Dodging storms from Memphis to Huntsville to Gaffney

Comments 27 Standard

When we planned this route last year, we thought most of the bad storms occurred in the Spring months.  But it turns out that Fall can be equally nasty – as we found out firsthand.  Well, now we know! Continue reading

Replacing an engine coalescing (CCV) filter

Comments 4 Standard

This is Steve’s post detailing some maintenance he did recently on the coach.  His mechanically-minded buddies may enjoy it, but probably nobody else.

Betsy has been intermittently displaying a fault code indicating “high crankcase pressure” for quite some time, and after a bunch of research, I learned one thing I could do to possibly resolve the problem is replace the crankcase ventilation (CCV) filter, also known as a coalescing filter.  Note that there is also a “coalescent” filter in the air brake system on large diesel RV’s, but the one I’m talking about here is on top of the engine on our 2008 Cummins ISL 400hp unit.  A bit confusing, and even the Freightliner guys weren’t familiar with this part when I ordered it.  But the filter itself had the word “coalescing” printed on it, so there’s no doubt.

Engines with closed crankcase systems use this filter to prevent crankcase oil from escaping the engine and reduce emissions, and my thought was that it might somehow be getting plugged up and throwing the codes.

Since the filter is on top of the engine, the only way to access it is to remove the engine cover inside the coach.  I wasn’t crazy about having a mechanic inside Betsy tearing our bedroom apart, and since the filter replacement itself is easy I decided to do the job myself. According to the mechanic, it would have been about two hours of labor for him to do it, so we saved a nice chunk of change too.  Win-win!

About 90% of the job involved removing and re-installing the bedroom access panels to change the filter, which was a simple 20-minute job.

We have a Sleep Number bed, so I deflated and disassembled the mattress to reduce the weight so I could prop up the bed base:

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I replaced a bedchamber a few years ago, so I knew how to take the mattress apart.  Mona Liza ran over and laundered all of the mattress components while I did the work

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I propped the bed base up with a piece of metal bar, backed up by a 2×4 just in case.  If this thing lands on your back, you’re toast!

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Finding the screws to remove the flooring. You may be able to use a magnet to locate them, but mine weren’t magnetic so I just yanked them out and replaced them with new ones

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Those black plates are the 2-piece engine covers that have several screws holding them together

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That rectangular cover where my hand houses the filter. About 12 bolts attach it to the engine

CCV Filter

Here’s the new filter (left) next to the old one sitting in the cover (right) . There was a spring-loaded pressure valve in the filter that I suspect was the culprit – time will tell!

Since the fault code was very intermittent, it will take a while to confirm if I fixed the problem.

Diffuser (tailpipe) replacement

I was feeling so good about how that project went that I decided to replace Betsy’s diffuser (tailpipe) while I was all sweaty and dirty.  Freightliner somehow forgot to install a new one when I had my maintenance done and asked them to do it, so I bought the part and did it myself.  Another 1/2 hour of labor cost saved!

This is the 2nd time I’ve replaced Betsy’s diffuser.  Although it’s ceramic-coated, temperatures of over 900º give it a limited lifespan and make it impossible to keep clean.

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That simply won’t do…

Since I don’t happen to carry an air hammer with a cutting chisel in the coach, I drilled a whole bunch of small holes and then cut between them with a hammer and chisel to remove the old piece:

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Now that’s more like it!

All in all a good day for Betsy!



 

Winter Maintenance for Betsy – Riviera, TX

Comments 28 Standard
Eternabond tape

[Steve wrote this post, Mona Liza gets the day off!]

Like many full-time RV’ers running around the country,  we tend to slow down and “stay put” in a particular area during the coldest winter months.  We have found it’s the best time for us to complete the many little maintenance items we’ve added to our list during the more intense travel months.

Betsy

You want me to treat you good, you better treat me good!

This is our third winter on the road, and as you know Texas is this year’s state of choice after spending the winters of 2012 in Arizona and 2013 in Florida.  Our current list of “to-do” items is many, but the number of decent weather days to do them has been few!  I had planned to complete everything by mid-January, but it was not to be due to several weeks of cold, windy and wet weather.  Thanks to better days here at Riviera, TX I’m just about back on schedule.

Note:  If you don’t own a coach or full-time you may want to skip this post!

