In the 2001 movie, Rat Race, Kathy Bates tries to sell a squirrel to Whoopi Goldberg and her daughter. They defer but ask Kathy Bates for directions. Being a race, they are traveling at breakneck speed down one road after another following the directions. Finally at one point, hurtling down a gravel road with dust billowing behind they pass a sign: "You Should Have Bought a Squirrel." That is followed by a scene of them going over a cliff, landing on a pile of rusted and wrecked cars. It is one of our favorite moments in a favorite movie. It is also a quote we use frequently as we travel, not only on the road but through life. One or the other of us will turn to the other and say, "We should have bought a squirrel."
Our travels this spring have brought back that saying frequently. It starts with a problem that I've been trying to get fixed all winter. Repeated visits to repair shops still yields no solution. We have no taillights. The turn signals and brake lights work. The emergency flashers work. We still have no taillights. So we are restricting our travel to daylight only. For the most part, that isn't a problem since I have avoided night travel for the last several years.
Given that condition, we departed early on the morning of April 18 to attend the Lone Star Chapter of FMCA rally in Johnson City, TX. Arriving there just after noon, we parked. I went to step out of the coach and found that the electric step hadn't opened fully. After stepping out of the coach carefully, I examined the step to find that a link from the motor to the step was missing. Not broken, it was gone! I carry a separate step for those days when the front of the coach is raised well above the ground. So we used that step for the rally. I used zip ties to fasten the disabled step in the retracted position for travel to our next destination, Austin.
Monday I had an appointment to get two new Michelin tires mounted on the coach. I have adopted the practice of replacing the front tires every two years and then moving the used front tires to the rear, both tires replace the oldest pair of rear dual tires. In this case, the coach wasn't in a shop, the work was done outside the shop so I had complete access to the coach and could talk with the workers. An aside, I have yet to find a tire tech who knows how to properly torque a lug nut.
As they were mounting the tires on the rims, I inspected the brake rotors and gave the underside of the front of the coach a good looking-over. Peering into the area behind the drivers-side tire I noticed something strange. There was a large object dangling there in the center of the coach. I recognized this as the supplementary air compressor which is part of the HWH air leveling system. It maintains our level position when we are parked and it was still working.
The pump and it's mounting plate weighed at least 30 pounds and they were hanging by the air hoses (2) and the electrical supply and control wires. Had this dropped off en-route, who knows what would have been destroyed in the process. After bouncing along under the coach, it would have encountered our GMC Acadia! I considered myself very lucky, fortunate to have found this dangerous condition. I found a large C-clamp in my tools and was able to clamp the remaining mounting plate to the frame. I've added a second clamp to help secure the assembly just to be sure.
I have an appointment at the factory service center to get this properly remounted but we will travel at least 1500 miles before that happens. I'm not going to turn over welding on the frame to just anyone. What had happened to the original mounting plate? It had cracked, all the way across a 3/8" steel plate that was about 10" wide. Apparently 170,000 miles of highway travel had vibrated it to the point that it broke! The piece that was welded to the frame is still there and it matches the piece that broke off. Metal fatigue had nearly done us in.
I ordered a rebuild kit for the Kwikee Step, new motor, linkage, control center, it was all different since our step was new. I was able to successfully install that at home before we left for the summer on May 5. Our second day out we stopped at an RV park in eastern Louisiana. The next morning, Louise cranked the engine to air up in preparation for bringing our slides in before departure. She turned the key, the engine answered, "Uggg." I stopped my disconnecting process to go inside and jump the engine battery with the house batteries. Successful, I went back outside to finish getting us road ready. Before leaving we decided to run the generator but the house batteries didn't have the umph to crank the generator! So with the engine now running I jumped the house batteries with the engine battery. The generator started.
Now with everything running, I got on the computer and then the phone to call a RV shop along our route. With luck, I called Billy Thibodeauxs Premier RV Inc. near Lafayette, Louisiana. Finding the shop was an adventure, if you decide to follow in our footsteps, check their website for the best route to get there. Ashley was very friendly and efficient. By the time we arrived just before noon I was informed that the batteries would be delivered to the shop by 1:30 p.m. and they would install them as soon as they arrived. Believe it or not, we were back on the road by 3:00 p.m., $1900 lighter but with good batteries.
Leaving I-10 for I-59, we left the heavy traffic behind and pulled into a truck parking area just before sunset (remember our coach turns to a pumpkin after sunset). Our final adventure for the initial trip occurred in Chattanooga, TN. Passing through town on I-59/I-24 to get to I-75, we were in the center lane of rush hour traffic. Coming down a hill I applied the brakes as traffic came to a stop. The fuel in the fuel tank sloshed to the front and the engine stopped! Yes, I knew we were low on fuel, a station was just up the road on I-75 and we planned to make that stop our night stay at Walmart. I tried to restart the engine, no luck. Whoever was behind us on the right side must have realized our situation because they stopped to allow us to coast down the hill through the right hand lane to the shoulder. I came to a stop just before an overpass but on level ground. Now on the level, the engine started. I wondered how long that would last but pulled back onto the highway and we continued on. Now I stayed in the right lane.
Looking for the Walmart and the accompanying Murphy station, we came up empty. It wasn't where the GPS led us. I had established several years before that Murphy isn't a subsidiary of Walmart and there are stations that are located at separate locations. It turned out the station was there but Walmart wasn't. As we passed it later, I looked and it would have been a difficult in and out for us.
Passing the location, we noticed a small station on the opposite side of the street. They had diesel and at the same price as Murphy. We frequently patronize small stations but I do approach them with extreme caution. The canopy has high enough, the in and out route was do-able so we looped through a large parking lot and returned to that station.
Louise got out to scout for the diesel pump as I idled on the road in position to pull up to the diesel pump wherever it was. She signaled a location and I pulled in. I put 109 gallons of diesel in a 127 gallon tank. I had to laugh when I retrieved my credit card and got the fuel receipt from the clerk in the Citgo station. We had refueled at the "Save a Ton #2" in Chattanooga! I thought, "That little station saved us a lot more than a ton!" By the way, I think I made the foreign clerk's (owner?) day when he handed me my card and receipt for $291.34. What a big smile. And no, he didn't furnish his house with my credit card. Good people are everywhere! I love it when trust is rewarded.
During the winter we had the coach in the shop several times. The Aladdin system monitors our fuel very accurately but this time it was off by more than normally expected. We had run the generator quite a bit, that might account for some of the difference. So maybe I should have bought a squirrel.