sensors. The Lifetime warranty covers the monitor and the sensors should they fail by no fault of your own. We would repair/replace any components for the duration of your ownership."

You might monitor the comments on this post. Perhaps someone has tried using a pressure system with balance beads and will post their experience. I do know you will spend as much to have your beads removed as you will on the system. I also have balance beads, and like you, had no clue I was getting them. I just assumed when I bought tires I would get weights.

For those thinking about tire purchase it would be wise to make that decision ahead of time and not let some tire business make it for you without even asking. Someone specializing in RV tires will probably have the equipment to balance large tires. Many businesses do not and opt to toss a bag of beads or powder in each tire for balancing.

I am no tire expert, but have been told by a few professionals that the powder can damage tires and wheels.

At this point your cheapest option would most likely be new filtered valve cores. I am curious myself and will ask Chuck if he can query his tire expert. (We have asked RV tire expert Roger Marble to weigh in on this subject, and he will post his comments below.)

Until then keep a close watch on your husband's beady little eyes and don't let him do something foolish without first exploring all other options.
Consider a tire monitor system.

--Keep Smilin', Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Monday, November 7, 2016

RV SuperSize It!

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I think we bought too much motorhome. It makes my husband nervous to drive. He's always saying, "I just want to park this sucker."

We are now headed south for the winter and he will only drive on interstate highways, stay in commercial campgrounds with pull-thru sites and use truck stop sized gas stations.

Today was our most stressful yet. We pulled into a Flying J and pulled up to a gas bay that had another truck in it. My husband thought it was leaving because it was not fueling. Once he pulled up tight behind it we noticed there was no driver. We were blocking traffic and could not back up because of our toad.

We were getting the stink eye from dozens of people for several minutes until a woman finally came out of the store embracing a month's worth of junk food. She had left her vehicle at the pump while she went shopping, yet everyone was annoyed with us.

I think we should lose about ten feet of living space, but my husband says we will take a bath on downsizing.

Are we stuck? I wanted to see America, but not at 65 mph rocketing along some super slab. Help!
--SuperSized in Santa Fe

Dear SuperSized:
I have no idea what size your motorhome is, but obviously too large for your driving comfort. I agree that you would most likely take a bath downsizing, but there are other options. I would start with investing in some driver's training. Yes, there is such a thing. Many people bite off more than they can chew when choosing a big rig, adding a toad and other toys. They are so big and powerful that I have seen people take out electric and water facilities while leaving a campsite and not even realize it.

Becoming comfortable with your home on wheels is essential to happy travels. Be aware that size will limit you at times as to where you can camp, drive, park and fuel.
You describe one of my pet peeves with your story of pulling into the gas station. You will always have to deal with people who are not courteous. It doesn't matter what size rv you have. That said, the bigger the rig, the more planning involved in making your approach to a campsite, fuel pump, dump station etc.

Don't wait too long to look into driving lessons or downsizing. I have witnessed people destroying there whole RV making one swing through a campground they never should have attempted. That route can often lead to more of a loss than a bad trade.
--Keep Smilin', Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

RV Robo Ranger check-in

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I think I may be too old to travel. I just spent a half hour with a Robo Ranger trying to pay my camping fee at a National Recreation Area in Arizona. My eyes are still in good shape, but the plastic screen on the Robo Ranger was sun bleached and almost impossible to see through. I was on my knees, holding my hand over the screen trying to create enough shadow to read the crazy thing. Every time I reached the point where the machine wanted to charge my credit card it froze and reset itself to the beginning without charging me or issuing my stub.

I finally discovered I had to wait until I reached that point in the transaction to slide my card.

I had a lot of questions as to where I should park, but no ranger or host to ask. I am sure my government is saving a ton of money not having any personnel to pay, vehicles to transport them, buildings to house them, and pensions to someday pay them, but why do my campground fees continue to rise? Is it to pay for all the vandalism here?

Should I take a computer class in campground check-in, or just sell my RV?

I would move to a nearby Forest Service, concession run campground, but they have already closed for the year. Concession run campgrounds close as soon as seasonal numbers drop, even though the weather is still perfect for camping.

I've heard you can't teach an old dog new tricks. That must be true in my case, because I can't even figure out what these bureaucrats are thinking.

Do you think now is a good time to sell my trailer?
--Tech protest in Page

Dear Page:
I feel your frustration. It does entail a continual learning curve to survive in the camping world. But think of it as exercise. It is probably good for your knees bending to address a Robo Ranger. They say challenging your brain is your best defense against Alzheimers. Figuring out how to give money to the government will someday be as easy for you as using a self car wash. They both soak you, and there is no one to complain too.

You bring up a great point about the concession run, forest service campgrounds. There should be a contractual stipulation that makes them operate earlier in the spring and later in the fall. Most have no water system to freeze, they just do not want to be burdened with the cost of running them without continued high occupancy.

Maybe the government will eventually do away with concessioners and implement more Robo Rangers. It might be a wise move to take those computer classes now if you are going to hang onto that trailer.

In my humble opinion an Iron Ranger makes a lot more sense. No moving parts, the customer fills out all the paper work, it doesn't use electricity, it's maintenance free, you can still use your credit card, and they even take that stuff that people once carried---CASH!
--Keep Smilin', Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Nuked out RV

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
Our microwave just started making a terrible buzzing noise and no longer heats. My wife wants a new one, but we have only used this one a few times. We use it almost exclusively for storing our plastic food containers.

I think we should just pull the old one out and build the space into a storage cabinet. She thinks we should spend three hundred dollars for an appliance we use once a year.

Can you give us some input to cease our petty arguing.
--Nuked out in Nevada

Dear Nuke:
This could go either way. I would agree with your wife for resale reasons. If that is not important to you, the extra storage makes perfect sense.

You should also consider a new convection/microwave combination oven which might fit your space.

If you seldom use the appliance it seems a waste of space. If, however, you find it convenient at those times you do use it, replace or update it. You can still use it for storage.

Measure your opening and ventilation space carefully before ordering a new appliance. They won't all fit into the space vacated by your present unit. Convection/micro combos are often a bit larger.

Before you make that decision I would diagnose the problem with your microwave. It is very possible your problem is a $5 diode that can be replaced easily, but carefully because of high voltage stored in these units.
--Keep Smilin', Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

RV stalking

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We have met a lot of wonderful people in our travels. We seem to keep track of each other on social media and meet up over the years whenever our paths cross. It's been great up until now.

Recently, one couple decided they wanted to travel with us exclusively. They never asked if we would mind, they just started stalking us in an RV way. At first they would ask where we were headed and just show up, now they are wanting our itinerary and suggesting we share meals together.

My husband doesn't want to confront the situation. He finds it awkward. I am insisting we break it off with them, and get back to our own life on the road.

How should we handle this?
--Uncomfortable in Atlanta

Dear Uncomfortable:
Traveling together has many dimensions. Many people find it compatible, but it has to be mutual. It sounds like your dilemma is not.

Your situation was born out of a desire by just one of the parties wanting to hook up, without so much as a discussion about the ground rules. You need to confront them with your feelings about the arrangements they have developed without your consent. You may lose them as friends, but eventually that is going to happen anyway if you struggle through this until you can't take it anymore. It would be better to be up front with your feelings and hope they understand.

One of the funniest parts of Bill Bryson's book, "A Walk in the Woods," was about this very situation, only on foot. An obnoxious woman who talked with confidence to hide her insecurities hooked up with Bryson, and his hiking partner Katz, uninvited. They tried everything to ditch her without hurting her feelings. Finally, they decided to walk really fast, get a few miles ahead of her, then jump off the trail at the next town, and hope she would pass them. Then they felt bad and guilty, and worried about her. They find out later from other hikers she has been bad mouthing them as fat, lazy old guys. Then they felt bad they felt guilty.

So don't try to ditch these people by telling them you're going one way, and go the opposite. You will feel guilty and they will bad mouth you.

Have an adult conversation, and explain you are not comfortable traveling with them all the time. Tell them you need more alone time to do your own thing.

