Friday, July 24, 2015

Stop Engine ... Thanks For The Rest Stop, TDOT

Rain moved in about the time we were ready to leave Buddy Gregg RV in Knoxville on Thursday morning, July 23rd. We only had an hour's drive back to Spring Lake RV in Crossville so we didn't hook the truck for towing. Once again, Wayne drove the coach and I followed in the truck. Traffic was heavy and it was raining as we made our way westward on I-40. Then with fewer than 10 miles to our Peavine Road exit, Wayne surprised me by pulling into the TDOT Rest Area at Crab Orchard. I followed him into one of the long spaces for trucks and big rigs.

The coach's "Stop Engine" light had illuminated a quarter mile from the rest stop exit ramp. The rain let up, the air temperature was pleasant and we had a safe place to park, but that's about all to be happy about.

From our April 2013 experience with the "Stop Engine" light, ( See It Here ) we remembered the seriousness of this warning light. The Cummins manual clearly states not to restart the engine until diagnostics are done and repairs made. There was nothing we could do but call Good Sams Roadside Assistance, report the situation to Cummins and then have lunch while we waited for events to unfold. We were helpless at this point.

Like the previous "Stop Engine" instance, there would be a flurry of telephone calls between Good Sams and local wrecker operators, then updates to us. Seemed Good Sams had trouble locating a 75,000 pound wrecker.  At just a few minutes after 3 p.m., we saw a big violet colored Clinton Highway Wrecker pull in alongside us.

Preparing big Endie for tow is quite a project and took about 45 minutes. The tow truck operator, Reese, was courteous, friendly, well-spoken, quick stepped and knowledgeable about the job that lay before him.

Reese, preparing to force air into Endie's airbags to lift her so he could reach the drive shaft. 
In order to tow the coach, the drive shaft had to be disconnected. In order to get to it, Reese attached an air hose to Endie to lift her from the ground a bit.

Positioning the wrecker...
Once the drive shaft was disconnected, a huge, heavy steel arm was lowered into place and then remotely raised to lift big Endie at her chest. 

Our newly installed (and heavy) Blue Ox hitch and rock screen had to be removed from Endie's rear so they wouldn't drag. The big ole heavy Holiday Rambler mud flap was taken off too. It was too long (and much to nasty) to go into the bed of our truck so Reese loaded it onto the wrecker.

Finally, Endie was ready to tow. Wayne activated the flashers and we held our breath. Visions of the refrigerator and kitchen cabinet contents flashed before my eyes. I wished I had secured everything better. I wondered what would be broken.... I thought about the breakable things in bathroom medicine cabinets, but mostly I just thought about that darn refrigerator.

Leaving the I-40 Rest Stop near Crab Orchard
Wayne and I followed behind the tow truck with Endie on it's back. We had to continue another seven miles west on I-40 where we would exit and then double back to the east bound lanes. It would be another 45 miles to Farragut, Tennessee. Good Sams called ahead to Premier Freightliner Truck Group put them on notice that we were on our way. There's a 50 amp site on site where Reese will drop us for the night. We're told it could be as late as Friday afternoon before a technician can do a diagnostic check.

Reese is finishing up for the day.
Reese dropped us and said his goodbyes. Unhooking took just a matter of minutes and he did not reconnect the driveshaft. That we allowed him to leave without reconnecting it might become a "bone of contention" as the Premier Truck Group people said it should have been done.

Inside the coach, hardly anything had shifted in the cabinets. I breathed a sign of relief. Nothing spilled in the refrigerator either.

For any reader who may be curious (and for our own future reference) the Clinton Highway Wrecker bill, paid entirely by Good Sams, was $650. Never, ever leave home without it.

True to their time estimate of yesterday, Premier Truck Group Freightliner didn't send anyone out to the coach until just after lunch. An hour later another new crankcase breather filter was installed (27 months after the first one). Wayne took instruction with the installation so he can do it himself next time. After all, it's done in the cool (or warmth) of inside the coach with nothing more than a wrench, screwdriver and new filter.

During his cursory look at the engine compartment, Brandon, Premier's diesel tech, noticed the engine oil in the filter had a milky look. He checked the dipstick and found the milky oil there too. A check of the EGR cooler crossover pipe showed it is leaking coolant into the engine which is seeping past the engine pistons and into the oil. This finding means "the EGR cooler will need to be replaced, the oil changed and then have regen run to recover the aftertreatment system" -- whatever all that means. Replacing the EGR cooler be covered under warranty but will take three full days in the service bay. Appointments for such service at Premier were at two weeks out.  With our plan already underway for air conditioner repair early next week and the move to Smyrna for Wayne's bloodwork late next week, we decided to check with the diesel shop in Murfreesboro. .

