Phannie

Phannie
Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Sunday, April 30, 2006

In Round Rock

After a leisurely breakfast, we drove around the area a bit and did some shopping, then we drove out to the Jim Hogg COE Park at Lake Georgetown. We toured the camping area, where there were only a couple dozen RVs occupying spots with hookups. Most of these were near the lakefront, which was very nice, even though the water level of the lake seemed quite low. We had lunch at the Monument CafĂ©, a longtime institution in Georgetown. This was a curious place, as it looked for all the world like the typical family-run local eatery found in small towns, where everyone goes for a good home-cooked meal at a cheap price. They offered chalkboard specials, which were fairly priced at $6.99, but most of them had already been sold out by the time we arrived at about 1:30 p.m. The menu items appeared ridiculously overpriced. For example, a simple hamburger was $6.95, and my two small pork chops with vegetable sides was a whopping 13 bucks! They seemed to be justifying the high prices by offering sides that were a bit more sophisticated than you ordinarily found in these little eateries. My mashed potatoes were flavored with chicken broth and butter, turning me off a bit because I found them a bit too rich. Also offered was a spinach casserole with artichoke hearts, a dish of which they had also sold out. Sandy found her hamburger to be very ordinary—perhaps a two on a scale of five. Even though we were put off by our impression that the Monument was trying to be something it wasn't, the place was quite busy, even this long after lunchtime. I'm beginning to think these poor diners are desperate for something other than chain restaurants.

We did a little more sightseeing and shopping, then turned in early, again anticipating a good night's sleep on the new king size bed. We weren't disappointed. What a difference a little more room makes!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Euless to Round Rock

It's hard to believe four months have passed since our last RV trip. We weren't particularly motivated to travel during the colder months, but there was another big reason: We were trading RVs! Having made four significant trips in the original Homer, we had pretty well zeroed in on the things about our first RV that we wanted desperately to change. Being complete novices to RV travel when we bought that rig, we accepted certain known compromises in the Jayco and discovered others as we roamed from place to place. Clearly, Homer I's tiny bathroom was the greatest annoyance, followed closely by the separate sleeping arrangements. Sandy and I have never been able to sleep together in anything but a king size bed, and Homer I's bed was not even a full queen size. Our compromise was that I would sleep in the front bedroom and she would sleep on one of the bunk beds in the rear of the coach. Under normal circumstances, it would have been the other way around, but my 6'-2" frame didn't fit in the bunk bed. Besides, Sandy was never able to overcome the claustrophobic feeling of the lower bunk. The front bedroom was also an irritation, because the ceiling was very low, and not even 5'5" Sandy could stand upright in it. Because of this, making the bed became a chore to be dreaded. Although we tried to make the experience more accommodating by replacing the factory mattresses with comfortable custom made ones, the sleeping arrangements were definitely a pain.

Of almost equal annoyance was the tiny bathroom, which contained a small shower stall and a tiny toilet. The space was so cramped that it was necessary for me to have one foot in the shower stall while sitting on the "throne." The impossibly small sink was on the outside of the bathroom, and one couldn't help but splash water everywhere while washing up.

Another problem area was the lack of kitchen counter space. There was almost none! Meal preparation is very frustrating when you don't have a place to work. These were the sorts of little problem areas that we knew were there in Homer I, but we didn't realize that living with the compromises would become more untenable with each succeeding trip. If I had a piece of advice for other newbies, it would be to consider carefully that the passage of time doesn't necessarily make the heart grow fonder about living with these frustrations every day. In fact, the small living space seems to magnify them exponentially. If you're shopping for an RV, and you know that your prospective rig has a feature that you're not particularly happy about, you will probably grow to despise it once you own it and live in it!

This was the backdrop for our visit last February to the RV show held in the Tarrant County Convention Center in Fort Worth every winter. After roaming around the huge hall for about an hour, we happened upon a 2006 Sierra fifth wheel, model 295 RGD, made by Forest River. Its layout and features were such that none of our Homer I pet peeves were in evidence. It had a king size bed in a large front bedroom with freestanding full-size shower. The toilet was concealed in its own little room, and there was a full size lavatory. There was also a full wardrobe across the front of the bedroom, in which I could easily stand upright, and a dresser with lots of drawers. In the rear kitchen, there was plenty of counter space and enough room in the living area for two recliners, something that we had definitely missed in Homer I. It was a beautiful coach, and we were amazed how much difference a couple of feet in length and height made. Best of all, the price was right--only about eight thousand dollars more that we paid for Homer I.

We left the show dazzled by what we had seen and, after thinking about it overnight, we decided we wanted to trade up to this model. We went back to the show the next day, only to find that it had been sold! We asked one of the representatives of the dealer, United RV of Fort Worth, if he had any others, and he said no, that it was a popular model, and we would likely have to order one from the factory, as other dealers who had them in stock would be reluctant to give them up to another dealer. While I have learned to be skeptical about generalizations like this from salespeople, I let it pass. We went to United RV the next day and ordered a Sierra just as we wanted it. I have also learned the value of purchasing our RV from a local dealer. If you have problems with your unit—-and you will-—the dealer that sold it to you will always give you extra service, no matter how many assertions they make that their customer service is the same regardless of where you bought your rig. This was certainly true with Vogt RV, who sold us Homer I, and it has proved to be true with United RV, located just across the freeway from Vogt on state highway 121 in Fort Worth. So far, we can truthfully say that we've been treated well by both firms, and we would have no qualms about recommending them to others.
Homer II!