If they take it badly that is their hangup, not yours.
--Keep Smilin', Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

RV Jump or Swim

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are considering buying a Class C motorhome and doing some traveling. We have no clue on what to expect, what we might need, or how to go about making a buying decision. My wife says we just need to go ahead and take action. I am more cautious. She says I study things to death, but I just don't want to spend a pile of money and find out two weeks into our trip we bought the wrong darn thing.

Can you give us any advice? It's turning into an argument every time we go RV shopping.
--Studious in Standish

Dear Studious:
There is nothing wrong with figuring out all your options before pulling the trigger. Everyone will have different needs, fears, and confusion when trying to decide what will fit their needs in this RV lifestyle. I think one great way to try it out would be to rent a motorhome for a week or more and visit a popular area of great camping. Since I am sitting in Capitol Reef National Park writing this, Utah comes to mind. The state of Utah has done a bang-up job of promoting itself. Capitol Reef (along with all the other National Parks in Utah) visitation is up twofold in the past five years. A huge fleet of rental motorhomes reside just down the road in Vegas. People from all over the world fly into Las Vegas, rent a motorhome and head for Utah.

I suggest this busy area because it gives you the opportunity to experience campground bingo at the same time you are trying to figure out what rig would work best for you. You will learn how hard it is to explore these areas without a smaller tow vehicle (toad), how hard it is to snag a campsite without a reservation, and many other situations that exist, and at this point you have no clue.

I think my biggest caution in using a rental unit would be sanitation. I would ask the rental company what their policy is on sanitizing units on their return. If not convinced it's proper, I would do my own freshwater tank sanitizing. I find it very common at campground dump stations to see people, with no idea how things work, filling tanks with non-potable water, doing their dishes right at the dump station, not rinsing any equipment they use, and using the same water hose to rinse the sewer hose and fill.

In Yellowstone I pulled up behind a Chinese delegation that seemed to be having a jolly time laughing and trying to figure out the dump technique. I tried to help, but seemed to be confusing them more than helping. All five of them kept signaling to me that they had it under control. I sat for fifteen minutes and watched them do every crazy thing I have ever witnessed in the past and then some. I sure wouldn't want to be the next rental customer on that rig.

Other than that, I think a rental week could open your eyes to many questions you may not even have at this point, and answer many you do.
--Keep Smilin', Richard E. Mallery a.k.a Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

RV site size

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are in Yellowstone National Park and we are finding our RV is too big to camp in some of the campgrounds. We tried to make a reservation today at Madison Campground and they tell us we will only fit into a 40 foot plus site, but there are none available. They combined our total rig length (motorhome and toad) and say we cannot fit in a 30 foot site.

We purposely bought a 30 ft. motorhome so we could camp in smaller primitive campgrounds, but obviously we planned wrong. It really makes me mad. This time we have to travel so much further to see the sights because we do not meet campground size requirements.

What do most people find a good length that offers them the best choices of sites?
--Mad in Madison

Dear Mad:
The good news is you bought a perfect size. Even if you are pulling a toad, you should fit in most campgrounds just fine. I can say that for a fact because we have been doing it for years. Your only problem is buying into the BS (Buffalo Scat) that you are hearing on the other end of the phone when you try to make a reservation with a concession run campground.

Unfortunately our government is not capable of running their own campgrounds and have found it more convenient to farm them all out to people who turn them into more of a KOA business plan. First thing they do is double the price, then they farm out their reservations to a company full of cubicles in New York, manned by people who have never camped in their whole life.

So, you do not need a new rig, you need an attitude adjustment. When you are on the phone you need to have a bit more chutzpah. It helps to have some experience under your belt, but until then stop telling them you have a toad. At thirty feet you will fit their requirements and when you arrive you will find ample parking for your toad.

Let's use Madison as an example. I am very familiar with that campground. When you call for a reservation you will be given the exact information you describe. You will be told you cannot park your toad somewhere else if you do not fit, you have to combine your total length to fit a site, and if you don't fit you can't stay.

You will also notice you are not issued a particular site. When you arrive they are going to give you what they find convenient.

On our last visit we booked a 40 ft site, only size available. When we arrived we asked if we could get a couple more days. We were given a 30 ft site.  We found that all the sites are about the same length, pull thru's and side by sides. If you can't fit your toad in next to your rig you are told to park it outside the loop where there is plenty of parking. After walking all the loops and looking at all the RV sites, I found few sites I wouldn't fit into.
So here are your choices. Fudge the truth or buy a shorter rig. My Irish grandmother always said, "A little white lie was always better than a big fight."

If you arrive and find you truly do not fit you will have to move on, instead of moving on before you know if you fit.

There is a lot of smoke and mirrors involved in campground reservation systems. It takes some time before you will understand many of the nuances and learn how to weigh fact and fiction.
--Keep Smilin', Richard E. Mallery a.k.a Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

RV dump details

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We just looked at a travel trailer with a floor plan that satisfies my wife and myself. My hangup with it is the dump and freshwater filling arrangements. The way the thing is designed would make it necessary for me to dump on one side and fill water on the other. This doesn't seem to bother my wife, but it is a deal breaker for me. She says we can deal with it, but I say we are going to have years of headaches every time we need to visit the dump station. Am I being overly concerned with this issue? We can't seem to come to a compromise on this one aspect of RV design. --Dump Detail in Denver

Dear Detail:
I have noticed this a couple times while waiting in line to dump. It made me scratch my head. I have to wonder if the engineer has ever been to a dump station. It is stressful enough spending time in the queue at the dump loo. When you combine the many poorly engineered dump stations with a poorly plumbed rig it spells nothing but frustration to me. I personally would not even consider a rig that wasn't plumbed conveniently.

So many dump facilities are developed using backward thinking. It is common for the dump and fresh water to be so close together that one rig will block the whole operation until both chores are finished.

It takes so much more time to fill a freshwater tank, compared to dumping waste water. It seems like common sense to separate the two so that both operations could be available to more people at the same time.

What most parks need are fewer rangers and more re-arrangers.

I am sure with a bit more shopping you can find a suitable floor plan with the plumbing in the right spot. --Keep Smilin', Richard E. Mallery a.k.a Dr. R.V. Shrink

Newest Dr. R.V. Shrink book
Crossing the Divide
Birdfeeding 101
Nuts About Squirrels


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

RV solar weather forecast

Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We just bought two solar panels for our motorhome. My husband said it would eliminate the need for hookups. We spent almost two thousand dollars and now two weeks later he wants electricity.

We have been parked in Montana for two weeks in a national forest campground. Mostly it has been cloudy and rainy. I guess he didn't plan thoroughly enough. Our batteries have slowly died until last night everything shut down. So much for solar.

Am I being too hard on him? Do most people find these sun catchers sometimes helpful?
--Mostly upset with a slight chance of forgiveness in Lincoln

Dear Lincoln:
It would be my guess that your stormy disposition has been brought on by bad timing. They are solar panels, which is pretty self-explanatory. "That lucky old sun has nothin' to do, but roll around heaven all day." It is true that the sun shines every day at 72,000 feet, depending on high cumulus clouds, but that is not always helpful to solar panels.

You don't say what your battery bank is made up of, but for two grand I'm going to guess you bought some good batteries to enhance your system.

Go find some sunshine. You will feel a lot better.

We run 300 watts of solar into four 6v golf cart batteries from Sam's Club. It is budgeted with a real good controller. In five years I can only think of a half dozen times that it was dreary long enough, to put a big dent in our solar savings account. In those same five years it has paid for itself more than once in electric and convenience.

If you travel often you will become an appreciator of the magic of the sun to continually top off your batteries.

I am sitting in a National Park right now listening to several generators around me sucking fuel, making noise and pollution to accomplish the same thing my quiet panels are doing.

Hang in there. I see sunny days in your future.
--Keep Smilin', Richard E. Mallery a.k.a Dr. R.V. Shrink

Newest Dr. R.V. Shrink book
Crossing the Divide
Birdfeeding 101
Nuts About Squirrels

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Dr. R.V. Shrink's new book

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are jumping on the RV travel bandwagon. We just retired but my husband has been reading your column for a couple years. There are many things we never considered until we read your postings.

