Sunday, March 22, 2015

WHEN, not IF, things go sideways

I was inspired the other day by fellow blogger Nina of 'Wheeling It' fame who wrote a recent blog post about their 'Top 6 Road Incidents' and how they survived.  I know one of the things foremost in my mind as we were preparing to live on the road was what would I do if something went wrong.  What I learned was the correct word here is not 'if', but 'when'.....things, indeed, will go wrong.  It is my hope that by relating in one place most, but not all of the things that have gone wrong, and how we dealt with them that it will help those who aspire to live as we do to not let the worry of 'what can go wrong' be the reason they do not try.

1) Air level valve failure

When we first began our full time journey I knew we had a leak in the six pack of air valves that controls the rear air bags for leveling, and for what is known as 'ride height', or driving mode.  At the time I was still in the 'learning curve' on my Newell, and had no idea how to troubleshoot an air leak, or even what to do if I found the leak.  Well, we had been on the road just about a week when we arrived in Mesa, AZ at the home of Tom and Darlene, fellow Newell owners, when the rear air valves failed completely, so I had no choice but to confront the problem and fix it, or we could not level, or drive another inch.  Tom, prior to retirement, was an electrical engineer by trade, so something as basic as my air valve system was not intimidating to him.  

Initially he brought out a spray bottle of soapy water to spray on each valve to find the ones leaking.  As it turned out there were two, so he found a local source for my MAC air valves up in North Phoenix, and I drove up there to buy two valves.  The next night we replaced those two valves, then turned on the engine to air up the coach, and for about 10 minutes it worked as it should......then the remaining 4 valves began to leak.  So, it was back up to North Phoenix to buy the remaining 4 valves.  The next night we took the hole assembly off the wall of the engine bay after taking a picture of it (see first picture below) and making notes, then disassembled it, and added in the 4 additional new valves, then remounted the entire assembly back on the wall, and the picture below is of the new valves installed and working just as they should.  Each valve only cost about $40, so the total coast to replace all six was $240, plus some elbow grease.  Having Tom help me diagnose the problem, and then fix it really boosted my self confidence to tackle things as they arose in the future.

Take a picture FIRST before taking stuff apart!!

 The new 'six pack'

2) No trailer lights

Another issue facing me head on when I arrived in Mesa, AZ at Tom and Darlene's home was I was having serious electrical issues with my trailer lights, as well as the rear brake and turn lights on the coach.  

A couple of years previously I was having some issues with the tail lights on the coach after I had my mechanic install a 7 pin connector for the trailer lights.   I took the coach back in a couple of times, but finally it seemed they were fixed, and they worked fine until the day we were leaving Ranch Jurupa Regional Park, where we had been camp hosts for a year, to begin our journey.  TLE was following me in the T-Bird and called me on the phone to tell me the brake lights were not working on the trailer, or the coach.  That was weird, because I had just checked everything out the night before and everything worked as it should.  Well, I was on my way to my mechanic's to have the oil changed, and a few other maintenance things done before we drove down to Temecula to have our solar system installed.  The guy who had fixed my lights before was no longer working there, and the guy he assigned to fix my problem could not figure it out.  I didn't want to stay there over night so I had TLE follow me in the T-Bird down to Temecula where I figured I would solve the problem myself.

We were in Temecula about 4 days, and I thought I had fixed the problem, and everything seemed to work fine until I turned on the running lights as we headed east on I-10 into the night.  I noticed that none of the trailer lights were working, including, once again, the turn and brake lights......uggghhh!

So, when we arrived in Mesa that night with failing air valves I also was dealing with NO brake lights, or turn signals and running lights that did not work all the time......I had pulled off the Interstate when I discovered there were no lights on the trailer and fiddled around enough to get them to come on so we could continue driving to Mesa, but still had no brake, or turning lights.  Tom was still working then and had to go into the office, but gave me a few ideas to pursue.  I took me the better part of two days working by myself to fix the problem, but I did, and they have worked fine until I had that minor problem I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, which I again fixed on my own.

