Before I talk about the current tow vehicle (the tow-"er"), this seems like a good time to review what got us to this point...namely all those that came before, while we still lived in Northern Indiana. Those who have read my other blog at http://blog.caravancamperrv.com, know that I started out camping as a kid and Boy Scout, but never owned my own tent. What sufficed as a tent was a heavy grain tarp hung over a rope stretched between two trees. What can I say...it was "cheap". Of course, both ends were also wide open, which didn't keep bugs or rain out, but then, we always camped on dry days...not necessarily bug free days.
On the ground, we either used another grain tarp or a large sheet of plastic (if available). Cooking was done over a fire, bathroom business was done in a hand-dug latrine far from the tent, and everything was portable...carry it in and carry it out. At one point in later years, there was a factory-made tent, but that went with the person who had it. "Nuff said". For a long time, life got in the way and no further camping was done...until late in the 70's...not mine...the calendar's.
My first driveable RV...
Even before I had my driver's license, my dad had an old '51 Chevy panel truck that he had used for business. It was no longer being used anymore, so I cleaned it all out, painted the inside (behind the front seats) white, and then used it a few times to go down the road about a quarter-mile to my best friend's house, and we would take it back to the river behind his house and use it as our "camper". I almost forgot about mentioning it, but in reality it was actually my first drivable RV.
At one point (1977), while I was managing the apartments, I bought a 1971 Dodge camper van with a fiberglass high top. It wasn't fancy. It had a rear dinette/bed and one set of cabinets along the driver's side, with a 120/12-volt compressor refrigerator which drained batteries way too quickly, a two-burner stove fed by a one-pound canister under the counter top, and a hand-pump sink fed by a 5-gallon removable/refillable tank under the sink. The "upstairs' had a bed, and I had a lot of fun making a trip to Niagara Falls, to an air show at Grissom Air Force base, and a few other short trips. The only reason I got rid of it was because it had a strange vibration which I couldn't find, and I now realize it was tires. Had I just changed those, I would have kept it longer.
Our first towable RV...
When my ex-wife and kids moved three hours away, we tried to go down once a month and pick them up (the kids, not her) on the weekends, but that was a total of twelve hours lost on the road. And staying in a motel with two adults and four kids was not fun...for anyone. One experience of that led us to decide to get a small camper. We still planned on being crowded for sleeping, but at least there were activities at the campground.
We started out with an old used 1972 Reco (they don't make them anymore) pop-up tent trailer that a co-worker of my wife had for sale. At least it had three beds...if the dinette was made up into one of them, and could sleep six...comfortably. We had a 1971 Thunderbird that we were restoring at the time, with a 460, 4-bbl carb and dual exhausts that cranked out 360 HP. It didn't even know the 1925+ lb. trailer was behind it. It was the last year for engines without smog controls and the newer 460's only produced 230 HP. (Thanks for nothing, Detroit.)
Unfortunately, the trailer had leaks in it. I repaired some of the framework, but the canvas was starting to rot and was beginning to show more and more tears in it. We finally sold the trailer for nearly what we had paid for it.
The next driveable...another van...
We thought a van would be better, and around 1983 bought a 1975 Dodge Maxi-Van from a carpet layer. Later on, I went to Viking Industries (again, no longer in business) and bought a "factory second" fiberglass top for the van, and installed it myself. I also installed plywood on the floor and carpet padding and carpet, but that was about as far as we got with it, because we got busy with other projects. At least we had standing room.
Still, it was probably the most fun we've had with any camping vehicle, because (1) it was paid for, and (2) we could do whatever we wanted with it. We already had such things as a porta-potty, 5-gallon portable sink, and camp stove. We added a foam mattress over some plywood and crates, which could be made into a gaucho couch or a full bed. With the addition of a card table, two folding chairs and a ice chest, we were good to go. I remember three trips in particular, one into Michigan, one to a Bluegrass weekend north of Ft. Wayne, and a church camp-out at their own private woods behind the church. With a small vehicle we could go almost anywhere, and without breaking the bank for fuel. We didn't need space, because once we stopped, the whole outdoors was our front yard. The kids weren't coming regularly by then, so we didn't need as much room.
Our first Class C...
But we missed certain "amenities" and traded the unfinished van for a 1980 Toyota Mini Cruiser, which at the time, was made right across the St. Joe River from us. We had that one about a year. It was compact and easy to get around with, but the width was not enough for our height, the bathroom was so small you couldn't sit and close the door at the same time, and after a night in sweltering summer heat, we realized we wanted air conditioning! A month later we traded it.