Now as we have begun the journey we laugh at situations we have read about in your column. Our son just sent us a link to your ebook on Amazon. We had no idea it was even available. He actually works for Amazon in Seattle and knew we would be interested when he saw it.

Thanks for all the humorous insight into this life on wheels. We are truly enjoying every minute of it. A new adventure around every curve in the road.
--Newbie's in Newport

Dear Newport:
I have had your letter in my queue for a couple weeks waiting for the book to go live at all online distribution outlets. It is brand new. I know it is available on Amazon and should be available everywhere soon. Newest Dr. R.V. Shrink book

It is the first in a series I plan to publish over the next year or so. You can actually see a decent sampling of the book on Amazon by clicking the "Look Inside" option.

This book is a couple hundred pages of over 300 Dr. R.V. Shrink columns I have written for Chuck on his site. I have always been a big fan of Chuck and his newspaper "OutWest" and his now very popular

I have been at this RV lifestyle my whole life and I still learn new tricks reading his newsletter every Saturday morning. It is a wonderful resource that has all the politics of advertising stripped away so that the reader gets a true picture of the industry and the lifestyle without a bunch of false facade from advertiser bias.

Thank you for your kind words about the column and helping me introduce my newest book to readers.
--Keep Smilin', Richard E. Mallery a.k.a Dr. R.V. Shrink, a.k.a Dick E. Bird

Other Books by Richard E. Mallery:
Crossing the Divide
Birdfeeding 101
Nuts About Squirrels

Thursday, September 8, 2016

RVer under pressure

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We just stopped for propane and the guy wouldn't fill us. He told my husband our attached tank did not look healthy enough.

We have a Class B Sprinter with about 100,000 miles on it. We bought it used and the tank does have some surface rust.

This guy poked it a bit and a big chunk of paint came off leaving an ugly rusted area near the fill cap. My husband just tried another propane station and the kid filled us up, no questions asked.

 I'm nervous, but my husband says the first guy was just over-cautious.

Are we on borrowed time? Please answer quick -- the tank seems to be located under my seat.
--Overwrought and Under Pressure in Portland

Dear Overwrought:
It sounds like you need a second, professional opinion and I would do it at the next available propane dealer. I don't have all the facts here. Is the tank even date stamped for a legal fill? A rig with 100,000 miles could mean old or just well-traveled.

All underbelly tanks get rusted, some more than others, depending on salt conditions. It's a good idea to wire brush them once a year, shoot some Rustoleum on them, and inspect them for any damage.

Most underbelly tanks are thicker than regular bottles, some up to a 1/2 inch. If you are just losing surface paint it could be fine, but a propane dealer would be a better judge of your condition with a hands-on inspection.

Even if your husband is confident you have no issue, it might make you feel better to hear it from a guy that works with equipment like yours everyday.

If it is outdated, it can be inspected and re-stamped, it can often be reconditioned, or worst case scenario, replaced with a new tank.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

RV squeak

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We have a squeak that is making me crazy. My husband has a hearing problem and does not hear high pitched noise. I think it might be something to do with the furnace because that is when I hear it. Should we try to fix the furnace or my husband?
--Annoyed in Annapolis

Dear AA:
I would start with the furnace as husbands are so much harder to fix. With the little information I have I am going to guess blower fan. Clean it and lube it. It might be dirty and off balance a bit, worn or dry. If you can't do it, assign your husband to the task. If he can't do it, find an RV technician. The RV technician will make your wallet squeak. See if your husband can hear that.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Read the RV Shrink every week in the RV Travel newsletter.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

RV campground jitters

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
This RV lifestyle is supposed to be relaxing, but trying to get a space in a campground is nerve-racking.

My husband and I have a method, but I am still shaking when it's all over. We have a motorhome and pull a small car. As we get close to a first-come, first-serve campground, he unhooks the car from the motorhome and waits while I go in and try to secure a site. Often I have to bother other campers and ask if they are leaving. Often there are others doing the same. It's like a scavenger hunt.

We see it only getting worse.

Do you have any suggestions?
--All shook up in Apgar

Dear Shook Up:
It is getting very interesting. More and more campgrounds are going to reservation only just to avoid all the disgruntled campers who reach a destination just to find out it is already filled to the gills.

We were just at Many Glacier campground in Glacier National Park. That campground went to partial reservations this season. The sites that remain FCFS are in high demand. Every morning there is a line of rigs stretching from the entrance gate, down the road and around the corner. Those who know how it works get in line as early as 4 a.m. At 7 a.m. the hosts come out and allow in campers as sites become available. They have already quizzed site occupants the night before, on whether they are leaving or not, and have an idea of how many sites will be available. They tell those far back in the line that they are most likely not getting a site and that they should move on and try to find other accommodations.

As sad as it is, that there seems to be more demand than supply, I thought this was a well organized attempt to take some of the pressure off people running willy-nilly through a campground almost fighting over sites and interrogating people on their intentions of length of stay.

Combat camping, campground bingo, and campground musical chairs, I've heard it all. On the front of our National Park handout, we received at the gate, it says in large type, "FIND YOUR PARK." What it should say is, "FIND YOUR PARKING SPACE."
If reservations are not an option, my only suggestions would be to pick a day to move into a campground when it might be less busy, and more likely that people would be moving on. Sunday thru Wednesday are good choices. Try none peak seasons, and arrive early.

The early bird gets to worm his way into the best sites.

My best advice is, "Never, and I mean never, let them see you sweat."
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

RV storage headache

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are now in our third week of the RV lifestyle. The excitement is starting to wear off, especially when we stop and I start opening cupboards and the refrigerator. Bouncing down the road seems to make our food items jumpy. I opened the cupboard above the dinette today and put an ugly looking dent in my husband's head, not to mention the table.

I know I am not the only first-timer that has experienced this problem. I know you can't fix my husband's head (it's way too late for that), but how about some storage advice, tips, hints, ideas?
--A bit road jumpy in Joplin

Dear Road Jumpy:
I know where you are coming from. We used to have a memorial dent in our dinette table that perfectly matched the one on my head. It doesn't take many concussions to force you to rethink your storage options.

 There are all kinds of cupboard protectors, bars and boarders on the market that help keep contents corralled. What we have found very convenient for our freezer storage are simple plastic containers that allow us to organize the space and still allow us to see the contents.

You will learn as you go that some items will ride better in certain areas than others and you will pack accordingly.

Some manufacturers do not put enough of a lip on cupboard shelves. You can remedy this by purchasing one of the items I mentioned above, or simply adding your own, using matching trim molding you can buy at any home improvement store.

Things falling out of storage cupboards can be a real headache, as you have already discovered. But a few preventive measures will solve this issue permanently.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Monday, August 8, 2016

RV home base

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are 3/4 timers. We go back to our home base once a year to maintain our property, work on our rig and see friends and family. My husband wants to stop traveling because he says it is too hard to winterize and wrap our home up every season. I say we should just go full-time and we wouldn't have to do any of it.

I know people have bigger problems than we do, but it is getting harder to own a home and still travel as we age. Any comments?
--Skipping Town in Tumwater

Dear Skipping:
The first response that comes to mind is compromising. Go home each year, but don't move into the house. Live in your RV in the driveway. Better yet, rent the house with the understanding that  you can come home for a few months a year and use the utilities. This would work out best if you had a good sized lot with some privacy for you and your tenants.

Another suggestion would be to streamline your place to make firing it up and shutting it down easier. Perhaps a few plumbing changes to make winterizing simple.
You might want to consider downsizing to a more convenient property that would still allow you to do the things you enjoy, yet eliminate much of the work like landscaping, painting, cleaning and repair.

We have a simple place to return to each year which allows us to do precautionary maintenance on our rig, enjoy the solitude of our property, invite friends to visit with their RV, and enjoy the area for a couple months.

We live in our motorhome and use the house for guests. Being a landlord does not appeal to us, but it could be a great way to earn extra income and keep the property occupied for those who would not mind dealing with renting.