3) Bent trailer jack

We had been on the road for about 6 weeks when we arrived in Thibodaux, LA to courtesy park at the home of Forrest and Cyndy (also fellow Newell owners) who had offered a 50 amp hookup while we toured the local area, and drove into New Orleans.  When I exited the coach to unhook the trailer after we had parked I noticed the bottom of the tongue jack was bent back pretty badly (see the removed broken jack on the ground in the picture below).  Apparently, when we were getting ready to leave Galveston Island a few days prior I had neglected to retract the jack all the way up after I had dropped the trailer on the hitch, and had caught the still extended jack on the Galveston Ferry as we were driving on.....I hadn't realized it was damaged until I was unhooking the trailer in Thibodaux.  I immediately called Forrest, who was not home at the time, to ask for a referral to a good local trailer supply place, and he gave me a name of a place not too far down the road from his house.  I drove over there with my broken jack, found the one that matched it ($25) and headed back to fix the trailer.  It took me under an hour to install the replacement.  I know looking back in retrospect that this was not as big a deal as I felt it was back then, but back then when anything broke it felt catastrophic to me.

I found that each time I was able to fix something on my own that my confidence to tackle the next problem, when it arose, grew significantly.

4) Trailer pinch 1

I have always been pretty good at backing the coach with the trailer attached, but I met my match when I was attempting to back my trailer into a piece of property near Heflin, Alabama about 3 months into our travels.  There were a couple of tricky turns I had to negotiate to get into the property.  I had chosen to back in so it would be easier to get out, and it was a good theory.  TLE was outside with one of the walkie-talkies guiding me in when suddenly I heard her say " pinched the trailer..."....I was hoping nothing had been serious damaged, and just pulled forward and finished parking.  When I exited the coach to inspect the damage I found that I had crushed the driver's side front corner of the large aluminum tool box mounted on the tongue.....I loved that big tool box as I used it to store a lot of stuff I had no room for in the it was damaged.  I was able to straighten the box out well enough that I could still close the lid.  While I was disappointed that I had damaged the box, I was soooo grateful I had not damaged the coach....only the bumper on the coach has a few scrapes, but nothing too noticeable.  Later, while at my sister's home in Michigan I borrowed some "metal dolleys" from her husband (Elliott) and was able to reshape the damaged pieces and unless you looked closely you could hardly tell it had been damaged.

5) Trailer pinch 2

I had been a long day driving through the 'American Alps' in northern Washington  in mid July of 2012, and we were fast approaching an RV park near Marblemount, WA on the Skagit River where we planned to overnight.  I had asked TLE to be on the lookout for a park (can't remember the name I gave her, but it was wrong)......just a minute or so after I asked her to be watching I saw the sign for the park (Alpine), but had missed the was a two way road, and there were cars behind me otherwise I would have just stopped and backed up 30 problem, right?  Well, it was 10 more miles into Marblemount where I would be able to run around, but I didn't want to drive another 20 miles round trip, so I slowed down letting the cars behind me pass, then spied a large dirt road with a big apron that I thought I could back into making a 3 point turn, and head back.  TLE asked me if I wanted her to get out with the walkie-talkie to talk me through it and I replied, rather arrogantly, "No, I've got this"...famous last words (I wrote about that experience here).  Well, as you can be sure, those words were still hanging in the air when she says "Clarkey, you just pinched the trailer!".  At that point I was too irritated with myself, and what had happened to get out and check to see what the damage was, so I just straightened out the trailer by pulling forward, then finished backing up to complete the 3 point turn, which had now become a 5 point turn.  We arrived back at Alpine RV Park in just a few minutes where I parked to go inside to pay for a site......I first went back to inspect the damage, and was sickened by what I the passenger side of the tool box was smashed in to such an extent that it was now a total loss.  Even worse there was a large puncture hole in the aluminum skin on the right rear corner of the coach just above the bumper.

This is the right rear corner of the coach after I had pounded out the big dent, and covered the tear in the aluminum with 'foil tape' looked much worse before my efforts.  Also, the bumper was bent by the impact....this picture does not do the damaged area justice. Ultimately I lived with the damage to the coach for almost 2 years before a friend of mine (Todd, another Newell owner who lives in South Dakota) found an N.O.S. Newell bumper on ebay.....actually it was a complete set....he needed the front bumper, and I needed the back bumper so I bid, won the auction, and Todd drove down to Nebraska to pick up the cost for my rear bumper...$62.50.  We drove up to Sioux Falls last April where I picked up the bumper, and installed it.  In addition, I covered up the damage to the right rear corner with diamond plate....I think it came out pretty well!