Finally, Brandon reconnected Endie's mud flap while another tech reconnected the driveshaft. Our service at Premier was invoiced at $327 ($250 - 2 hours labor and $77 for the filter). Filters are not covered by the extended warranty.

Wayne and I both had concerns that we wrenched the coach frame getting level last evening. Fortunately, the slides came in easily and when we aired her up, Endie was ready to roll again.  Whew!

Before sunset, we pulled into our campsite at Spring Lake RV Resort in Crossville where we'll wait until we get word from Pal that the air conditioner parts have arrived and are ready to install.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Rigging The New Truck For Tow

Late Monday afternoon, July 20, we drove to Buddy Gregg RV in Knoxville which is about 60 miles east of Crossville, Tennessee on I-40. Wayne drove Endie and I drove the truck. We'll get the new truck rigged for towing.

Larry (the truck) will be outfitted with a towing base plate and safety cables. The truck is much heavier than Blackie (the Edge), so we we'll need a heavy duty Aventa LX Blue Ox tow bar too. These two items and the necessary wiring kit should do the trick. Buddy Gregg RV has a small pleasant campground area for customers who are being serviced. They have a small apartment-sized building in the center of the campground for customers to relax, have meals and do laundry. It's the nicest customer lounge we've seen. Our site is #2 which, fortunately, faces north so we have afternoon shade on the patio. Unfortunately, summer temperatures make the asphalt and concrete hot so we're pretty much stuck indoors during mid-day -- but it's giving me more hours for computer work.

The Buddy Gregg RV techs came for the truck around 9 Tuesday morning and returned it around 4:45 with about 85% of the work completed. They came back for the truck again Wednesday morning at 8:15 but ran into some issues with wiring to the LED tail lights causing installation to take a couple hours longer than expected.

Larry with his big red LED taillights loosened. 
By in early afternoon, the truck's wiring was finished and the new tow bar and rock screen were installed onto Endie's receiver hitch.

Base plate installed with receiver brackets in place.
The small tab above the front tag is the emergency brake connection device. 

Tow bar with the 8' rock screen.
The rock screen pulls across the hitching equipment between the coach and the towed vehicle to keep rocks from coming up behind the coach and onto the front of the truck. In all honesty, I'll be glad when the first "ding" happens so we can stop worrying about it.

Pal is our service advisor
While we're here, we'll have the front air conditioner checked. It has started a loud  motor moaning sound and an there is an occasional leak -- mostly in times of heavy rain. At first look, they thought the air conditioner's seal might need to be replaced but after in depth inspection, it appears the unit's compressor is failing, although it does continue to run and cool the coach.

Thank goodness we have a good zero deductible extended warranty. Never leave home without one.

Pal will order the necessary air conditioning equipment and we will return early next week for the repair.

All of our hitch work was finished before 4 but because of the late hour we stayed on another night at and pulled out Thursday morning around 10 a.m.

Hopefully we will be just one day in the repair bay when we return next week.

All things considered, we experienced little aggravation in this transaction and that's good. Seems I'm always complaining about service, attitudes of employees or outrageous expenses these days.

Our expense total was this tow project was just over $5,000. Labor was almost $1,700 -- parts were $3,200. Installation of the base plate wiring and tow bar ran $1,080 and labor to set up our existing Roadmaster brake system was $480. They charged us $120 to intall the rock screen. For anyone feeling the urge to criticize the expense or tell us what we "should have done" please resist the temptation. This paragraph is for our information and reader interest alone.  For further explanation, please refer to the "Advice" section of this blog tab titled "Things I Notice" ---

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Change Is Good

Over the past few weeks (months actually), I've been trying to catch up on this travel journal. Things got way past due last autumn and I couldn't get myself motivated (or inspired) enough to write.  I must say for a time I even considered dropping the whole project. After all, this exercise is merely in hopes that someday, when Wayne and I are no longer able to travel, living in the old folks home, someone will be kind enough to help us look back over these happy years.

But I didn't give up and I did manage to put together the posts that were tardy and I am quite proud of myself for doing it. I worked diligently on the travel map too (the "Where We've Been" tab) and I'm not finished with it yet; though it is much more complete.  We've begun our sixth year of full-time RV'ing and we still enjoy traveling, even though we have slowed the pace substantially, staying not just weeks, but sometimes months in one location. All that will be changing soon, though, as we expect to return to "tourist mode" in late fall and kick off a year long adventure that will take us from Texas to Alaska and back to the lower 48 again. It's an exciting prospect.