All the things your husband seems to be tiring of, can get old after awhile. You both have to sit down and decide what your next move will be. Hopefully you can come up with a solution that makes you both happy and healthy.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

RV air

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We love our new trailer. We are teachers and take each summer off and head to the mountains. Our kids love the many National Parks we visit and learn so much from our travels.

One thing we never considered when planning our purchase was the summer heat. My wife wants me to add an air conditioner to our rig. I think it would be a waste of money as we spend the majority of our time camped in National Forests and Parks with no electricity. She has become very insistent on this point especially on hot days when we do have access to power.

Could you give me your take on this point?
--Hot tongue and Cold shoulder in Sandpoint

Dear Hot and Cold:
I would look at it this way. AC is not a bad investment. Even if you do not use it that often, it is wonderful to have when you need it and have access to power. It would also  help in resale value.

Another option would be a swamp cooler. They can cost as much as an air conditioner, but allow you to operate on 12 volt power. They are simple to install on an existing roof vent.

Until you work this decision out I would suggest you find a shady campsite on hot days, make use of 12 volt fans, and pick a site that may offer lake frontage or a breeze.
Another thing for people to consider on very hot days are their pets. If you're going off for the day and leave a pet in your rig, consider the extreme temps that can build in an RV if you do not take precautions.

We have a 12V fan made by the Fan-Tastic Vent company called, "Endless Breeze." It was designed for pets but we enjoy it as much as our cat.

By the way, I grew up just like your kids. My parents took us to the mountain parks each summer, in an Airstream, on great adventures. It has had a continual and dramatic impact on my life as I am sure it will on your children. I applaud you.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We only use our fifth-wheel a few weeks a year. It is stored outside in the side yard the rest of the time.

I have read in your column women complaining about their husbands constantly working on their RVs. I have just the opposite problem, my husband seems to think everything will fix itself. We are one week into our annual three week vacation. We are spending it this year under the well-reported heat dome. This is the exact reason we ordered our rig with air conditioning. It would be a wonderful option if it worked.

 My husband is now on the roof trying to figure out why the fan will not turn, how to remove the shroud, and complaining about heat stroke. I hate to say, “I told you so,” but don’t you think these are issues better solved when you are not on vacation?
--Airhead in Appleton

 Dear Appleton:
Yes, I agree. It is called precautionary maintenance. The worst thing for recreation vehicles is not recreating. More things go wrong parked than moving. Equipment needs exercise the same as the body. “Use it or lose it.”

Once your husband figures out how to remove the shroud, my guess would be that insects have likely build a nest around your fan blade. This is very common if a unit has sat idle outside for long periods of time.

 You should fire things up a few times a year. Spend a weekend living in your RV in the backyard now and then. That will force you to use all your systems, gas, water, waste, refrigeration and, yes, air conditioning.

If you have a generator, fire it up and put it under a load - I’m thinking the air conditioner. Another common problem is plumbing seals drying out, awnings rotting from condensation, critters moving in and chewing wires, insects nesting, tires checking.

 Protect your investment with a little TLC and you will have less hassle when you do finally get a chance to take it on the road and enjoy it.

As I have said before, my wife used to go for handsome, now she goes for handy!
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

RV jump or swim problem

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
After a recent rainstorm I found a pool of water on my makeup table in our motorhome bedroom. There is a small window there and my husband says it checks out fine.  He looked at all the seals inside and out and says they are fine.

With that report he dismissed the problem as a freak accident. I told him water leaks are not a freak accident, but he refuses to pursue it any further.

I hate to be a nagging wife, but don't you think he should work on it until he finds the cause?
--Mad as a wet hen in Helena

Dear Helena:
I agree, work on the problem until you solve it. Leaks are nothing to ignore. They can cause permanent damage it you let them go and continue to flow.

Work as a team. Spray water on the window and figure out where the leak begins. Before you do anything, check the weep holes. Most RV windows have a couple weep holes to let water seep out the bottom of the window track.

These holes often clog with debris. When that happens it can overflow to the interior of the coach. Often, clearing those passages will solve your problem.

Remind your husband that one small leak can sink a mighty ship. Deal with it now.

Give this column to your husband. Tell him to, "Read it and weep."
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Sound RV advice

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We just moved into our new motorhome. One thing I never gave much thought to was noise from all of our belongings banging around as we travel down the road.

It drives my wife to distraction more than me. At first it was annoying, we could hardly talk in normal volumes. After locating and quieting the noisiest problems we are now down to several more we are working on and some we have not been able to locate.

Does everyone have to put up with this, or did we just end up with a rattle trap?
--Looking For sound advice in Sacramento

Dear Sac:
Motorhome sound pollution can be frustrating. There are many things to consider in your case. Let's start out with the ride you are experiencing.

If your rig is riding rigid it will make for more noise creation. If you have a good smooth ride, it gets down to how you pack, what you pack and where you pack it. There may also be mechanical noises you will have to deal with. One notorious culprit is the oven fan vent. It is often a light piece of tin, designed to open with the air pressure from the fan. It can open and close while driving and make a loud tin can noise.

While one of you is driving the other can search, make notes and cure each noise individually until you get to a point that is satisfactory.

Often the biggest offenders will be dishes, pots and pans, utensils and appliances. Each coach is different but the usual suspects can often be identified and brought into compliance by using spacers such as soft material, plastic containers or isolation.

I am sure your sounds are unique just like everyone else's. Seriously, they can be challenging, but think of it as a game, like I Spy.

Slowly, but surely, you will find and cancel out so many tiny noises in the chorus that you will eventually be able to argue with each other again, driving along looking for your next turn in the road.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

##RVT751;##RVDT 1196

Thursday, July 7, 2016

RVing Yellowstone

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are in Yellowstone and we don't have a reservation. We had no idea that half the world would be here visiting the same time we arrived. We cannot find a place to camp and have no choice but to leave the park and pay commercial rates on the fringes.

I want to stay and fight the crowds, but my husband wants to leave and try again sometime in the future with reservations. I say we will run into the same problem everywhere else, let's stay and fight.

Is this what we have to look forward to as we begin our grand retirement adventure?
--Crowd Control in Gardiner

Dear Crowd Control:
I feel your pain. Last year over four million people from all over the world visited Yellowstone. The Park Superintendent was quoted in the May issue of National Geographic. He basically said numbers of visitors would have to be limited or plan on irreparable damage to the resource. Even off season it is hard to explore Yellowstone. Getting a camping site is only the beginning. You then have to fight for a parking space at every attraction trailhead.

You will eventually learn to time your visits to some of the most popular attractions in America. Off season will be better, but not trouble free. Spring and fall find many campgrounds not open or already closed for the season. This leaves fewer sites for all those lucky enough to travel during those seasons.

Even though I hate making reservations I always do at Yosemite and Yellowstone. It has almost become a necessity. Many parks in Utah are the same way spring and fall. People from around the world fly into Vegas, rent some type of RV and balloon the visitation numbers to Utah's many natural wonders.

It is not as bad as it sounds. It can be managed, but when people first start traveling with an RV, often they have never considered this situation. You will learn to deal with it.
We seldom move on busy weekend days like Friday and Saturday. On Sunday many people are heading home after a weekend of camping, and numerous spots open up early. We find Sunday a great day to snag sites in busy areas.

Yellowstone is so large you almost have to stay in several different geographical areas to tour the park. Border towns do have commercial parks, but it is not as enjoyable as staying in park campgrounds and getting the real feel of incredible Yellowstone.

Leaving or playing campground bingo on the computer, trying to snag a site, is your option. Just don't give up visiting this special place.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

How much will you pay for an RV swoosh?

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
Now you've done it. Since your column on removing weathered decals and painting them back on, my husband has been out buying painting supplies. Now my husband wants to be a painter. Is this really a good idea? Shouldn't we just replace the decals with new vinyl ones?
--Cautious in Claremont

Dear Cautious:
My mother always said, "If somebody jumps off a building, does that mean you're going to jump off a building too?" Meaning, of course, don't be a follower. But I was always the first one off the building.