I did not, however, wait almost two years to replace the tool box.......I found this slightly smaller tool box on eBay and installed in while visiting with friends on Whidbey Island (Washington) that same July.

6) Blowout

In May of 2008, just a couple of months after we had purchased our Newell we decided to drive it to Arizona to see our daughter, Sharon, graduate from Arizona State.  This was our first long trip in the Newell, so I studiously checked everything over (oil, coolant, tire pressure, etc) before departure.  All went well until on our return trip about 90 minutes from the California border, and about 90 minutes west of Mesa, AZ I heard this loud 'BANG' first I thought I had hit some road debris, but then quickly realized the left fron tire had blown.  The coach swerved to the left (fortunately there were no vehicles to my left at the time) about half way into the #1 lane.......I wrestled the steering wheel back to the right slowly regaining control and had the coach on shoulder of I-10 within 100 feet.  Avoiding an accident, or flipping the coach over were I shut down the engine, sat there shaking from the adrenaline rush I heard one of my daughters (two of our daughters had made the trip with us) say....."Good job Dad!"....that kind of snapped me out of it.  Then I began to worry about how much damage to the coach that exploding tire had caused....often the damage caused by a blowout can be more expensive than the actual tire replacement.  As I walked around the front the coach, this is what greeted me.... you can see the rim had just barely begun to scrape the ground when I brought the coach to a stop, but no damage to the coach.

I went back in the coach to give everyone the 'good news' and then got on the phone with Good Sam ERS.  The lady asked me if I knew what mile marker I was near, and, of course I did not, but went outside......the odds of walking the wrong direction to find the nearest mile marker are 1 in 2.....I chose to turn east (right) and walked just 100 feet to find the nearest mile marker.....I still had my phone in my hand and reported this to the lady.  She advised me she would find someone to come out with a new tire and install it there.  Within 20 minutes she called back saying she had a mobile service coming out of Mesa, AZ with a tire, and that they would be calling me to verify the tire size, and to take payment.  Within 10 minutes they called.....I gave them my AmEx number to pay for tire and they said they would be there in 90 minutes.

In the mean time I turned on the generator, then the A/C (it was getting hot), then cranked up the satellite dish (it was the middle of the NBA playoffs at the time), tuned in the Laker game.....I think they were playing the Detroit Pistons and sat down to watch the game.  While I was doing that TLE prepared a plate of cold cuts, and got out some beer and we sat there watching the game with the girls until the mobile guy arrived almost exactly 90 minutes later.

Within 30 minutes he had the new tire installed, and we were on our way.....all I had to pay for was the tire...$375....Good Sam ERS paid the labor and drive time.  The lesson here is subscribe to an emergency road service for your RV (Good Sam and are the only ones I am aware of) and keep it up to date.  You are buying peace of mind and a solution to most problems that will arise from a breakdown on the road.  I actually cover myself 3 ways for emergency roadside service....Good Sam, AAA and through my auto policy.  Why?  In all the situations I have been in over the years one of them has come through quickly.  Why put all your eggs in one basket?  

7) Black water tank failure

In July of 2013 we had been camping in, and around Glacier National Park for about 10 days and were planning to take another hike in the park, but first I needed to dump the black tank, which I have done successfully dozens and dozens of times.  As was my custom, I began to 'fish' my green hose from the driver's side in between the black tank and the fresh water tank to the passenger side to hook up to the hose bib that allows me to flush the black tank.  The end of the hose, apparently, strikes one of the three sensor plugs located along the bottom of the black tank knocking it lose resulting in a torrent of black effluent which quickly engulfs the area where I am takes me a few seconds to realize what has happened before I quickly pull the lever on the black tank to dump its contents into the sewer and stop the ecological disaster that is occurring.  Once that is done TLE and I begin to figure out how to fix this problem....of course our hike has now been scrubbed from the calendar, and our only purpose in life is to fix our black tank.

Not much room in there....

I need to re-insert that plug,  and reseal it, but there is not enough space in between the two tanks to get my arm, and even if there was my arm is not long enough to reach it.  We are going to have to remove the black tank to fix it, and that will be a major chore.  It is at this time that TLE suggests we remove the fresh water tank as there are fewer connections to be unhooked....I look at it, and have to agree she is correct, so we begin to drain the fresh water tank of 120 gallons of water, which takes quite a while, but in an hour, or so it is empty.  Within another hour we are removing the tank.

