Wednesday, April 13, 2016

2015 RV Adventures - Prelude to The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

This blog entry was supposed to be the big Balloon Fiesta edition of Going Mobile. Instead, it's going to be a prelude to the big event. If you've been following the blog from the beginning, you may be wondering why mechanical maladies and mayhem haven't been mentioned of late. If you're thinking it's because there weren't any, then you must be living in a world of unicorns, puppies, and rainbows. Of course we had problems on the road! (Spoiler alert: If you want to believe that RVing can be a carefree way of life, I suggest that you skip the rest of this installment.)

On our way from Zion to Bryce, we heard the dreaded electronic "bing" sound that announces the truck has encountered a problem, a summary of which appears on the dashboard's status display. The readout taunted us with Wiring fault on trailer. "Hmm, there must be some problem with the wiring somewhere between the trailer's connector that plugs into the truck, the wiring harness to the trailer, or wiring within the trailer itself," I concluded naively. We pulled off the road so I could have a look. (Naturally, it was raining at the time.)

All travel trailers and 5th wheel trailers have a 7-pin connector for wiring that plugs into a socket under the truck's back bumper. The wires send signals from the truck to the trailer to control its brakes, tail and brake lights, and turn signal lights. I disconnected the plug from its socket. All of the pins in the plug and socket looked O.K. There was some water in the socket which I cleared away. I reconnected the plug and verified it was held into the socket firmly by a spring-loaded cover. I checked the wiring harness  other than a minor crimp it had when we bought the Shuttlecraft, it looked O.K. too. I checked other things, all of which looked good. I noticed that the turn signal lights on the trailer weren't working, but at least the trailer brakes were still working.

We pulled back on the road and crossed our fingers. A few minutes later came the plaintive bing of discontent, heralding the "Wiring fault on trailer" message. After a minute or so, the message would go away, only to return shortly thereafter (preceded by the annoying bing), sometimes as frequently as every thirty seconds. This led to some white-knuckle driving due to the prospect of the trailer brakes suddenly not working as we descended winding mountain roads!

When we got to Bryce, there was an RV service center right across the road from our campground. I had a mechanic check the rig. He found that the wires coming from the back of the 7-pin connector socket on the truck had been cut in the past and were reconnected in a way that was not waterproof, allowing water to intrude into the wiring. He re-did the connections and replaced a blown fuse for the circuit that controls the trailer turn signal lights. Total cost: a mercifully-low $51. Could the problem really be solved so inexpensively? The next day, we found the obvious answer: Of course not! This time, along with the continuation of "Wiring fault on trailer" messages, we got a scarier bing message that read, Trailer disconnected. Fortunately, the trailer really was connected, but the truck didn't think so.

When we got to Mesa, Arizona, I took the rig to Camping World for more troubleshooting. The recommendation was to replace the Shuttlecraft's wiring harness. Hey, the $180 it cost to do that would be well worth it, if only the problem would be solved. If only! Back on the road, all seemed to going well. The next day, we were going to head to Santa Fe, New Mexico (where we would be staying the week before the Balloon Fiesta), when suddenly, you guessed it, bing, Wiring fault on trailer reared its ugly head once again! I responded with a string of expletives, which translated roughly to, "Are you kidding me?"

This time, I decided to research the problem myself. I did an online search for "Ford F-250 wiring fault on trailer". Google lit up like a Christmas tree. It turns out, this is a common problem with my truck. The socket into which the trailer's 7-pin connector is plugged and the socket's mounting bracket were not designed well, resulting in a water intrusion problem that eventually corrodes all of the electrical connections at the back of the socket. If the corrosion is bad enough, the socket must be replaced. Such was the case with my truck. So, can the 7-pin socket simply be replaced? Well, sort of – as part of a whole kit including a new mounting bracket and wiring assembly. The Ford dealer in Mesa took care of the replacement, which including labor came to $420. Alas, the problem was finally solved for a grand total of $651. End of story? Not quite.

When we arrived in Santa Fe, I discovered that the cover for the junction box that protects the electrical connections between the wiring harness and the rest of the trailer was missing. It was never put back on after the new harness was installed at Camping World in Mesa. After getting the run-around from Camping World's service department, I called the company that makes the junction box. Upon hearing the Cliff's Notes of my tale of woe, the kind support representative sent me a replacement cover, along with screws to hold it in place, via overnight delivery at no cost. Yes, you read that correctly, at no cost! Amazingly, we had no other problems with the truck or the Shuttlecraft for the remainder of the trip.

After making a Bugs Bunny-esque left toyn in Albahkoikee, we arrived in Santa Fe. As far as Janet and I were concerned, Santa Fe was a disappointment. But not so for our dog, Kiko. You see, Santa Fe features the mother lode of all dog parks: The Frank Ortiz dog park, which has around 100 acres of land for off-leash hiking, romping, and frolicking. We spent many hours in the park on five different days, and Kiko had a blast. Forget the Georgia O'Keeffe museum, the Farmer's Market, and the side trip to Los Alamos (a real bomb) – if you are a dog owner, you can't beat the Frank Ortiz dog park for a place to have a great time.

One of the many trails in the Frank Ortiz dog park

Coming up next: The Balloon Fiesta. (I promise.)

Wouldn't you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?
Janet took this photo during her balloon ride.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

2015 RV Adventures - Part 4

Our next stop was Mesa, Arizona. Why Mesa? Mesa is the home of Organ Stop Pizza, a place that has been on my must-experience list for over a decade. Organ Stop is a huge pizza palace that houses what has become the largest mighty Wurlitzer theater organ ever made. The organ dates back to 1927 and was originally installed in the Denver Theater. It was brought to Mesa in 1975, rebuilt, and expanded since that time. As a big fan of that grand theater organ sound, I couldn't wait to sink my ears into the place.

But first, we had to get to Mesa, and in doing so, we faced a bit of a problem: We were going to be on Interstate 10 in Phoenix, Arizona for part of the trip. Guess what was happening on that stretch of highway while we were to pass through there in mid-September? Someone was shooting at cars and trucks! In a fit of bravery (or foolishness), we decided to take our chances and play I-10 roulette. (Given our previous mishaps on the road, arriving in Mesa unscathed was not a sure bet.)

Comforting sign along the highway.  Distracted driving taken to a whole new level!

I am pleased to say that we completed the trip to Mesa without incident. I am also pleased to report that the sight and sounds of the organ made risking life and limb a worthwhile endeavor.

Organ Stop's Mighty Wurlitzer Console

The organ is played nightly in 45-minute sets by top-notch theater organists. We stayed for three sets. The pizza was quite good; the organ's sound was OUTSTANDING!

With nearly 6,000 pipes, this one blows away the organ in Radio City Music Hall.

From Mesa, we started heading to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the big balloon fiesta. Along the way, we visited the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. The petrified fossils of fallen trees that lived about 225 million years ago are scattered throughout the park. From a distance, they look like ordinary logs.

Up close, they take on a crystalline brilliance. Touching the petrified logs was a strange experience, as they felt quite different than I expected based on appearance. When I tapped on the bark, I thought it would feel like wood, but instead, it felt like stone.

Cross section of a petrified log -- the wood has turned into stone

Extreme closeup of a petrified log

In the northern part of the Petrified Forest National Park lies a portion of the Painted Desert. This is yet another location that has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. Here is a panorama I took as the sun began its descent into the western sky. (Click on the photo to see it full screen.)

Speaking of sites that are amazing to behold, we also visited White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand glisten in the sunlight and stretch out as far as the eye can see. It's a bit like being at the beach, but without water!

Janet and Kiko in the white sands desert

Coming up next: The incredible Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.