That doesn't mean everyone should jump after me. I look at this project as a learning experiment. I have actually tried different materials in different spots to see what looks the best and what holds up the best. The jury is still out. If you can talk your husband into waiting a year, I can let you know how it holds up.

Besides the One Shot enamel paint, I also did a swoosh with Rustoleum oil based enamel in a rattle can from Ace Hardware. They both look fantastic at this point.

Much depends on how you have protected your coach. I have always used Poly Glow to protect mine. When I removed the vinyl the glass beneath is like new. I wet sand it a bit to give the paint a grip. Masking it is the hardest part. After the paint dries for a few days I protect it with several coats of Poly Glow, which gives it UV protection as well.

After removing several decals with an eraser wheel, masking, painting and protecting with PG, it looks great. I see no downside unless the paint doesn't hold up.

My first choice was to replace the vinyl. I went to Winnebago, who sent me down the road to a company that sells all their old stock. Just one big swoosh was $70. A rattle can of Rustoleum is about $5.

I am guessing the paint will last longer than the vinyl, but to know for sure you will have to stay tuned.

Remember, the pioneers got the arrows and the settlers got the land. If you want to avoid arrows wait a year and I will let you know how this method has withstood the elements.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

RV Painted Lady

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I need help quick. My husband thinks he's Rembrandt. Our motorhome decals have started to fade and crack. He got a bid last year in Arizona to have them removed and replaced for just under $4,000. With sticker shock in his eyes he began surfing the web for other options.

All I have heard for months are methods others have used to fix the problem. Some people paint over the decals, some remove and buy new decals, some remove and leave them off, some remove and repaint them, some spend $15,000 and have the whole rig painted professionally.

My husband has decided to remove and paint them back on. This all sounds realistic, but my husband is a retired accountant, not a sign painter. I'm afraid we might be traveling down the road looking like the many graffiti-painted train cars we see passing on the rails.

Can you convince him this is not the way to go?
--Painted Lady in Lordsburg

Dear Painted Lady:
You wrote the wrong guy. Like your husband, I think I'm Rembrandt. I thought about being Van Gogh, but I just couldn't get into the ear thing. I can't tell you the best method because I am still in the experimental stages. Like your husband I hate to spend big bucks on vanity vehicle exterior makeup.

I think it is great when people take the road less traveled. Break out of their mold and try something bold.

It sounds like your husband has done his homework, learned from others' mistakes, and now is ready to make some of his own.

It is not that earth shattering. If it looks bad you can always remove it.

After going through the same web search process, I decided to remove my decals with an eraser wheel, lightly wet-sand the ghost area, mask it off with good automotive detail tape and spray it with One Shot sign painter's enamel.

This paint has been used to put millions of boat names on fiberglass sailboats, so I thought it might work fine on my motorhome. By next year I can tell you how it holds up. So far it looks better than factory. It can't be any worse than those cheap vinyl decals that come standard.

The hardest part is masking all the swooshy decal patterns. Use 1/4 inch professional masking tape to make the close radius turns.

Another option is to park your rig overnight near the Chicago rail yards and see what you get. It could be really cool.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

RV pony express

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We have started traveling part of the year and living in a fifth-wheel. So far it is everything we thought it would be. We are slowly working out the kinks.

One problem that drives us crazy is shopping online. Over the past few years a majority of our shopping is online. We miss the convenience now that we are on the road.

I noticed in last week's RVtravel newsletter that Amazon is beginning to sprout delivery lockers around the country. That's great, but for now we are very frustrated with a lack of options for having our online purchases delivered to us.

We spend more time and money driving around looking for items we want when they are right here on our screen yet unreachable.

Can you deliver for us a few ideas?
--Frustrated in Freeport

Dear Frustrated:
It will get much easier real soon, but you don't have to wait for lockers to appear. You would be surprised how many places are willing to let you ship your items to their address. You just need to plan ahead a bit and be willing to ask.

We have had items shipped to many state parks in our travels. The packages are delivered to the gate office and they let us know when they have arrived. The majority of commercial campgrounds will do the same.

With Amazon, you cannot specify which carrier you want, or can you? I was told if you use the words, "PO Box" in your address, Amazon automatically ships your package through the USPS. It just has to be within postal package sizes. So pick a small town post office (that's important) and give Amazon your shipping address as "PO Box General Delivery."

When I long-distance hike I ship myself boxes of food and my Amazon purchases this way, and the post office will hold it for up to 30 days.

One more nugget of info. You have to use the "Standard Shipping" option. This takes several days, so plan accordingly. Prime member packages go UPS or FedEx.
Order ahead to give your package plenty of time to arrive. That way you know it will be there when you show up and not have to drop anchor too long waiting for your ship(ment) to come in.

Same with your mail. Pick a small town post office. They are less busy, more helpful, and less likely to lose your mail.

This works 70% of the time with Amazon. If the item is shipping from a vendor other than Amazon they may not agree to ship, but that should happen at checkout.

You could get ahead of the game and get your own drone. Amazon is not delivering with them yet, but you could go pick it up.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

RV Walsmarting

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are going to take our first major road trip with our new travel trailer. We bought it just for weekend camping but decided this summer we would go to Alaska. I read a lot of online RV forums, so I am aware of how many people use Walmart as overnight stops while traveling.

While planning our route from Ohio, I scheduled several Walmart stops during the first week of the trip while we are making time and doing big miles. I never realized how this part of the planning was going to freak out my wife. It seems so foreign to her. She had never heard of such a thing. She said, "If you call that camping, then count me out."

How do I convince her that this is standard operating procedure in RV circles?
--Walsmarting in Wooster

Dear Walsmarting:
In the future, try not to get so far ahead of your wife in the world of RV education. As you discover the little nuances of the RV lifestyle, while cruising forums, mention them to your wife so she is not suddenly bombarded with new ideas the day you shove off.

I can see where she is coming from. In her mind she is picturing all the picturesque campsites she has seen in the magazines. She has put herself in a comfortable chair next to a glass smooth lake, drinking a glass of wine, watching the sky turn crimson at sunset. Now you tell her she is going to be next to the grass-lined retention pond on the tarmac at Walmart. You need to ease her into these changes.

Explain to her that this is not going to be the Walmart Alaska tour. It is just a safe and convenient occasional stopover that Walmart considers another customer service. It also gives you both the opportunity to browse the stores and pick up items you might have forgotten, rent a RedBox movie, get a good night's sleep, and best of all, "It's FREE!"

She will be much more comfortable with the idea when you arrive and find several other RV's already there taking up the best spots.

She will certainly get her fill of beautiful campsites where you are headed. On the return trip, she will be a full-fledged member of the RV fraternity, suggesting convenient Walmart stops on your route home to Ohio.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

RV Chairperson

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My husband and I are always fighting over the driver's captain chair. The driver's chair swivels all the way around when we stop and faces out into the living/kitchen area. The passenger seat swivels, but only part way because the dinette bench is in the way.

I think we should just shop for a longer motorhome, with a floor plan that allows both seats to fully swivel. My husband says that's the economic equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

We live in this space full-time and I want it comfortable without drawing straws for "the chair."
--Redesign Chairperson in Chautauqua

Dear Chairperson:
I feel your pain. I also understand your husband's resistance to solve a problem of inconvenience by throwing money at it.

I have always wondered why manufacturers stick with design engineering that does not allow many passenger captain chairs to fully swivel. I assume they just want to deploy standard equipment into standard floor plans and not confuse the buying public too much.

This exact problem bothered us when we looked at rigs. We wanted to stay under 30 feet, but by going with a unit that was just two feet longer, we could have both chairs swivel completely around.

We decided to take the road less traveled. If you are handy at all, you can redesign and remodel your rolling castle to fit your personal needs pretty inexpensively.

A simple change solved three inconveniences for us. We removed the dinette bench that blocked the passenger seat, ripped out the carpet and put in Karndean Loose Lay vinyl plank flooring. We replaced the dinette bench with two nice chairs that slide in under the table on that side. The flooring solved the refinishing problem under the old dinette bench and made motorhome housekeeping much more convenient.

