Monday, June 24, 2013

Day 2: Welcome Back Cotter; ZAP!

I’m writing this blog entry on Sunday morning, June 23.  It’s a pleasant, cool morning here in Boone, North Carolina, and we actually had breakfast by the fire!  Image the crackling of the wood, the sweet smell of the smoke, and the sound of water rushing over the rocks in a nearby stream.  Yes, Dorothy, this definitely isn’t southwest Florida in the summertime!  I started the day, as I do most every morning, with my favorite breakfast beverage: Goat milk and Baileys hot coffee.  I invented this elixir a couple of years ago.  In case you want to give it a try, here is the recipe: In an 8 oz. mug, pour 6 oz. of freshly-brewed, hot coffee; add 1.5 oz. of Baileys Irish Cream, and one-half oz. of goat milk; stir.  One cup gives you nutrition from three different food groups: Dairy, coffee, and booze.  You can’t get something this good at Starbucks!

I’d like to tell you that after that harrowing first day on the road, the second day was without incident, but I can’t!  Before we can hitch up and leave the campground, I’ve got get that new cotter pin.  Good news: There’s a Camping World just down the road.  (In case you are not familiar with it, Camping World is to RV owners as Home Depot is to homeowners.  They sell everything one could possibly need.)  Camping World opens at 8:00 a.m., and I’m there early, nose pressed against the door, ready to be the first customer of the day.  Bad news: They don’t have a cotter pin, or anything similar, that will fit in the hitch lever’s small-diameter hole!  How can this be?  I figure the odds are about the same as McDonalds not having any hamburgers!

Good news: There’s a big NAPA Auto Parts store a few miles away.  Bad news: They don’t have what I need either!  As luck would have it, there was another auto parts store down the street that had solid hairpins that would work nicely.  To insure that the hairpin would never break, I bought three of them.  Problem solved, and this time in only one hour.  “Perhaps today will be a better day,” I mused optimistically.  Ah, but it was still early!

The trip to our second stop, a campground in Anderson, South Carolina, was long, but fortunately, without mayhem.  We rolled in around 7:30 p.m.  Unhitching the RV went O.K.  (Thank you, well-made hairpin.)  Before hooking up the RV to electricity and water, I stepped inside and noticed there was no 12 volt power.  This is not good, because when the RV is not connected to external AC electric power (“shore power” in RV parlance), such as when on the road or staying somewhere that doesn’t have electric power, a 12 volt battery in the RV provides juice for lighting (interior lights and exterior brake, turn signal and marker lights), running the refrigerator/freezer on LP gas, powering the propane gas leak alarm, and controlling application of the RV’s brakes (which are electrically actuated).  A power converter in the RV keeps the battery charged when plugged in to shore power.  Additionally, a wiring harness that connects to the RV from the back of the truck during towing allows the truck’s electrical system to charge the battery.

There is a status panel in the RV that indicates the amount of charge in the onboard 12 volt battery when a button is pressed.  I had checked the battery before we left in the morning, and the status panel showed the battery had a full charge.  Now, the panel showed the battery was dead!  Zip, zilch, nada.  “That’s impossible,” I thought.  The battery is less than a year old; there’s no way it could have gone from full to no charge during the day.

I grabbed my trusty volt-ohm meter, popped open the battery compartment, and checked the battery at its terminals.  Guess what?  It was fully charged!  While that’s good news, it meant that the power from the battery was not getting into the RV.  As the sun was finishing its descent into the western sky, I started looking for impediments to the free flow of electrons.  I didn’t have to look far.  Just above the battery is a cutoff switch that can be used for turning the power from the battery to the RV on and off manually.  Dangling from the bottom of the switch, hanging on by a thread, was a thick, braided wire coming from the positive side of the battery.  Moments later, any delight I had at finding the source of the problem quickly turned into dismay.  I pulled on the wire gently, and it came right out of the switch.  Then the wire touched the grounded metal case of the battery compartment, which was a small fraction of an inch away.  ZAP!  A big spark flew, and suddenly, all power was gone.  “Houston, we have a problem!”  Did circuit breakers pop, or had everything just blown out?  The answer to that question would have to wait until I could repair the connection from the battery to the switch.

In the dying light of what would otherwise have been a pleasant evening, I started to remove the cutoff switch, which is attached to the inside of the battery compartment by four long Phillips screws.  The first three screws came out easily, but that darned fourth one – it wouldn’t budge!  I pushed and turned as hard as I could… no dice.  I needed a longer Phillips screwdriver with a much bigger head than the one I had.

As twilight descended upon the campground, I picked a nearby RV at random and knocked on the door.  By sheer luck, the friendly guy who answered the door had the exact size Phillips screwdriver I needed, and he was happy to lend it to me.  The stubborn screw yielded to the force of large Mr. Phillips, and I was able to remove the cutoff switch.  On the back was a post to which three wires were connected via large spade lugs.  And there it was: The spade lug to which the wire was formerly attached.  Using my socket wrench, I removed the nut that held the spade lugs to the post on the switch.  All I’d have to do was reattach the wire to the spade lug, reconnect the spade lugs to the switch… and pray.  Easier said than done.  The spade lug was crimped to hold the wire into it, so the wire would no longer fit inside.  (Why solder the wire into the spade lug, which would have held more or less forever, when you can just crimp it, which will hold the wire in place more or less until it comes out?)  I’ve got lots of electrical doodads, but a large-gauge spade lug isn’t among them.  Try as I did, I wasn’t able to force the lug open to get the wire to fit.