Once the tank was out we sprayed out the entire water bay with fresh water to get rid of the residual 'black water', use bleach to sanitize the area, and then begin the process of drying everything out, and then re-installing the plug, and sealing it.  We allow everything to dry, and cure overnight, and then were able to re-install the fresh water tank the next day.

 Plug re-installed and sealed

The re-installation of the fresh water tank took less than two hours, and we were as good as new once again, and did not have to run to the RV park restroom anymore!

8) Water pump

After we left Mesa, AZ we made a mad 3 day dash to Tyler, TX covering over 1,200 miles in less than 3 days....I will never do that again!  Just after we had finished parking the coach and trailer on my sister-in-law's property I exited the coach to walk back to the trailer to back out the car.  As I approached the rear of the coach I smelled coolant.....not good.....I looked down and saw coolant pouring on to the ground in a torrent.  I opened up the engine compartment and saw it was coming from the water pump.  I quickly got a 5 gallon bucket out, put it under the radiator and began draining the coolant down to get it below the level of the water pump so I would stop losing coolant.  Within a few minutes the coolant stopped pouring out of the water pump and it was time for me to begin figuring out how to fix this problem.

So here we are just a few weeks into our travels and here I am facing a third major issue with the coach, and this one, to me anyway, was MAJOR!  I called my friend, Tom, who was still at work in Mesa, AZ when I called, and told him what had happened.  He told me he was on another call, but would get back to me in a few minutes.  By the time he called back he had located my exact gear driven water pump on eBay, and had sent me the link to the auction.  I checked the pictures on the eBay item with my pump and agreed it was the same one and chose the "BUY IT NOW" option for $89.  The pump was delivered by UPS about 4 days later and I then began the process of first removing the bad pump, transferring some parts to the new pump, then installing the new pump......all by myself.  To aid myself in transferring the various fittings I took a picture (see below) of how there were positioned on the old pump, before removing them and re-installing them on the new pump.  It was not as hard as I thought it would be, and after finding and stopping a couple of leaks around a couple of hose clamps it was done.

The old gear driven water pump

9) Won't start

Back in October of 2010 we were taking our first major trip pulling our American Trailer with the T-Bird inside to Santa Fe, NM to meet up with our aforementioned Newell friends, Forrest and Cyndy for 5, or 6 days of site seeing.  We got a late start from our home...I mean a late start.....around 1 am we got off the Interstate in Needles, CA, right on the Arizona border, to take a break.  I parked on the street next to a Comfort Inn, and we got out and took a short walk around the coach to stretch our legs.  When we got back in I turned the key to start the 6V92 and nothing!  By nothing I mean no sound, no clicking sound......just silence.  I did some basic checking of the rear electric panel and could find nothing lose wires, nothing.  

I got on the phone with Good Sam ERS to see if we could get a mobile mechanic to come out at what by this time was 1:30 am.  They called back in about 20 minutes saying they had a guy coming from Bullhead City (about 90 minutes away) who should be there around 4 am.  As promised he arrived just after 4 in the morning.....he asked a few questions, then checked to see if the starter was getting any power, and immediately discovered that the 'trigger wire' had shorted out.  Within 10 minutes he had run a new wire, and she fired right up!  We were back on the road before 4:30 am having lost about 3.5 hours, but we were on our way, nevertheless.

10) The diesel affair

This tenth and final example of what can go wrong when you are not paying close attention to what fuel pump you are using to put 'diesel' in your tank.  It was March of 2013.....we had been nomads for about 14 months now, and having faced a few trials on the road were pretty confident.  We were northbound on I-95 out of Stuart, FL to visit friends Chris and Cherie (Technomadia) in Melbourne, FL.  We needed to take on some diesel fuel, and using Gas Buddy had found a 7-11 station in that town with a pretty good diesel price.  We exited the Interstate and headed for the station.  I put in a call to Chris and Cherie that we would be there for lunch in about 30 minutes.  We pulled into the 7-11 station to the 'green' pump where I got out and began to pump in 50 gallons of what I thought was diesel fuel.....not so much.  After putting in 50 gallons we had a little over 100 gallons in our tank, and began driving to the local Lowe's where we planned to park for a few hours while we had lunch and visited with Chris and Cherie.  About a mile down the road the 6V92 stalled out....hmmm, that had never happened before.  It started right up and we continued on our way to the Lowe's....about two signals down the road the coach stalled again.....this time was harder to start, but it did and as we were making our right hand turn into the Lowe's parking lot the engine stalled again and would not restart.....I coasted into a parking spot and stopped. I'm thinking at this point that I have gotten some bad fuel and it had clogged my fuel filters. 