So today I made some adjustments to the look of the journal. Mostly a change in color and I cleaned it up a bit, eliminating some things too. Nothing anybody would really notice except the color.  It's been the same for more than five years and I felt a little daring.

Welcome to the new show.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Spring Lake RV Resort: Changing of The Guard

It was summer 2008 when we first stopped in at Spring Lake RV Resort in Crossville, Tennessee. We were towing Evie, our Everest fifth wheel, on our way to the mountains of North Carolina for vacation after my mother's death. That was just a pre-retirement overnight stop but we made a note that Spring Lake was a pleasant place and we'd stop in again. And indeed we do, every time we travel along I-40 between Nashville and Knoxville. Crossville is on the Cumberland Plateau where the temperature (at 2,000 feet elevation) is often 5-10 degrees cooler than the plains below. It's especially nice for early fall and late spring visits.

Our shady, grassy and large campsite at Spring Lake RV Resort
We've been here 10 weeks now. When we arrived on May 5th, we paid for a week and expected to play a little golf around the courses of Fairfield Glade before moving along to Lake Toxaway, North Carolina to while away the summer. But we kept extending our departure date from Spring Lake. We changed sites a few times but most of our days are spent on this large grassy site surrounded by willow trees.

Our campsite from the other side. Shade nearly all day.
Linda and Dale stopped in for a few weeks on their way to Ohio as did Marcella and Landon. It's always a bonus to see friends along the way. A plan to rendezvous with Pam and Ernie in North Carolina was in the works too but their home sold with a short closing date so we just stayed on here, growing closer and closer to the owners, Pat and Leroy and enjoying a much cooler than typical late spring and summer.

Our site is in the campground's older section. In the rear, 40 newer sites are situated around a spring fed lake.
Spring Lake has concrete patios for every site. Swings, bistro tables and a barbecue pit are on the lakeside sites.
And so the weeks turned into months as Wayne and I enjoyed a cooler-than-usual late spring and early summer here. We've had lots of rainy days with mild temperatures. Just during this past week, though, temperatures have started to soar to the high 80's and the humidity is becoming oppressive. Summer does eventually arrive -- even on the Plateau.

Our site on the left.  A nice couple from Knoxville, Delores and Howard are in the C-class to our right (barely visible).
Peggy and her husband are in the fifth wheel to our left. The campground office is in the tan building. 
During the time we've been here, I've probably hit a thousand practice golf balls in the lot behind the coach. While it's not part of the campground property, Leroy keeps it mowed and it's perfect for practicing with my irons. I take a bit of ribbing about my inability to hit balls out to the road, just some 130 yards away but I'm sure progress is being made.

The field where I practice golf striking. It's a bit larger than of a football field and is directly behind our campsite.
As a matter of fact, I was standing behind our coach to take this picture. I hit from right to left.
We had known for some time that Spring Lake RV Resort was on the real estate market. Pat and Leroy have been full-time, 7-days a week, hands-on managers for eight years. I knew they needed a break. One morning as I sat chatting with Pat, she confided that the property was under contract with just a few weeks 'til closing. I was thrilled for them but sad to think they won't be here next time we stop by.

Pat and Daisy at the front desk of Spring Lake RV Resort.
Pat and Leroy plan their first getaway in their favorite rig... their truck camper.
Here Leroy checks the operation of the camper's generator.  Good friend, David, looks on. 
Spring Lake RV Resort isn't the first campground rodeo for Pat and Leroy and this won't be their first time into retirement either. Long ago they worked together in long haul trucking and they've owned and sold at least one other campground. They are loved by their guests and will be missed.

Leroy scoots all over Spring Lake RV Resort in the trusty cart with an ever present happy grin. 
It's been such a long time since they've had a break, Pat and Leroy are excited (albeit exhausted) about this move. Their furniture and their big coach are in storage until they eventually relocate to the Greenville, SC area. In the short term, they look forward to visits with family and a trip to Maine that will last until the end of summer. They sure deserve the break.

But as for now, Pat and Leroy's final week of campground ownership has arrived. On Sunday afternoon we joined several long-term neighbors in hosting a farewell dinner for them in the campground clubhouse.

Left to right: Leroy, Pat, neighbor Helga and Wayne enjoy the farewell dinner.
L to R: Matt's daughter, Michaela, Pat and David's wife, Dorothy.
The happy retirees, Leroy and Pat
Tomorrow Leroy will resume his long, hot normal 8 hour Monday of mowing of the entire campground property -- but it will be the final time. The new owners are expected to arrive from Colorado tomorrow with extended family and their household arriving over the next 48 hours.