I returned to my friendly neighbor’s door, and with more than a little hint of desperation in my voice, I asked if he happened to have a large spade lug.  He didn’t, but fortunately, lady luck was about to shine on me again.  He said that a guy who lives in a trailer a couple of lots away happens to be an electrician.  Not only was the electrician at home, he had the tools to reuse my spade lug, offered to take care of it for me!

As the last embers of light faded from the late-evening sky, with the electrical repair completed, I reset the shore power circuit breaker and turned on the battery cut off switch.  Instantly, everything came to life.  Shore power?  Check.  Battery power?  Check.  The sun will come out tomorrow!

The next morning, in Anderson, South Carolina

Our Journey Started Off With A Bang!

As I write this blog entry on Saturday, June 22, 2013, I’m sitting under our awning in a comfy rocking chair.  We’re in Boone, North Carolina, and the weather is sunny and cool, with low humidity – a far cry from the hot, humid tropical summer weather we left behind in southwest Florida.  We arrived yesterday afternoon, after traveling 950 miles.  Whoever said “Getting there is half the fun” didn’t ride along with us!

We departed Fort Myers, Florida on Wednesday, June 19 at 9:00 a.m.  Everything was going smoothly until 9:45 a.m.  We were heading north on I75 at about 60 mph, the dog and cat sleeping soundly in the back seat, when suddenly a loud BANG got our immediate attention. Seconds later, Janet looked in her side view mirror and saw chunks of tire flying across the highway behind us!  Oops, too bad those chunks came from ONE OF OUR RV’S TIRES!  Janet pulled off the road onto the shoulder, and we got out of the truck to assess the situation.  Where there used to be a tire on the rim attached to the left-front axle of the RV was now what could best be described as Goodyear shredded wheat!  Since you have to see it to believe it, an unretouched photo of what was left on the rim after the blowout is shown here:

On the RV itself, a wheel well trim piece and the sewer line end cap were blown away, now debris on the interstate.  Fortunately, the tire on the left-rear axle left held firm.  There was no loss of steering control, and no other damage was done to the RV.

I grabbed my cell phone and punched up Good Sam emergency roadside assistance (similar to AAA, but for stranded RVers).  I was glad that the week before we left, I had the foresight to put the Good Sam number and our membership number in the phone’s contact list so that in the event of an emergency, I wouldn’t have to waste time digging it up.  I was also glad that one of the “in case of emergency” things I had prepared for was to note and remember the location of the little crank handle that lowers the spare tire from the underside of the RV.  About 35 minutes later, help arrived in the form of a nice guy whose truck contained all the heavy-duty equipment needed to change the RV’s tire.  Knowing that all five tires (four on the rig, plus the spare) were the same age, and not wanting to chance another tire meeting the same fate as its erstwhile companion, I asked the guy if he could recommend a good place, as close to our current location as possible, that sells and installs RV tires.  In fact, he did know of a shop to recommend, about a half-hour drive to our south.  (Yes, I know, that’s the direction from which we came!)

We arrived at the shop without further incident.  Naturally, they didn’t stock the tires we needed, but the manager was very helpful, and was determined to find them for us.  After making several calls to tire distributors, the manager (we’ll call him “Dave”, which, strangely enough, was his actual name) told us that the tires would have to be delivered from Tampa, and would arrive the next afternoon!  Hoping for a better answer, I asked (or rather implored) Dave if he could find some place closer, perhaps in Fort Myers, that could get the tires to us later in the day.  A few more calls later, Dave found a distributor in Fort Myers that had tires we needed.  Problem was, it was too late in the day for them to deliver the tires to our location thirty miles to the north.  Hey, no problem, I’ve got a big truck and a burning desire to be a tire delivery guy.

An hour later, yours truly, newly-minted tire delivery guy, returned with the goods.  Here is a photo of me with the valuable cargo:

After a delay of six hours, with their RV sporting five new tires, the Griswolds were on the road again!  Just before we left the shop, I experienced the second blowout of the day; this time it was my credit card, dinged to the tune of $2,400!  And just for fun, I forgot to get my set of RV keys back from the shop, a fact that did not dawn on me until later that night!  (Thank goodness Janet had her RV key set with her!)

We finally arrived at our first stop, a campground near St. Augustine, Florida, just after 10 p.m.  I pulled on the hitch lever to unhitch the RV, and just as the hitch opened, a cotter pin that holds the hitch lever to the hitch broke off into several pieces!  This came as a bit of a surprise, because, don’t you know, the same thing happened when I unhitched the RV at the tire shop earlier in the day.  One of the guys at the shop remedied the problem by putting in a new cotter pin.  The new pin must have been made of a very soft metal, because it broke away the very first time a force was applied to it.  “Probably made in China,” I groused.  Enough already, I’ll deal with this tomorrow morning.  “After all,” as Scarlett O’Hara said, “tomorrow is another day!”

But wait, there’s more: As a ground crew guy dedicated to safety, I ordered a fancy tire pressure monitoring system for the RV a couple of months ago.  Thanks to modern technology, should a tire lose air, get too hot, or suffer a blowout, a display in the truck would indicate the problem immediately, accompanied by loud beeps and a flashing red warning light.  After I installed the system, I tested it by unscrewing a sensor from a tire’s valve stem.  Beep, beep, beep… flash, flash, flash – the system worked perfectly.  I’m pleased to tell you that under actual driving conditions, the system did indeed indicate a tire blowout – about thirty minutes after it occurred!  I reviewed the tire pressure monitoring system’s instruction manual, looking for something I might have missed, and I found it: “Made in China.”  Hmmmm!