So, here’s how I’ve been spending my time while Mona Liza terrorizes the local bird population:

Installed new batteries –

My highest priority regarding mechanical maintenance was to replace all of our batteries – coach and chassis – after 6 years of constant use.  We purchased the new ones as soon as we arrived at Port Aransas, since there was a major Interstate battery warehouse just down the road in Corpus Cristi, and those were the batteries I wanted.  You should have seen our poor car sagging in the rear as I hauled over 350 pounds of batteries home!

Except for the physical workout of hauling 5 new batteries home and 5 used batteries back to the warehouse, this wasn’t a tough project.  I photographed and took notes of the cable connections, then disconnected the main cables from each “group” of batteries to the coach and chassis.  After that it was just a matter of removing the cables that made up the parallel connections between the batteries and then removing them.

I scraped and then cleaned the trays with a water/baking soda mixture, then applied a rust inhibitor where needed before painting everything a nice satin black.  While that dried I cleaned the cables and hold-down brackets.  Finally, I put those shiny new ones in and hooked everything back up.

Some tips (certainly not exhaustive):

  • Don’t even think about doing this job without wearing safety goggles!
  • Wear the junkiest clothes you own, then throw them away when you’re done.  The battery acid will eat them, and I wouldn’t want to put them into anyone’s washing machine.
  • Always disconnect negative cables first, and reconnect them last, to avoid accidental arcing with your tools.
  • Use a good-quality steel brush to clean all cable connections.
  • Vaseline on the connections works well to reduce future corrosive buildup.

Re-carpeted our entry steps –

A no-brainer, and an easy project on a nice day.  Some contact cement and a brush to apply it with, and some good quality outdoor carpet of your choice.  After measuring carefully, I folded ours over the front of the steps and held it down with some metal doorway trim.

Insulated our indoor cabinets –

Well, here’s one we could do on a cold, miserable day!  Also a great time to go through all of our “stuff” and clean the cabinets.  I added about 1/4″ to my measurement in each direction to create an “interference fit”, and then stuck a couple of small double-sided tape squares to the back just for extra hold.  We haven’t had a warm enough day to test the benefits yet, but I think it actually looks pretty cool!  We got this idea from John and Pam when we checked out their installation.

Lubed the chassis –

Probably my most dreaded maintenance project – cramped, greasy, filthy job.  I was happy to have an image of all the grease points in the binder I got from my Camp Freightliner class.  There are several that aren’t at all obvious, including at the rear of the chassis.  And make sure to get the ones on the drive shaft u-joints.  One thing that helped me this time was having the front end of the coach jacked up quite a bit because the site wasn’t level.  It gave me much more room to crawl around.

 Installed Eternabond tape on the roof –

I finally got a nice enough day to check the drip rails along the sides of the roof, and attention was definitely needed.  Rather than trying to remove all of the old sealer and replace it with new (which I’ve heard several times can result in new leaks), I bought 2″ Eternabond tape and sealed from the roof to over the lip of the drip rail.  I used sandpaper to roughen up the drip rail, then blew away any dirt before cleaning the area with lacquer thinner.

The edge of our roof is black, so I got the black tape to make it less noticeable (it comes in white and in various widths).  This stuff isn’t cheap, but it’s supposed to be pretty fantastic and I’ll be watching it closely over the next few months to see how it holds up.

Installed a Maxxair roof vent/fan –

Although we already had a Maxxair fan installed over our bathroom, it failed and we found another model that we like better.  The old one was the 7000-series unit with the big, long hood over it.  The big advantage of it was that the vent could be opened in the rain and while driving, neither of which we do.  And believe me when I tell you that the old one was almost impossible to clean due to its complexity.

MAXXAIR ROOF

Removing the old vent – you can see my bare foot  – my next project is to apply the roof protectant and I didn’t want to drag dirt and grass onto my clean roof!

The new vent/fan is the Maxxair 4500K, which is pretty much a direct replacement for the standard roof vent opening.  It also has a great remote for VCI’s (vertically-challenged individuals – one lives here), with multiple controls and thermostatic operation.

As you may know, the toughest part of this job is to get the old fan and caulk removed without tearing up the roof.  After that, the project was very straight-forward, and the instructions that came with the unit were easy to follow.  It works great, and we like the “smoked” cover because it lets some light into the bathroom during the day.

