Thursday, October 25, 2012

How we got the rig home, RTFM, and other surprises

Now that we've bought the big rig, the first challenge is getting it from North Fort Myers to our house in Cape Coral, a distance of about ten miles.  Simply drive it home?  Not quite!  First, the fifth wheel RV has to be hitched to the truck.  How to do this is certainly beyond the scope of Janet's and my driving experience.  While the task seems daunting to us newbies, I remind myself that we see these rigs on the highway all the time, often being driven by geezers, and they manage to do it.  (By the way, the definition of "geezer" is someone who is older than we are.)  We don't want to enroll in The Tractor Trailer Truck Training Institute (motto: "with any luck, you can drive a truck"), so we opt for the learning by watching carefully method.

The day the RV was taken for its inspection (before we bought it), the owners were nice enough to give me a complete run through of how to prep the fifth wheel for towing (taking it from living condition, with its four slides out, all hooked up to water, sewer, and electric utilities, to ready-to-be-hitched condition), and how to connect the fifth wheel to the hitch in the bed of the truck.  Janet was not with me that day, so I decided to make a video of the whole process.  (A great idea, because there were so many details, I'd never have remembered them without several reviews, let alone try to explain it all to someone else.)  Janet and I watch the video, and wonder if we'll be able to do it ourselves.  We assure each other that since geezers can do it, we'll be able to do it too.

Fast forward to the big day when it's our turn to actually try it ourselves.  Janet has driven a school bus, so she's going to drive the truck.  I'm going to be the ground crew.  The means I get to prep the fifth wheel for towing, after which I guide Janet to line up the hitch with the king pin on the fifth wheel, hitch it up, make various electrical and mechanical connections, raise the fifth wheel's "landing gear", and verify we're good to go.  The first rendezvous and docking of the space shuttle with the International Space Station looks like a piece of cake (and seems much less dangerous) by comparison.  Oh, by the way, any errors or omissions on my part can result in severe damage to the truck and the fifth wheel.  Not too much pressure there!

Janet's first big challenge is lining up the truck with fifth wheel so it can be hitched.  They say that clear communication is the key to a good marriage, and boy are they right!  In order to marry the fifth wheel to the hitch at the proper position and height, I've got to guide Janet to the right spot, and she's got to maneuver the truck precisely, mostly going in reverse.  Somehow, we succeed in short order (what a team we are), and we're on our way to Cape Coral, Janet solo driving a 19-foot truck towing a 37-foot fifth wheel, while I follow in my car.  When we arrive, Janet's knuckles are a bit white, but she made it like a pro.

This is what's now in front of our house:

The transportation challenge behind us, I reflect on how my newbie naivete has already allowed me one surprise today: Waste management!  In an RV, when the water in the sinks or showers go down the drain, or after you do your business on the commode, the waste gets collected in tanks.  There are three waste tanks in this fifth wheel: one for the sink and shower in the bedroom, another for the sinks in the kitchen area (the "gray" tanks), and one for the toilet (the "black" tank).  The surprise is that even when the RV is connected to a sewer (via a flexible sewer hose), the waste is still collected in the tanks, and has to be emptied periodically by guess who?  The ground crew.  (Hey, that's me!)  And here I thought that I could just leave the waste tank valves open and let everything flow out the sewer line.  WRONG!

But wait, there's more!  An RV toilet is nothing but a fancy porta-potty.  One even needs to use special toilet paper (yet another surprise), where "special" means expensive, and about as soft as sandpaper.  Mister Whipple would never stand for this!  Fortunately, our fifth wheel has a great optional feature to help deal with the black tank's effluvia: a flushing system that sends jets of high-pressure water from a hose through the tank.  This helps flush out the poop and toilet paper remnants that stick to the tank's walls.  Now please don't read the next couple of sentences if you've just eaten, or if you are a bit squeamish about waste.  Where the waste tank outlet connects to the sewer hose, there is a fitting that mates the hose to the outlet.  That fitting is clear plastic, which allows the ground crew (me) to watch the waste as it flows from the tanks to the sewer hose.  This makes it easy to see when the tanks are empty.  Hey look, there's the corn from last night's dinner.  What fun!

Next, it's time to read the manuals -- and there are lots of them, forming a pile over four inches thick.  Practically every gizmo in or on the fifth wheel has a manual, and there's a great deal to learn and master.  Some items are so obscure, I've never heard of them before.  (For example, do you know what a de-flapper is?  I sure didn't until I read its manual.)  I realize that what I don't know can really hurt or cost us.  Advanced Calculus suddenly seems like a walk in the park.  What have we done?  I recite our RVing mantra: "Geezers do it all the time, so can we."