The send-off dinner consisted of hamburgers, hot dogs and all the trimmings, followed by homemade blond brownies, sock-it-to-me cake and two flavors of ice cream. 
While we will miss the familiar smiling faces of Pat and Leroy and their sweet Daisy, we look forward to whatever changes the new owners, Marg and Jeff, will make too. I am sure their personal touches will continue to improve this already lovely campground.

New owners, Jeff and Margie. 
Anyone who finds their way to this area would do well to stop in here at the nicest campground on the Plateau. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Good luck to all involved.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The New Truck Experience

Spring Lake RV Resort, Crossville, Tennessee    Our 2012 Ford Edge was already overloaded when we bought two sets of golf clubs last February. In the rear we carry two folding bicycles, a bicycle-towed carrier for the dogs and a dog stroller. The back seat is reserved for Lexie and Ozzie and their "car riding" paraphernalia. There was simply no place to put two sets of golf clubs so they've been shifted from the car's back seat to the coach basement and that gets old real quick. It was only natural that we began thinking about buying a larger vehicle.

But trading a towed vehicle is complicated and expensive.  Weight consideration, towability, braking, base plates and electrical systems all to be considered.  Nevertheless, Wayne had been researching trucks and large SUV's for awhile now and the time came to trade. We chose Ford's F-150 Lariat pick-up. The truck's weight and safety ratings played a big role in making this choice.

We looked on which I can say now, wasn't much help but generated a bunch of unwanted telephone calls, voice mail messages, email and texts from a variety of dealer sales reps that nearly drove me to the brink. I finally delved deep into the bowels of and found an obscure page that allowed us to "opt out" of sales contact.

On Tuesday, June 30th, we bit the bullet and drove to East Tennessee Ford here in Crossville. We were greeted by a very young but well-spoken Derek Cooey who showed us the truck inventory, took us for a test drive, listened while we talked about what we wanted and answered all our questions.  Derek's product knowledge was impressive and he has a customer service attitude. I'm not often impressed with sales people, but Derek was the exception and I liked his "style" or maybe the lack of it.

Derek Cooey, of East Tennessee Ford, with Wayne and me by our new truck, Larry. 
The truck that met our criteria was not on the East Tennessee Ford lot, but at a Ford Dealer in Arkansas. Before we left the dealership that day, drivers from East Tennessee Ford were already en route to get it.

Transit took all day, Wednesday, July 1st, so we waited until Thursday, July 2nd to take possession. The owners of the campground allowed us to store the bicycles, wagon and golf clubs in their maintenance shed while we swapped vehicles and got the truck ready for hauling.

Once we'd taken delivery of Larry, we ordered accessory items including a hard shell (Tonneau) cover, a bed rug, rubber floor mats, window wind deflectors and a hood wind deflector through East Tennessee Ford's parts department. "What" you ask, "is a bed rug?" It's a carpet bed liner. It will protect the equipment from sliding around in the truck bed and will also protect the truck bed from scratches. I hadn't known such an item existed. It will be perfect for our needs.

Delivery of the accessories would take just a couple of days so we planned to return Monday, July 6th for installation. On Monday, however, we learned the hard shell Tonneau cover would take several weeks after all. Uh oh. After some discussion, a cover was located and diverted to East Tennessee Ford. It was expected to arrive Wednesday, July 8th so we scheduled Thursday, July 9th at 9 a.m. for installation.

Arrival at the service bay. Jim (far right) checked us in. The other guy (seated) was a customer who stuck to us like fly paper. Never knew who he was or why he found us to be so interesting.  
On Thursday, July 9th, we arrived for accessory installation but soon after Wayne developed a "feeling" that things were not going smoothly. I'm not suggesting that Wayne is psychic, but when he has a "feeling" there's usually a reason. As usual his "feeling" proved to be well founded. Our new truck was moved to one side and a really nasty, sand-covered, one-piece, hard plastic bed liner (that had been lying on the ground) was tossed into the back. Horrors. Without apology the service personnel hurriedly pulled it out of the truck bed -- but it was too late. Scratches and black marring were left all over the beautiful platinum white paint. Wayne began trying to wipe it with a damp paper towel. I was furious, heartbroken and getting nauseous.

Adding insult to injury, no one at East Tennessee Ford's service department seemed to be managing our appointment. I went inside the dealership to look for our salesman, Derek, who arrived quickly, apologized and set about trying to get the service appointment on track. No one except Derek seemed to have known we had ordered a bed rug. The Tonneau cover was not there and couldn't be located (we were told anyway). It was like the guy at the parts window had never laid eyes on us until that moment.  My heart just kept sinking.