Our second Class C...
Our next step up was a 23-foot Jayco Class C on a Ford 460 one-ton cut-away van chassis. It had air conditioning, a microwave, and an after-market Onan generator mounted on a hand-made rear bumper extension. The RV itself was a nice manageable size, but unfortunately the couch was uncomfortable when made into a bed, and the cab-over bed was too hard to get in and out of. Even if we had a ladder (which we didn't) narrow rungs and aging feet are not a good match. The gas mileage wasn't great at about 7-1/2 MPG, but the unit was small enough to be used as a daily driver...at least while on vacation...not for every day at home. We had that RV about three years.
Our first Class A...
One day we saw a nice, one-year-old 1986 Honey, 34-foot Class A with an island queen bed, and fell in love with it. Of course, each time we found a "better" RV, the price tag also went up, and so did our payments and stress levels...while maneuverability went down. Still, we kept that motorhome for about six years, and took a lot of trips with it, including a 2-1/2 week tour of most of the major parks out west with another couple from Germany. The RV had its quirks, but basically, was a good dependable rig, thanks to the Chevy P-30 chassis under it. The mileage didn't change much...still around 7-1/2 MPG, Of course, due to the size, we did use a tow car (the tow-"ee") with it most of the time.
We even remodeled that Honey, changing the dinette to the opposite side and doing away with the seats in favor of a lift-up-and-out table and two brand new Flex-Steele rocker/swivel/recliners. We moved the couch to where the dinette used to be and extended the heat ducts. We also changed counter tops and added some new cabinets with matching doors and eventually, even added a Spendide washer/dryer combo unit in the rear bedroom. We also added a storage shelf over the front seats. We stayed in that unit through the winter of '91/'92 in southern Michigan because our house had sold but we weren't ready to move yet. By the following May, we finally headed to our vacation/retirement home in Arkansas.
Our first van conversion...
In '93, we bought a nice Tiara Diamond Edition van conversion, and thought we might be able to make some shorter camping trips with that, but it didn't work well because it didn't have the amenities we needed. The electric bed was uncomfortable, there was no secondary battery system, and it wasn't tall enough for our height. We sold it after we moved to Mesa. That experience is also why we are retaining a trailer we can stand up in and has all the amenities we need, while the van we have now will be the tow-"er" and daily driver...at least for awhile. It will only be used for emergency overnight lodging and guest quarters.
Our second Class A...
After a short stint of managing a membership park in Arkansas during '92/'93, and leaving of our own accord, we headed for Florida. On the way back north, we stopped at an RV dealership at Lake Park, Georgia to buy a replacement hub cap for the Honey, and came away with a deal on a 40-foot Bounder. This was in '93 and it was a '90...first model with the flat, bus-type front end...and unfortunately, the last year for a carbureted engine rather than fuel injected. Of course, it had more "space" but also brought even more expense, troubles and stress with it.
Delivery was delayed by the ordering and installation of a Panasonic satellite TV system (4-foot dish). They delivered the unit to us about a week later at Dothan, Alabama, and as soon as we started out with it, we realized it had an exhaust header leak. When we got up to Akron, Ohio, we decided to put it in the shop and get that fixed, after which we footed the $1570+ bill because the extended warranty plan that we bought was a total joke. They only wanted to pay $348 dollars of the total bill, and I collected that and then cancelled the warranty contract immediately!
Over our travels for the next four years, we buried that rig up to both rear axles in a wet campground and had to pay a $240 towing bill, had to have the rear tag axle mount in the side of the frame completely re-welded because it had ripped out of the frame, replaced fuel pumps on it at least three times, replaced an alternator, and paid for fuel at the rate of 5-1/2 MPG...in a 95 gallon tank! Then in Modesto, California, the water pump went out, and while repairing that, discovered that we had an engine exhaust valve leaking. No wonder we didn't have enough power to climb an overpass without losing 5 MPH!
Well, that and the fact that the engineers at Fleetwood who designed that thing did so in collaboration with Oshkosh and John Deere (and Ford, and probably others). As the old saying goes, "too many cooks spoil the soup!"
The chassis was supposedly built by Oshkosh, but they used the same Ford 460 ci, 230-HP engine that is used in much smaller motorhomes and light trucks, coupled to the same C-6 stock 3-speed transmission that we had in our '71 Thunderbird! That is WAY to little power and not enough gearing for a 20,000 lb+ motorhome, and any backyard mechanic could have figured that out!