After a wait of about eight weeks, United RV called to say that our new Sierra had arrived and they were installing the new TrakVision satellite antenna that I had ordered. After having used the manual-point external dish for a couple of trips in Homer I, I declared that I would no longer be willing to go through the hassle of trying to find satellites by moving that stupid dish around outside in the weather. I wasn't very good at it, and we found that by the time we got everything set up, I was exhausted and frustrated, and had probably missed the TV show we wanted to see.

One more extra I added to the new rig was a top-of -the line porcelain toilet. The unit installed at the factory was made entirely of plastic and, because of its diminutive size, did not exactly accommodate the, ah, larger derriere.

You can tell from reading this that Sandy and I are not into "roughing it." While we like RV camping, we'd just as soon leave the "camping" part out of it. Our idea of camping is to have along with us all the same comforts and conveniences of home. This would brand us "sissified" by those folks who like outdoor camping and communing with nature's creatures, but we don't care. If we want to commune, we'll do it with drink in hand, sitting in our lounge chair under Homer's awning. Unless it gets too hot...or we see an insect or something.

An inspection of Homer II revealed that it was manufactured exactly has we had ordered, and we signed on the dotted line, leaving Homer I behind for someone else to enjoy all the extra features we had added—like the custom mattresses, the doubly large black tank and the tank flushing system. Oh well, it served its purpose, by allowing us to dip our toe into the water and see what we liked and didn't like about fifth wheels. Naturally, we took quite a hit in depreciation, but I thought, everything considered, it was money well spent.

Trading RVs is much like moving from your stick house to another one. Absolutely EVERYTHING must come out of the old trailer, and a new scheme must be thought out for placement of the stuff in the new rig. This is not easy, as the layout is much different, and one has to think carefully about where everything goes for maximum ease of access. This was made somewhat easier in the roomy Sierra, whose storage space, inside and outside, was substantially greater than the Jayco.

I hooked up the Hornet and took Homer II for a test drive. I was pleased that I couldn't tell much difference in the way it pulls compared to the Jayco, even though the new rig weighs 2200 pounds more, at 9900. Even after we get all our "stuff" loaded into the trailer, we'll still be well under the 13,000-pound towing limit for the Hornet. The new Sierra also has a much improved exterior look, thanks to the smooth fiberglass skin. Note to readers contemplating buying a trailer with aluminum exterior skin: Don't. It's much too easily dented, and you can't help but get dings all the time. This was another good lesson we learned from Homer I.

Although we have some longer trips planned this summer, I was eager to take Homer II out for a short shakedown cruise. I mentioned doing a long weekend trip down to Georgetown and Temple, where we could visit Sandy's mom and some good friends from our church when we lived in Temple years ago. Sandy was in agreement, so we brought Homer II to the house and loaded up, planning to leave on the morning of April 28. Unfortunately, a cold front was pushing its way through north Texas that morning, and the weather radar showed multiple squall lines that would be moving across I-35 during the day. I quickly decided that our departure could wait another day, so we continued with our preparations. Even though we had plenty of time to get ready for this short trip, we still forgot some things. One hindrance was that the lack of the checklist I had developed for departures in the first Homer. This checklist was a hybrid of the generic checklist contained in the Jayco owner's manual, upon which I appended extra items peculiar to us. When Homer I went away, so did the owner's manual and the checklist. It looks like we'll have to develop a new one. The older we get, the more we find it important to write notes to ourselves. The scary thing is that we sometimes forget where we put the notes. Getting old is just plain scary.

We made an uneventful trip to Georgetown, where we began to set up at the Berry Springs RV Park. This is a clean and quiet little park and fairly new, it appears. Even though it had just rained, the gravel roads and parking spots were in good shape, except for one easily avoidable mudhole at the far north end of the property. There was no cable TV, so we flipped on the TrakVision, and after a few little whirring noises, the antenna zeroed in on the correct Direct TV satellite, and the Fox News Channel popped up on the screen. What a cool gadget this antenna is! How could an RVer live without one?

After reading a few more instruction manuals on the new appliances and accessories in Homer and fiddling with everything to see how it all worked, we made our way out to Dwain and Bobbie Marshall's house, an absolutely beautiful sprawling Austin stone manse overlooking a creek at the edge of their huge back yard. Dwain and Bobbie were victims of a bus crash a few years ago wherein some great friends of ours lost their lives. Dwain lost an arm in the wreck, and his recovery was in doubt for a while. He appears now to be just as feisty as ever and is a walking testimony to God's answering prayers and the care of a loving mate. After a wonderful dinner and an evening of reminiscing, we headed back to Homer for our first night in the new sleeping digs. Our new custom king mattress was simply wonderful, and we slept like a log. It is amazing the difference a little extra room makes. So far, the new Homer seems perfect.
Bobbie and Dwain Marshall