Removed Diamond Shield protectant –

Our coach came new with a product called Diamond Shield installed on the front cap, which protects the paint from rock chips and other debris.  The trouble is, after several years it was beginning to deteriorate and look bad.  After lots of research I decided to remove it.  I was lucky to get the plastic material off in large sections without it falling apart, but removing the adhesive remaining on the paint turned into a long and tough project.

I have finally gotten all of the adhesive off without damaging the paint.  I plan to write a post dedicated to this project, since it has been a topic of much debate on some of the RV forums.



 

Betsy robs our bank account! -Gaffney, SC

Comments 38 Standard
Cummins ISL and Allison Transmission

[Posted by Steve, Mona Liza got the day off]

This was our second journey to Gaffney, SC for Betsy’s annual chassis maintenance at the Freightliner facility.  Last year it was pretty much on our route as we headed north, and I was able to have the maintenance done while Mona Liza was in the Philippines visiting family.  This year we went quite a ways off our desired path, simply because the Freightliner Oasis Service and Training Center is so outstanding.  We don’t know what we’ll do next year when we’re out west and the maintenance comes due 😦

Gaffney Oasis Service Center

Oasis Service Centers are tailored to the needs of motorhome owners with Freightliner chassis and are generally considered to be a cut above the rest

Freightliner Service Center

This unassuming garage is considered by many to be one of the best Freightliner Service Centers in the country

How did Betsy rob our bank account?  Well, in addition to a full chassis maintenance it was also time for her to get new shoes – that’s right, 6 new tires!  After following John and Pam’s (Oh, the Places They Go!) experience getting tires here, we agreed it would be best to have the experts at Gaffney take care of it while we were “in the mood.” And when I checked our bank accounts a few days later, the money was gone!  Of course, folks reading this who own motorhomes and have replaced tires have experienced this same crime.  We all know it’s gonna happen, but WOW it hurts when it finally does!

I think all of us motorhome owners change our tires due to age, rather than mileage.  Our tires were pushing 7 years, and we’re not going to take any chances.  But, I have to say that seeing our old tire “carcasses” laying behind the Freightliner garage with all that good tread left on them just about made me cry.  Those “old” tires were 14-ply Michelin XZE’s, while the new ones are 16-ply XZE2’s, and Betsy is running down the road quite nicely now.

Another service we had done at Gaffney was a 4-corner weighing of the coach.  This is actually the third time we’ve had Betsy weighed, as we constantly try to pare down our weight.  But at the same time, new items and improvements have to go into the “heavier” column.  We’ve never been overweight, and this time we found that we have even more of a safety cushion due to the new 16-ply tires.  Mona Liza was so thrilled that she can now add some more clothes to her wardrobe – without me scaring her with stories that doing so could make all of the tires explode.  Drat, I can’t win!

Once again the guys at Freightliner in Gaffney did an excellent job in record time.  They assigned two mechanics to us, and completed the full chassis maintenance, tire balancing/mounting and weighing in one long day!

When I was here last year I attended Camp Freightliner.  I found it to be excellent, and apparently a lot of other folks agree, as it fills up many months in advance.  During the class, the instructor takes the students out back to drool over a complete chassis from the factory.  The one I saw last year was a bit dated, but while staying here this time I walked out back to discover a brand new, tag-axle chassis from the factory.  Well, I was blown away and ended up getting a sunburn by the time I finished looking at this piece of art!

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A thing of beauty – a one month-old tag-axle chassis straight out of the factory just down the highway

Cummins engine and Allison transmission

A brand-new turbocharged Cummins ISL and Allison 3000 transmission – truly a thing of beauty!

Cummins engine and Allison transmission

I stood here like this for a long time, stunned by the mechanical wonders

We were able to spend a weekend in the Service Center parking lot with free 50-amp power, which helped to offset some of the pain from that robbery that Betsy had just pulled off.

RV parking at Gaffney Service Center

The lot behind the Service Center – free 50-amp power for customers, with fresh water and a dump station nearby

Things to do around Gaffney

While we were homeless during maintenance day, and then over the weekend, we checked out the area a bit.  We took the Freightliner Chassis Factory tour, which we found fascinating (this was my second time).  It’s a free tour that walks you right down the busy assembly lines and shows RV, school bus and UPS truck chassis being built from the very first frame rail to driving off the other end.  It’s hard to find information about it on the internet, but basically you show up at 10:15 on a weekday and they will take you on the tour after a brief safety video.  Cameras aren’t allowed – if they were you would see a lot of photos right here.  It’s well worth the stop, even if you don’t own an RV.