I said, three things. We also hated craning our necks to watch TV at the front of the motorhome where the manufacturers find it so convenient to stuff a tube on the ceiling above the dash. We turned that space into a cupboard, moved the TV to the cupboard above the dinette table and attached it to a full-swivel TV bracket. This bracket allows the TV to drop down and turn a full 90 degrees. Now we can sit in our comfortable, full swivel captain chairs and watch our normal level, full-swivel TV.

All this will cost you less than a grand if you can do some simple flooring.

This does not solve all problems. We still fight over the popcorn.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

RV tripping

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We have just sold our trailer and purchased a motorhome. Our main motivation for this move has always been access. We found the thought of being inside our living quarters when we stopped very appealing. Also, being able to access the kitchen and bathroom while traveling down the road.

On our maiden voyage I fell going from the cockpit to the bathroom when my husband had to touch the brakes a bit. Now, after spending all this money, he says I shouldn't get out of my seat while we are driving. It has caused quite a stir. I think I just needed to learn from the first experience and now I have my sea legs.

Can you shed some light on what other motor coach owners do? Am I the only one who thinks going to the bathroom while we continue to drive is safe?
--Tripping in Telluride

Dear Tripping:
The reality of this situation would be that many people move around in their coach while it is moving. Even on a commercial touring bus people get out of their seats and use the facilities. It would be safer to stay buckled into your seat, but most people do, on occasion, find the need to get up and do something.

The least you can do is communicate. Plan for a smooth, straight stretch of road, take your time, and if the driver thinks he will have to brake, bark out a warning.

You are breaking all the safety rules if you are cooking or baking while driving, yet I know dozens of people that do just that.

One couple told me they put baked beans in the oven an hour before they were to meet friends for a potluck. Minutes later they found themselves on a 8 percent grade and the beans sloshed out of the pan into the hot oven. You can imagine the mess, the smell and the panic.

You have to decide between the two of you what is safe, and where your comfort level begins to crest. You will still enjoy the fact that when you stop, you are in your living space. It is already warm on cold days and cool on hot days. You do not have to ferry your belongings or pets between tow vehicle and living space anymore.

Remember when you had to grab your gear and make a run for the trailer at every pit stop, dealing with wind, rain or worse?

Moving around, cooking, leaving your refrigerator running, are all things that most safety experts would warn against. But, if I had to bet real money on what the majority of people actually do, it would be all of the above.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Monday, May 16, 2016

RV on the level

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I know you are not a mechanic, but we have a mechanical and mental problem combined. Our motorhome is only two years old and already we are noticing a repetitive problem with our hydraulic leveling jacks. They take forever to retract right when we are ready to leave camp.

It seems one goes out every season. It doesn't fail completely, it's just slow to respond. We end up having a whole pot of coffee while we wait for a single jack to retract. My husband makes a joke and says we should have the service center put coffee in the hydraulic line. I am more serious about the issue and think it is annoying, expensive and possibly a ripoff.

The service center is now a regular stop every season to have a unit replaced. Is this normal? Is a slow retracting jack a way of RV life? I want to let one go until it actually fails, but my husband insists on having it repaired each time.

Please shed some light on our annual pilgrimage to the land of levelers.
--Tilted in Trenton

Dear Tilted:
I don't want to sound like a medical doctor because we all know I am just a guy pretending to be a shrink, which pretty much makes me a quack. That said, I think your problem could be much like a person that goes to the doctor with a difficult issue to diagnose. The doctor is going to do something while you're there so that you feel satisfied and he gets paid.

If you show up regularly at the leveler repairman shop, they will probably do the same. I have no idea what system you have, but I can tell you from experience that most need constant exercise and maintenance. Same as your body.

We experience the same issue with our system, which is hydraulic with spring assist. If your system is similar I would suggest experimenting a bit. It could save you some time and money.

Make sure your leveler shafts are kept as clean as possible. Dirt and debris can cause enough resistance to slow jack retraction. Another less expensive fix might be new springs. I usually buy a set (2) each year and replace just one at each of the two slowest acting jacks. Springs fatigue with constant stretching.

I have also designed a simple bar I carry to apply pressure to a slow poke jack on a cold morning when I don't have time to drink coffee while it slowly decides to put itself away.

You want to speak softly to your jacks, but carry a big stick.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

RV campgrounds "LNT"

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
One of the comments someone made under last week's column caught my attention.

We have not spent much time in campgrounds during the past thirty years. Now that we have retired, that has all changed. One thing we notice constantly is the disrespect to public property.

We do not remember so much blatant graffiti, vandalism, defacing and littering. It is sad to think that so many people find pleasure in degrading infrastructure for no apparent reason.
--Bewildered in Butte

Dear Bewildered:
Graffiti is nothing new, but I agree we have moved way beyond the obscene bathroom stall scratch art stage.

More parks now use reflective metal in bathrooms because they cannot afford to continually replace mirrors. Try finding your face with a razor while staring into a poorly reflective, graffiti scratched metal plate.

We all suffer because of the actions of a minority of people I can only describe as "puppy minded." They must have the same mental capacity of a puppy that insists on chewing shoes.

As a long-distance hiker I know that this tendency is not exclusive to the front country. I am amazed at how many people spend the time and energy to get into remote country and have so little respect for not only trail and signage work, but the landscape itself.
You will find trailhead kiosk displays scratched beyond recognition, gates crushed, signage broken and trash scattered to the wind.

We can only combat this behavior by being good stewards ourselves and overwhelming this deviate behavior with spontaneous voluntary service. Picking up trash is our main contribution. Most of the abuse you encounter is already beyond repair.

A sad state of affairs, but I assure you there are hundreds of good stewards for every poor one. You just never see the evidence of them because they practice LNT (Leave No Trace).

Depending on the campground host, or the management philosophy, you can find a campsite pristine or trashed. But in many cases a campsite needs some tender loving care after the last tenants have vacated.

When you leave a site, consider how you would like to find it on arrival.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

RV Birder needs perch

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are avid birdwatchers and full-timers. This makes us full-time birdwatchers. Our travel lifestyle puts us into a lot of boondocking/dry camping situations. What we have discovered, especially in the spring, is a lack of opportunities to use public campgrounds in excellent birding areas. Many State and Federal campgrounds are gated off and do not open until mid-May or even June.

These are pit toilet, self-pay sites. Why can't they just open the gate and let us early bloomers in. I hear all the whining about budget restraints, so why not make some early spring revenue and give us access.

I guess I am whining, but doesn't it just make sense to open these areas earlier?
--Fenced out in the Outback

Dear Outed:
I have given this same issue a lot of thought over the past few years. It seems the traditional usage of these facilities is changing rapidly, but the mindset of management has not caught on.

These are not campgrounds that have water pipe issues. There is no need to winterize in the fall and fire back up in the spring.

I first noticed this several years ago coming out of Yellowstone's East entrance. It was fall and the park was still very crowded with RVs. The weather was beautiful, and the need for RV accommodations was definitely still in demand. There were several Forest Service campgrounds between Yellowstone and Cody, Wyo. All were gated up for the season.

As many RVers leave the sunbelt each spring and head north they find the same issue with State and Federal campgrounds as you pointed out. It seems they could and should open as soon as weather permits, which seems to be earlier all the time.

Another option for you would be National Wildlife Refuge camping. Not many have designated camping areas, but some do and would be perfect for your activity.

Using one of several available apps you should find State, Federal, County, City, BLM, Corps of Engineer options near your birding hotspots.

We can only hope that as more people hit the road and have a desire to camp earlier in the spring, and later into the fall, public campground managers will try to accommodate them.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Soon to be new RV owner

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are close to making a buying decision on a new motorhome. We have studied them to death. It's a very expensive step, and I want to make sure we do it right the first time.

I have read your comments about making sure the thing fits our needs, and that we both agree on the floor plan and options. Before we make the jump, can you give us anymore input?

We are extremely nervous. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
--Anxious buyer in Boston

Dear Anxious:
Besides the usual concerns about finding the right unit for the way you want to travel I suggest spending some time studying the manufacturer and the dealer.