Coming up next:  Finding a home for our new home.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Getting Our First RV - The Purchase

The couple selling the truck and the fifth wheel RV are really nice folks.  They show us the truck – it's a 2008 Ford F250 Super Duty with the big 6.4 liter twin-turbo diesel engine.  This is a 4-door model with the King Ranch interior and a Reese fifth wheel hitch in the bed.  The wheels are 20-inch alloys, and this baby sits high off the ground.  With a powerful engine, heavy-duty transmission, built-in brake controller, and giant side view mirrors, this truck was made for towing a big rig.  And that's a good thing, because the fifth wheel, a 2006 Jayco Designer 34rlqs is indeed big – 37 feet from stem to stern.

We take a tour of the fifth wheel.  With four slideouts and 34 feet of living area from front to back, there is a surprising amount of room inside, on two floors no less!  It's like a condo on wheels.  Up front, and upstairs, is the bedroom, with a king-size bed, big closet, lots of drawers, a shower, and a separate, enclosed bathroom with a window and an exhaust fan that vents to the outside (thank goodness).  Downstairs is the kitchen, dining area, and living room area at the rear with a big bay window.  There are lots of windows, and lots of roomy storage compartments.  The kitchen has an island with two sinks and plenty of food prep space.  It has a gas stove and oven, microwave, and a refrigerator/freezer – just like a real house!  The ceiling is high, which gives a spacious feeling.  (There is even a ceiling fan.)  A large dining table seats four.  The living room area has a sleeper sofa and two very comfortable reclining leather chairs with matching foot rests.  There's an entertainment center for the TV and audio/video equipment, and a desk with space for a computer system.  This fifth wheel has about 300 square feet of living area.  (Nice and big for an RV, but coming from a house with over 2000 square feet of living area on 2/3 of an acre of land, it's going to take some getting used to!)  Janet and I can visualize living here.  The Jayco has been well-maintained, but with its age, it's going to need some work on the interior.

Next, we take the truck for a test drive (sans Jayco).  Make no mistake, this is a manly man's truck!  (Yet, who will be doing all the initial towing?  Janet!  She used to drive a school bus.  The longest thing I've ever driven was my old Ford Aerostar van.)  I get behind the wheel of the big Ford, and I feel like rustling cattle and smoking a pack of Marlboros.  The interior is HUGE, and it has the most comfortable leather seats that have ever caressed my bottom in a vehicle!  The truck's cab alone is almost bigger than my entire Honda Fit, and the back seat has tons of leg room.  The dog is sure going to enjoy riding in this monster.  The guy who is selling the rig shows me a great feature of the hitch: It has two positions – one for regular towing, and another for maneuvering to get in and out of spaces.  In the maneuvering position, the truck can make almost a 90-degree turn with the fifth wheel attached!  During the test drive, I notice that there's too much play in the steering wheel at the center position, but otherwise, the truck looks good and runs nicely.  It has been well-maintained, but it's going to need some mechanical work.  The owner tells us that while towing the Jayco on the highway, the truck gets about 12 miles per gallon.  While that's great for an RV, I still do the math.  Let's see, a 30 gallon tank, $4.00 per gallon for diesel fuel... YIKES, that's a $120 fill-up to go 360 miles.  I'm going to be some Arab Sheik's best friend!

The sellers are straightforward, and don't want to dicker on price, so they cut to the chase and come right out with the lowest price they're willing to accept for both the truck and the fifth wheel.  We've done our homework, so we know the price is right.  We agree to have the truck and the fifth wheel inspected (at our expense), and if there are no surprises, it's a deal.

The inspections are done the following week, and the only serious issues involved the truck.  One of the steering components will have to be replaced, followed by a wheel alignment.  The rear brake pads will have to be replaced, six lug nuts are bad and will have to be replaced, and I'll need to buy a new spare tire.  The service won't be cheap, but it's not a deal breaker.  (By the way, who knew that lug nuts for the spiffy Harley-Davidson alloy wheels were only available from Ford, in packs of eight, at a cost of $150?  Until I was informed by my mechanic, not me.  If you had told me I'd spend almost 19 bucks each for lug nuts, I'd have thought you were nuts!)

Inspections behind us, it's time to burn a hole in our savings account and make the purchase.  Cashiers checks in hand, we sign on the line and get the titles signed over to us.  Next, it's off to the DMV to register the stuff , get them titled in our names, and get tags so we can take 'em home.  And that's where the REALLY BIG surprise occurred: In Florida, every time any conveyance is sold (including used), the 6% state sales tax is due.  For used cars, motorcycles, trucks, fifth wheels, and motorhomes, the tax is collected by, you guessed it, the DMV!  OUCH!  I leave the DMV office feeling woozy, with wallet deflated.

Coming up next:  How we got the rig home, RTFM, and other surprises.