We also went to the nearby Cowpens National Battlefield park, mostly to get some walking exercise, but also to see the displays in the park.  It was originally pasture land, but is now preserved to tell the story of the 1781 Revolutionary War.  History buffs should try to catch this if in the area.

Mona Liza was able to enjoy some quality “outlet mall time” at the Gaffney Premium Outlets, happy in the knowledge that she could safely add a few more pounds of clothes to Betsy’s chassis!

Finally, if you have time and want to check out a cool vegetable/fruit stand in the area, Strawberry Hill USA is just a few miles up Hwy 11 from the Service Center.  It is part of the Cooley Farms and is open mid-April until the beginning of November.  We realize strawberries are only in season part of the year, but we must have hit it right because they were plentiful, along with other veggies and homemade canned goods. They also have a little cafe and ice cream shop right across the highway.

Strawberry Hill USA

We came at just the right time to see a major harvest in progress

Strawberry Hill USA

Strawberry fields forever!

We must mention a restaurant that Pam suggested we check out while here.  It’s called the Carolina Cafe, and it’s a small restaurant a few miles north of the Service Center.  One of our “parking lot neighbors” told us she had just enjoyed one of the best steaks of her life at this place.  I was a bit skeptical about that, but we had no dinner plans that night so we went.  I’ll tell you what, we both agreed this was indeed one of the best steaks we’ve ever had.  Who would know this little place in Gaffney could be so excellent?  We recommend that you arrive at least 20 minutes before they open.  There will already be a line, but you’ll get right in.  If you wait any longer you’ll be waiting an hour or more – it’s that good!

 

Next up:  Back on the road in travel mode!



 

Blocks and Sunblocks – New add-ons for Betsy

Comments 29 Standard
Tire Covers

[Posted by Steve]

In between our bursts of travel to new areas throughout the country, we like to occasionally settle down for a while to not only vegetate a bit, but also to take on some of the little projects and upgrades that have been added to our “wishlist” along the way.  Of course, I do all the actual work, but only after Mona Liza gives management approval!

A couple of our most recent upgrades involved:

  1. Building a set of nice, strong jack blocks to assist with leveling Betsy, when needed. These blocks sit between the jack base and the ground to reduce the distance the jack has to extend, and they offer a larger area to distribute the coach’s weight.
  2. Installing some cool tire covers that we heard about from Gay and Joe of good times rollin.  We didn’t really like our old tire covers and have been hoping to find something better.

Jack Blocks (set of 2) –

We have tried a couple of the “indestructible” jack block products available out there, which Betsy promptly destroyed.  With Betsy’s rear jacks holding up close to 22,000 pounds, those products can either flex badly out of shape or aren’t tall enough to allow the jack to gain the needed additional height.

Jack Blocks

My finished blocks – the handles make them easy to carry

I wanted something that was tall, wouldn’t buckle, was fairly light and wouldn’t take up a lot of room in our compartment.  Here’s what I did:

Each set of 2 blocks required a half sheet of 3/4″ exterior plywood.  I’ve built only 2 blocks so far, to see how they work and determine if we need 2 more.  The plywood can be purchased in half sheets from Home Depot, which is nice if you have a small car like ours and can’t fit a whole 4’x8′ sheet in it.  While at the store, get some construction glue, about twenty 3″ galvanized or deck screws (and the bit to drive them) and 2 cheap drawer handles like the ones in the photo.  That’s all of the materials, and it shouldn’t set you back more than $40.

Jack Block

Home Depot (and probably Lowe’s) carries these half-sheets of 3/4″ exterior plywood. One of these will make two blocks

Cut the half sheet into eight 12″x12″ squares.  Stack them into 2 stacks of 4 squares and drill a couple of starter holes into each of them.  Drive two of the deck screws into the holes – this step just keeps the stacks square and together while you drill the rest of the starter holes.

Building a Jack Block

Using 3″ galvanized or deck screws worked out just right

Drill the rest of the starter holes into the squares.  I figured 9 screws on each block would be plenty, so that’s what I did.