Still smiling, Wayne's intuition was right about the service appointment today. 
The wide-eyed, know-nothing man at the parts desk stared blankly as I complained about the damage to our new truck, then directed me into the service bay where I complained again -- this time to a man named Jim who was apologetic. I told him I wanted the scratches and marring in the truck bed buffed out. He said it could be done when the wind deflector installation was complete. Mind you, Jim, didn't offer to have it buffed out, I demanded it... but he did agree without arguing at least.

When the window and hood deflectors were installed, the bed was buffed and some two hours after arrival, it appeared we were finished for the day -- without the bed rug or the Tonneau cover which appears to have disappeared into a great black hole. Someone from the service department brought the truck around to us. I looked inside to find sand and dirt dumped onto the carpet and the new rubber mats were laid on top of it all. Horrors... again. Will my aggravation never end? Who trains these people? Can they not see that our truck is new and clean? Do they not know the price of a new vehicle? Did they not care that we were already frustrated at this service? Will this experience never end?

Derek, Wayne and the dogs still waiting patiently. 
With the bed rug and Tonneau cover yet to be installed, we left the dealership with a promise that the truck carpet would be vacuumed when we return tomorrow. The bed rug is ready for installation but can't be done until a cover is installed to protect it from the elements. On Friday, July 10, the cover arrived, we were told, but was damaged. Nothing surprises me now. On Monday morning, July 13th, Wayne received a call with instruction to bring the truck in for installation of both the bed rug and the Tonneau cover that had just arrived.

By days end, the horrible parts and service experience appears to be finished. The dirt was not vacuumed from the carpet but we did that at the campground. The truck's bed lights were covered over by the bed rug, which Wayne had expressly asked to have cut out. We did that at the campground too.  Our parts and service invoice totaled $2,700 for the Tonneau cover, bed liner, wind deflectors, floor mats and installation of it all. Before the purchase, we were quoted prices that reflect a 10% discount on parts and labor but we can't be sure as it isn't reflected on the invoice.

Wayne with Lexie and Ozzie

We really love the new truck and all the accessories have personalized it to suit us perfectly. As usual though, I'm left wondering how customer service can possible ever get to this low point.

I can hardly wait to complete the customer satisfaction survey. Or maybe I won't even go to the trouble.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Five Years And Counting

Spring Lake RV Resort, Crossville, Tennessee

July 4, 2015 marked the end of our fifth year as nomads, living the life we love traveling all over America and Canada in our motorhome.

We celebrated as we always do, quietly, soothing Ozzie through the Independence Day fireworks. Lexie isn't bothered by fireworks, thank goodness.

This fifth year took us from Crescent City, California north into Oregon and then into the far northwest reaches of Bellingham and Mount Vernon, in Washington State before making an emergency eight day marathon drive through Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama when my brother's congestive heart failure worsened.

We stayed a total of nine weeks in New Market, Alabama in August, September and October to be near my brother's home. Later we'd visit Tennessee, Birmingham and Gulf Shores, Alabama, Panama City, Reddick and Fort Pierce, Florida before making our way across the peninsula to our winter destination at Seminole Campground in North Fort Myers.

Distance in motorhome miles for the fifth year total just 6,340 as a result of our lengthy stays in Alabama, North Fort Myers and Crossville, Tennessee. Total motorhome mileage as full-timers reached 47,691 on this date.

Of course the most impactful event of this year was the deterioration of Macky's health and his death in April. We lost friends this year too, several of Wayne's childhood and high school chums and most recently, our friend Rick, who died unexpectedly.

Our own health remains good but Wayne's doctor did start him on a low dose of cholesterol lowering medication. He and I suffered through a terrible flu / cold too that took a really long time to go away.

Our dogs, Lexie and Ozzie began the fifth year with a daily (or almost daily) routine of tooth brushing after their serious dental issues discovered by their vet in Crescent City last summer. Additionally, Lexie had to have surgery for a cancerous mammary gland. Happily, her prognosis is "cautiously optimistic"...

We made many new friends this year too and are planning a winter, spring and summer excursion to the southwest and then Alaska for next year.  Golf has become our past-time and contributed to our decision to buy a new Ford F-150 Lariat to haul all the stuff we are accumulating.

Our Ford Edge on the far left.
Wayne and me with sales rep, Derek.
The new truck will be called "Larry" -- 

Florida became our state of domicile this year when Obamacare caused a loophole in South Dakota's special accommodation for full-time RVers that resulted in my health insurance company leaving the state.

A final development that quickly fizzled was our idea that we might want a house. It started with a thought that we might like to buy a piece of property on a Tennessee lake where we could spend a few spring and fall months. The idea morphed into a thought of building a house.  Thank goodness we came to our senses.

An so today we begin work on Year 6....