These will be people you will be entering into a relationship with. There are things you want to discover ahead of time such as how you will be treated after the sale, quality reputation, service record, organization, and parts availability.

By talking to as many other RV owners as possible you learn quickly if the dealer follows through on new owner concerns, if the factory stands behind their product and how timely they are in correcting issues you might have.

Most new units are going to have some issues, so you want to be sure whoever you end up working with is going to have your best interest in mind.

Having service work done at the factory, parts availability and customer service will become very important in the future.

You might want to call your potential manufacturer's service contact before making a buying decision and see how you are treated with a few questions.

I think once you have done your homework and feel comfortable about craftsmanship and business reputation, pulling the trigger will be much easier and less stressful.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

RV stovetop on the fritz

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
Thank you for the reminder that we should have our alarms tested periodically. After reading your column we tested all of ours and had problems with two of them.

Two months later we were glad we did the testing. It wasn't something normal like a failed gas fitting. Our stovetop burner "went on the Fritz" just as we went to bed one night. I smelled gas before the alarm sounded. I jumped out of bed and started investigating just as the buzzer went berserk. In the kitchen I could hear the gas hissing from the stove.

I knew exactly what happened immediately. The stove didn't go on the Fritz, Fritz went on the stove.

Yes, our cat Fritz got a wild hair up his hind end and was running around the motorhome. He does that on occasion. His gets that wild look in his eyes and runs from end to end of the motorhome as if he is chasing something, or something is chasing him.

From what I can figure, he ran across the couch, jumped up on the stove, and as he dove from the stovetop his back leg must have pushed in on the knob and twisted it at the same time.

A freak accident for sure, but one that could have been a cat-astrophe had we not smelled the gas or the alarm was not functioning.
--Thank you in Zion

Dear Zion:
Glad to hear a happy ending to what could have been a totally different ending to this story.

Yes, it is often the unexpected that can cause serious problems. You can't prepare for every situation, but having working sensor alarms are your first line of defense.

Everyone should check these devices on a regular basis.

You might want to cover your knobs or block Fritz's path to the stove in case he decides to make a habit out of stove Free BASE jumping.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

RV "Nagivation"

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My husband and I get along just fine while traveling, until he panics. When he becomes lost or confused as to which way we should turn, it suddenly becomes my fault. He thinks I should have read his mind, known he was going to become confused, and ​ be able to​ give him instant directional help. ​

One day I lost it and​ threw the Rand McNally at him. I know that ​probably wasn't a good idea, but he was impatient and rude. When I do try to help him, he says I’m nagging, I’m wrong, I’m directionally challenged or I couldn’t find my seatbelt with both hands.

Do I need to put up with this abuse? How can we turn our directional relationship into a bit more of a civil conversation?
--You Turn in Yuma

Dear Yuma:
It takes a village to direct an RV. There is a general rule that few people seem to follow in directional relationships. I don’t think it is widely known outside of RV academia. It is called the “Nagivation Theory.” Everyone in the vehicle has the right and duty to be involved in “Nagivation.” Holding on to the steering wheel does not give one passenger sway over all the others.

In your case, you should both be involved in deciding your route and in navigating it. The old saying, “two heads are better than one” fits perfectly here. ​It should take much less "Na​giv​at​ion"​ these days if you implement the use of all the tools available for navigation. Instead of using just a map book, familiarize your route using map apps, GPS, and even google earth.

If your husband is a nervous driver, pay close attention when you are coming to decision points and work together to alleviate his anxiety by feeding him information that is helpful before he goes ballistic. Knowing where you are going is also a safety issue. You don’t want to be making sudden lane changes, quick turns and ducking map missiles.

When coming into a congested area it is better to pull over when convenient and do a bit of studying together so you are both on the same map page. Doing a bit of homework will eliminate a lot of “Nagivation​​”​ and make you less of a "Nagivator"
 --Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

RV yap flap

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We travel a good share of the year in a very small travel trailer. It forces us to spend a lot of our time outdoors. We love the lifestyle as we both spent years trapped in a cubicle working for Fortune 500 companies. It is like having a backpack with wheels.

The problem I have is keeping track of my husband. He tends to be a yapper. I think if we had a larger RV he might just go inside when he tired of outdoor activities, but instead he now goes in search of other campers to talk with and sometimes annoy.

He says I am imagining the worst and assuming these people are annoyed with his constant social butterfly patterns. Do you think a more spacious rig would anchor him a bit? I sometimes think he is angling for an invite into some of these large, plush rock star buses by pretending he is interested in buying one.

I don't mind him networking with other campers, but do you think his behavior is normal when he constantly seeks out other campers to kibitz with?
--Yap Flap in Flagstaff

Dear Yap Flap:
Unless he is constantly angling for a sleep over, I think his behavior is perfectly normal. Perhaps he was psychologically damaged more than you from being locked up for years in a cubicle. Did he have a window? Was there any contact with co-workers?

I cannot gauge as to whether he is a closet "Big Rig" yearner. I assume he did not equate your very small trailer with his cubicle or he never would have agreed to live in it for months at a time. But he could be in denial. You should discuss it with him.

 I wouldn't take his wandering so personal. A wonderful part of camping is sparking spontaneous conversations with people from all walks of life, with a kaleidoscope of interests. Those conversations spawn all kinds of great ideas, answer puzzling questions, vary your travel path, and develop new friendships.

There is a fine line between sparking up a conversation and annoying people. Most of us can sense when it's time to push on with the dialog or simply push on. If you do not think your husband is picking up on the subtle body language that signals a timeout, then you may want to school him on it. You can save a lot of money by sitting down and discussing these issues. Otherwise you might be rambling around in a rock star bus all alone while your husband is out talking to strangers about tiny trailers. --Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Where there is (camp)fire, there may not be smoke

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We already carry everything, including the kitchen sink, but now my wife wants me to buy a portable propane fire pit. When did campfires go high tech?

At first I laughed at her, then I discovered she was serious. Whatever happened to "smoke follows beauty?" My old Scoutmaster would turn over in his grave. I have heard of gas around the campfire, but not a camp fired by gas.

How do I talk my wife out of this crazy idea? Please tell me you are not in favor of modernizing this age old camping tradition.
 --Nostalgic in Needles

 Dear Nostalgic:
I am sorry to say, tradition lost me when campfire wood went from free to six bucks a bundle. When I say a bundle, I mean six sticks of wood wrapped in plastic. Usually it is some fast burning variety like cedar. We call that "gopher wood." You throw some on the fire and go fer more.

I think the most lucrative work-camper job you could score would be the campfire wood concession at any Federal or State Park.

Another great place to sit around the propane campfire is the desert where wood is often scarce. They are easy to clean up after, convenient to extinguish, and you can light up at the drop of a hat.

This is not to say you still can't have a traditional campfire whenever you have access to wood, marshmallows, chocolate and Graham Crackers. There is nothing like good hot coals to cook over, but in fire danger areas a propane campfire is much safer to sit around and tell ghost stories, jokes, tall tales, and just plain lie to each other.  --Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Monday, March 14, 2016

RV Oven Lovin'

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I found last week​'​s column​ on preferences in choosing an RV very interesting. We are going through the same decision process ourselves. I think the biggest difference between my partner and I has been our respective chores. I do most of the cooking and my partner does most of the repair and maintenance.

I don't like the cooking options offered to me in many units. My partner says we ​can get used to it, but I don't want to get used to it. I want what ​I'm already​ used to. I am talking about​ going from a conventional oven to​ a convection oven. I refuse to switch.

As my partner has found out the hard way, I would rather fight than switch. Am I being unreasonable? Should I learn new tricks?
--Burning in Bakersfield

Dear Burning:
I hear this complaint a lot. A regular oven has been replaced with a convection oven in many brands and units. If you are going to move into a home on wheels I think you should trick it out the way you want it, or find ​a used one that already is​ the way you want it​.

One drawback that many first-time buyers never consider is the fact that a convection oven only runs on electric. That means having to be hooked up or running a generator every time you need to use the oven.