We never did figure out what part John Deere had in all of that, other than the fact that the steering wheel had a John Deere logo on the Ford designed wheel. But none of the companies involved had any accurate records of any of the components that went into this motorhome! When questioned, it was always blamed on one of the other companies as to why there were no records!
When in Albuquerque, our alternator went out. Oshkosh gave me a couple of part numbers, neither of which matched the alternator actually installed on the RV! When in Modesto, we were going to have the large radiator hoses changed, and no one knew what they were! The auto parts house brought out a dozen different hoses that were supposed to be for Ford big-block engines and radiator combinations...and NONE of them fit!
In retrospect, I should have done my research on that motorhome, but at the time, there was no Internet like there is today. It would have been very difficult. Today, I would never buy something that was a collaboration of that many companies, nor of any company who had no track record in the industry.
Keep in mind, I am not down on Fleetwood's Bounders in general. They make a very nice mid-price-point motorhome, and have a good track record covering many years. But even the engineers themselves will admit that the 40-footer in the early 90's was a total fiasco, and the collaboration with John Deere only lasted two years. Since that time, their track record speaks for itself, and I would have no problem buying another one...except in a smaller, single rear axle unit with the proper engine, transmission and other components to suit its size. The interior, built solely by Fleetwood, was fine, other than the fact that they installed a 30-amp cord and converter in a coach with two air conditioners, two furnaces, a microwave, and ice-maker and a washer/dryer (another Splendide). That coach should have had a 50-amp service! But in their favor, not many RV parks had 50-amp pedestals back then, so maybe they thought 30-amps would be more convenient. Who knows.
Anyway, when we went to Mesa with it in November of '94, we thought we were only going for the winter, but fell in love with the Phoenix Valley. By '97, we were working again, found a park model we liked, and put the Bounder in storage. We had tried to sell it on consignment even before that time (in Indiana), and no one wanted it. (Had it sold, we would have been the proud owners of a brand new '94 Road Trek 210 Popular).
We tried to sell the Bounder again in Mesa, and after 90 days of no leads, the dealer told us to come and get it. Frustrated, we eventually tried listing it on about six different free advertising sites on the web, and finally sold it to a couple on the east coast...sight unseen. They flew out to Mesa, and spent three days with us while we went through everything with them. When they finally left, we were never so glad to see a motorhome going down the highway...AWAY from us!
But even then, before we even listed it, we had to again replace the fuel pump, all three batteries, the TV (the screen had gone green), have the carburetor rebuilt for the third time, and even rebuild the valve mechanism under the Thetford toilet (because it had rusted tight). I'm probably forgetting other minor details, but all this was in addition to the roughly $10,000 worth of extras that we had already bought for the unit while owning it...all of which we threw in the deal just to get rid of the motorhome! These included non-attached items like the Patty-O'room screened room, the transmission pump system that was used on our automatic tow car, and a self-aligning Blue-Ox tow bar and wiring package.
Our first truck camper...
After that, we decided a small camper was all we needed, so we first bought a brand new 2001 Dodge Dakota Quad-Cab V-8...still not knowing for sure what we would put on it or behind it. After doing much research, we found that North Star (R C Willet, Corp.) was making a pop-up, slide-in truck camper especially designed for the Dodge Dakota Quad-Cab. In 2004 we custom ordered a brand new one, and the dealer outfitted the truck with the necessary wiring and Firestone air bags over the rear axle. We also upgraded the tires to 8-ply tires. That's really all that was needed.
We used that camper for many trips between Mesa and Indiana, and for several shorter trips...to St. David in the south of Arizona to Casa Grand Resort in the middle of the state and to Camp Verde to the north. We brought it back to Arkansas with us, but never got a chance to use it again during our ten years here. In 2013, I discovered that the roof had leaked and caused a bow (downward) in the roof, right over the kitchen sink. Had it been in any other location, we would have probably had even more damage. We considered fixing it, but were also considering other options at the time, one of which was to travel full-time. The little truck camper was just too small to suit our needs. That brings us to the conversion van we have now.
Our second (and current) van conversion...
For more details about our current conversion van, see the "Our Tow-"er" page in the top menu bar. And for the trailer see the "Our Tow-"ee" menu page.
And as always, let me know your thoughts!