Completed Jack Block

I used 9 screws in each of my blocks – these aren’t going to fall apart!

Take the blocks apart, but be careful to lay them so you’ll be able to stack them back together the same way.

On one block, squirt or brush the construction glue liberally onto the mating surfaces of the four pieces of wood, then stack them back together as they came apart.  Now screw all of the deck screws in until they are flush with the surface and wipe off the excess glue.

Assemble the other block, then install the handles.  I offset my handles toward the “ground”, thinking it would be easier to pull them out with my awning rod.  I’ve heard of folks attaching a length of rope to each block so they can pull it out without using a rod, but I didn’t want muddy rope that I would have to store away when it rained.

This is a simple and inexpensive project, but you will need to own or borrow a saw to cut the plywood and a drill to drive the deck screws.  After several uses, my blocks are holding up well – even on uneven surfaces.  Although I realize they won’t last forever, they’re so cheap and easy to make that I won’t mind doing it every few years.

Tire covers –

This upgrade requires only your wallet and knowing what size tires are on your coach.

We owned a set of typical fabric tire covers for years, but we were never happy with them. They were bulky, got dirty and full of bugs, and they allowed condensation to build up on our nice wheels in humid conditions – not a good thing over time.

Tire Wheel Cover

Typical wheel covers – anyone want to buy our old ones for cheap?

As soon as I heard that Magneshade started offering tire shades, I picked up the phone and ordered four of them.  This small company makes everything custom, and the quality is excellent.  We’ve enjoyed a full set of their exterior magnetic window shades for years, and these tire covers are attractive, compact, and just plain cool.

Magneshade Tire cover

You hardly know the tire covers are there, and I can show off my nice wheels (when they’re clean)

Dressing up a Motorhome Tire

Installing the covers is easy, if we do it prior to dumping our air bags which makes tire-to-wheel well clearance very tight

For our large 22.5″ tires, the cost was just under $200 for a set of four, shipping and tax included.  It’s hard to tell they are even on our rig, and I can attest to the fact that they will stay put even in tremendous winds – as we found out a couple of weeks ago.  You might want to check these folks out!

 

Up next:  Back to our travels, the hikers paradise – Great Smoky Mountains



Health Checks for Betsy at Harrisburg and Grants Pass, Oregon

Comments 2 Standard

Besides the previously-reported interior modifications we had done to our coach at Dave and LJ’s Interior Design, some other mundane mechanical issues needed to be addressed as well.  Southern Oregon seems to be a mecca for quality RV maintenance and repair shops, perhaps because it’s an area where several RV manufacturers reside.  We took a tour of the Marathon Coach factory in Eugene, which is where “high-end” coaches are built at $1,000,000+ per unit.  But some other manufacturers either used to or continue to build coaches here.  The result is that there are several shops around with highly-qualified mechanics to perform engine, chassis and coach repairs.

Elite Repair and Remodel

We stopped in Harrisburg specifically to have Elite Repair and Remodel take a look at our vexing air bag problem.  Our air suspension is supposed to deflate when we level the coach, which lowers it several inches before the hydraulic jacks extend.  Ours has NEVER worked, and the dealer did not even report to us that there was a problem when we took the coach in for a related repair.  Marty at Elite tracked down the issue to a wiring harness that was never plugged in when the coach was built.  As we’ve been told before by our friends at Wheeling It, these guys are GOOD.  Marty fixed the air bags and checked out our slides in less three hours – highly  recommended!

Henderson’s Line-Up

Next, we returned to Henderson’s Line-Up in Grants Pass to have Betsy’s alignment and suspension checked following the grueling drive on Canada’s and Alaska’s worst roads.  The upgrades they made in April held up fine and everything checked out.  Henderson’s Line-Up – another quality business here in southern Oregon.

While in Grant’s Pass, we stayed 3 nights in one of Steve’s favorite RV Parks, the River Park RV Resort along the Rogue River.  Nice and quiet with lots of big trees.  We took a 6.5 mile walk along the river by following the Rogue River Greenway Trail where blackberries abound.  At the trailhead was the Depot Street Bridge where for the first time we saw a bench actually on the bridge for looking out to the river.  Maybe there are no jumpers at Rogue River.  We also got in some quality reading time and the fall weather was fantastic!

Next – heading down to check out the Lava Beds National Monument…