On the plus side, most people that have switched to a convection oven seem to be very happy with it. If you are buying new I would ask about an option to have the best of both worlds. You might have to give up some drawer space, but it will most likely be a worthwhile trade-off.

Hav​ing​ both a convection oven and a propane oven will also give you more options when making a big meal and wanting everything done at the same time. When dry camping you will not limit your meal options and when paying for utilities you will save on propane costs. It will also allow you to limit your generator usage when dry camping and stil​l continue to​ eat meals that require an oven.

Don't you wish the whole world had such easy problems to solve? Half the world is trying to figure out where to get enough potable water to make it through the day​,​ and our biggest dilemma is convection vs. propane oven options​?​
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

RV buyer be aware

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We have been looking at RV floor plans for a year. We are soon to retire and cannot seem to agree on size, layout, amenities, or even type.

We are all over the map. We have looked at motorhomes, trailers, fifth wheels in all class sizes. How do people make a buying decision? Is it just us? Can you give us any pointers?
--Perplexed in Pensacola

Dear Perplexed:
Don't feel like the Lone Ranger. Many people take the leap and discover they didn't do enough homework. My recommendations would be to try imagining how you will use your RV.

Will you do much entertaining? If so, what seating arrangements will you have available. Another important consideration is sleeping quarters. Do you want a dedicated bed or can you live with a convertible? Do you want separate beds? How about room on both sides of the bed so you are not climbing over each other when getting up in the night. ​

Is the bathroom roomy enough? Does the kitchen offer convenient working space, and adequate counter top real estate for prep work, dish washing and utensil storage? Where will you relax? If TV is important, at what angle is it placed? Many times it gets stuck wherever the manufacture​r​ can find some leftover space.

 Think about storage. Think about water and waste tank capacity. The smaller the unit the smaller the tanks become. This is only a concern if you plan to spend more time without hookups. The list can go on and on, but you really need to imagine how you will use the RV. Don't let a salesperson talk you into something that absolutely will not work for you.

You have to do your own homework. Most salespeople have never lived the RV lifestyle. They can make anything they have on the lot sound perfect for you if you haven't figured it out for yourself.

You don't need a doorbell that plays 50 songs, but you want function, quality and convenience. Sooner or later you have to pull the trigger and there is no guarantee you will end up with all the right options.

Once you get on the road you may discover your personal RV lifestyle is totally different than you imagined. Many people end up with several units before they find one that is close to their needs and wants.

Let me close with, "talk to other RVers." That is where you will find hundreds of opinions and give you food for thought. Just looking at all the "bling" will not answer the most important question you may not even have yet.​ ​
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

RV Campwhereiwannabe

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We have been living the RV lifestyle for almost two years. We have traveled all over the country visiting all the interesting places we have always wanted to see. I think one of the biggest adjustments we​'ve had to make is planning far enough ahead to be able to find suitable parking accommodations for our rig. We never realized how crowded the RV parks and campgrounds would be when we planned this retirement life.

There have been areas we just had to skip, because we could not find a place to stay. Is this normal or are we just a couple old RVers that need to learn a few new tricks?
--Double Parkered in Arizona

Dear Parker:
I think it depends a lot on how you define, “suitable parking accommodations.” There is no question that the whole RV camping industry has embraced the reservation system. From RV luxury resorts to pit toilet forest service campgrounds you can now make site reservations, and many people do.

This has to be a generalized answer because of the huge range of ways in which RVers like to travel. To stay spontaneous, you still need to move around without booking yourself months in advance. To do this successfully you need to be able to roll with the punches. It actually takes more planning to travel without reservations, at the drop of a hat or the spur of the moment.

Willing to dry camp, take available partial hook-ups, or play campground bingo on your computer as you get closer to a destination is a necessary evil.

We seldom use reservations, and we are seldom blocked out, but often we have to move several times around a campground to stay as long as we wish or find nearby dry camping. Another thing that will make a difference is time and experience. Eventually​, you will discover many places you do not even know exist that fit your bill for accommodations. You just have to spend enough time in an area, talk to other RVer’s, search online, read enough articles, and keep good notes.

We can’t even read our Rand McNally because we have so many notations scribbled all over it. If you are in California and someone tells you about a great spot in Florida, write it down. Chances are you are going to be in that area eventually. That tip could come in handy down the road (pun intended).

Joining a club like the Escapees can help both​ with camping and ​also educationally ​thru their seminars. Learning to master the fine art of popular online​ ​reservation systems can also open some doors.

Always talk to park management when trying to shoehorn into a particular park. They often know of situations that may not show up online immediately.

Think of this as a challenge, not a stumbling block. We have found some of our most rewarding, enjoyable, and beautiful camping spots by being forced to think outside the box.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

RV high water mark

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
Here is one I haven't seen you address yet.

We recently had our toilet water​-​valve stick​ and not close all the way.​ It eventually filled the black water holding tank and back​ed​ up into our trailer. We were sitting outside and did not notice the problem until water was dripping out onto the ground.

Fortunately, it was not as bad as it sounds. We were not hooked up to water. Our water storage tank went dry and most of the water spilling out of the toilet was fairly clean.

My husband, without hesitation, decided it was my fault because I used the facilities last and​,​ ​knowing we had a problem, ​he told me​ because it sticks​ to be sure to pull up on the pedal ​whenever I flush the toilet.

In my defense, since he knew we had a malfunction he should have corrected it immediately. Would you rather be my defense lawyer or his?
--Jump or swim in Sweetwater

Dear Jump:
It doesn't amount to a hill of beans who​'s​ to blame. I could make a case for both of you, but a better reaction would be "live and learn."​ ​

I would bet you won't do that again.

It happens more than people like to admit. Not just with the toilet, but other spigots. We once had a loom​,​ we were storing in the showe​r​,​ fall over and turn on the tap. We were in a hurry to catch the Durango​,​ Colorado train to Silverton. ​We p​ulled quickly into an RV park, hooked up the water, turned it on and took off. Luckily the park manager saw water flowing from our rig and shut it off.

It makes you a bit gun shy, but eventually you realize that these are not common events and as long as you are careful, RV plumbing is very reliable. The problem with a self-contained system is that your drain field is a gray/black water tank. Once they fill​,​ there is only one place for the water to go and gravity will always make sure it gets there.

I am assuming you have the valve fixed by now. It could be something as simple as ​toilet ​paper in the slide mechanism or the pedal needing some lube.

I am a big fan of checklists and notes. If you have a problem that calls for actions out of the ordinary, it would be wise to give yourself a reminder with a bright colored ​P​ost-it note.

Don't post it on your forehead, they are really hard to see there.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

RV TV rerun

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
The flat screen TV in our rig just went berserk. When we turn it on, it turns itself off and back on every couple seconds.

My husband wants to take it to a repair shop. I said, "It's cheaper to buy a new one." He says this one was engineered to fit in the trailer.

To me it looks like the same TVs they sell at Walmart. Is there something special about RV TVs? Am I being unreasonable? I know we live in a throw away society, but part of the reason is the cost of fixing an appliance compared to replacing it.

We are not that handy. If something breaks, my husband usually hits it several times, then I run down and buy a new one. Any help with the TV, or my husband, would be greatly appreciated.
--Hit and Run in Roswell

Dear Roswell:
There is nothing special about a TV in an RV. Buying a new replacement or fixing what you have should be a personal decision after exploring the cost, warranty, and hassle of doing each.

My first suggestion would be to try to figure out what is wrong with the unit you now have. TVs are now much like computers. Before you do anything rash, like hitting it, unplug the power cord and count to sixty before plugging it back in. You would be surprised how often that reboots everything and magically fixes a glitch your device might be experiencing.

That procedure could also work with your spouse.

If you do decide replacement is necessary, you will most likely get an upgrade from the set you now have. Technology continues to improve TV quality, and prices continue to drop. You should have no problem finding a unit that will fit perfectly into the space that now holds your present TV.

Take special care when mounting a new device. Fastening it securely is very important in a vehicle, especialy if it's located above the cockpit. Everyone wants to be on TV, but no one wants to be under one.

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