I call Chris and Cherie and they agree to meet us at the Lowe's with a few gallons of diesel so we can prime the new filters I am going to install.  They arrive about 30 minutes later with the promised diesel, we change out the filters after priming the new ones, and the coach starts right up.  I am relieved, but the relief is short lived....within 5 minutes the now idling 6V92 stalls again.  Now I am going into panic mode.....Chris suggests I call the 7-11 to tell them we think they have bad fuel.....the girl who answers politely listens to what I have to say, then drops this bombshell...."Sir, we don't sell diesel at this station and never have.  Our green handled pumps are for our medium grade unleaded gas".....I sit there stunned, say "thank you", and then hang up the phone.  The realization of what I have inadvertently done begins to crystallize in my brain....I have just put 50 gallons of medium grade unleaded into my diesel fuel tank, and now have 100 gallons of worthless fuel.  I have to get that fuel out and refill it with $4/gallon I have just flushed $400 down the proverbial toilet!

Chris suggests I call a local marina to see if I can get a referral to a pumping service to come remove my bad fuel.  After a few calls we find a guy who will come out the next morning to remove the fuel, and the rest is damage to the 6V92, but counting the $400 of bad fuel removed, plus completely filling the tank with 180 gallons of good diesel we have just spent almost $1,200 on fuel in less than 24 hours, plus the $150 to pump out the bad fuel.  Lesson learned.....always verify you are pumping diesel.....TLE is more than happy to provide that verification service now when ever we stop to take on fuel....:-)

So, what is the point of rehashing all of the above?  I guess the point is, as I stated to begin with, is that 'stuff' will is not a matter of 'if' stuff will go wrong, but 'when'.  When things break, or you make a mistake it is just a matter of taking your time to examine the problem, consult with more knowledgeable people if needed, and then come up with a course of action to fix whatever it is that needs fixing.  Naturally, some things will be 'above your pay grade' and you will need to call your ERS, but many things can be fixed by you.  

Too many people encounter these kinds of issues on the road, and give up saying it's too hard and go back to their 'sticks and bricks' lives.  Things go wrong in a 'sticks and bricks' home too, but you don't give up and sell the house, right?  The difference is you are home in your comfort zone.  You either fix it yourself, or call a tradesman to come out and fix it.  On the road, you are often in unfamiliar surroundings, and perhaps unfamiliar with your RV systems. Sure, it is uncomfortable when your black water tank springs an unexpected leak, or your tire explodes, but you learn to deal with it and then get on with your life.  As my friend Tom says......"Most everything can be fixed with a credit card, and a little time, and patience".

So, how do you prepare for the inevitable?  The same as at carry the appropriate tools with you to work on your subscribe to an emergency roadside carry extra fuel filters, water hoses, fan belts, etc., and, hopefully, cultivate relationships with a few good people who can advise, or help you when 'stuff goes wrong'.

Thanks for stopping by!


  1. It is so cool that you and Nina (and others) have posted all the things to have gone wrong with your travels. We have ALL faced something, some major some minor, if one has traveled long enough. It isn't "if", it is "when", as you both have said. What is also reassuring is that "some" of what happened is due to "driver failure" (since typically it is the driver who empties black tanks, pumps the fuel, etc.). We have had our share of breakdowns and errors, and I have documented just about all of them on our is nice having them in one spot, and I might just do that one of these days too. Thanks, sure enjoy your daily blog. --Dave (

  2. We haven't gone the diesel route but we did decide to go the classic/antique route. We're in our second "old timer" motorhome. The first was a 1982 Class C and now we have a 1984 Class A. I'm just happy I can work on it. Parts are never a problem. Chevy 454's are abundant. Enjoyed your blog today because your attitude matches ours. We went thru an engine replacement last Nov/Dec and it delayed us for a few weeks, no big deal. Keep up the good blog. Our blog is Rolling Earthquake... Charlie


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