Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bathroom Checks Out Okay

It had to happen.  In six years of RV travel, we have been fortunate in avoiding a debilitating illness that would disrupt our plans.  Until now.  On our planned day of departure from OKC, I awoke with terrible stomach cramps and began the series of, uh, rituals that are generally associated with gastric distress.  After thinking back over the previous day's food ingestion, it seems likely that I picked up a bug from a real dive featured in a segment of Food TV's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  There were a couple of items I ate that Sandy didn't, and we suspect one of those was the culprit. 

Anyhow, I was in no condition to drive, so we advised the park that we would be staying an extra day.  Although I felt quite weak the next morning, I decided to drive Phannie home, and the trip was completely uneventful, thankfully.

At one point, Sandy sweetly offered to drive, but she quickly withdrew that suggestion, perhaps upon noticing all the color drain from my already pale face.  Now, my dear Sandy has many gifts and talents, but dealing with machinery, especially vehicles, is not one of them.  She will be the first to admit that she hates driving and has no sense of direction, and I'm pretty sure she has avoided a significant accident this long because of the many prayers that go up when people find out she is driving somewhere.

Garages are particularly challenging for her, and it should be noted that she has managed to collide with a center post, a side post, a freezer (twice), and she has even collided with a vehicle I was driving!  Some time ago, she called my office in a panic because, in attempting to back out of the garage in our Suburban, she had struck the right side of the garage door frame and tore the tail light assembly off the car.  When I arrived at home and raised the garage door, I found the Suburban parked sideways in the garage, a configuration she somehow attained while trying to maneuver farther away from the side of the garage.  After sitting immobile in my car for some time, staring at the image before me, I finally strode over to the Suburban and extricated it from its position.  Sandy appeared at the door about that time, visibly miffed--not because of damaging the car, but because she had missed her hair appointment.  She quickly called her hairdresser and explained what had happened, to which the hairdresser replied, "Oh, this is not good, girl; you need to find a way to make it your husband's fault!  That wasn't difficult at all, as I heard Sandy say back to her, "Well, it WAS his fault; he parked too close to the wall!"  

You may now have discerned that it is not entirely necessary to feel sorry for Sandy as I relate her escapades in this blog.  She gives as good as she gets, and I get away with less than you think.

Perhaps now it is clear why it might not be the best idea to put Sandy behind the wheel of a 40-foot, 32,000-lb. motor home.   The things that could happen in such a circumstance are limited only by one's imagination.

We had only one other hiccup while we were in OKC.  At one point, we lost power to all the AC plugs, and when I attempted to reset the circuit breaker in the coach, I found none of them tripped.  An RV tech happened to be in the park that day and showed me where to reset the inverter circuit breaker in the battery bay.  I guess the PDI was not as decent as I thought when we picked up Phannie.

How did Sandy occupy her time when I was attending training classes?  Well, she has some favorite TV shows, and she's reading Laura Bush's memoir.  She also likes to keep up with friends and family with e-mail and Facebook. 

Sandy checks Facebook

So this closes out the shakedown cruise.  We got to know Phannie a good deal better, and we think we're going to be great friends.    

Monday, July 25, 2011


The 220 miles to OKC were smooth, comfortable and uneventful, but the temperature outside proved to be even hotter than in Texas!  Much to my delight, Tiffin installed a high-volume dash a/c on the Phaeton, and we didn't have to augment with roof air until the last hour or so of the trip.  If it hadn't been so miserably hot, we probably wouldn't have needed the extra boost.

We pulled into the Twin Fountains RV Park, recommended by Ed and Marilyn, and got a nice level pull-through spot with good satellite TV reception.  Then we went about getting things organized in Phannie, moving our stuff around as we found the right place for the household items we use.

Twin Fountains Office
Nice clean park with level paved site
While Sandy was taking care of "pink" things inside (where it was cool), I did the "blue" things outside, breathing only as absolutely necessary so as to not parch the inside of my lungs in the oven-like atmosphere.  Yes, I suppose I am a little spoiled due to my almost total existence within air conditioned surroundings, but I don't care.  When autumn weather gets here, I think about breathing again.

One of the recurring themes in changing to a motorhome from a fifth wheel has been to reduce the physical demands of RV travel.  To that end, I added a purely "blue" accessory:  A motorized rollup reel for the electrical shore power cord.  This thing is so handy!  No need now to crouch on bad knees and roll up the heavy cord on the spindle provided by Tiffin inside one of the cargo bays.  Just press the switch on the electric motor and the cord rolls up quickly with no exertion.

We discovered a burned-out halogen light bulb in the bedroom, and I was then able to initialize my plan to replace all of these halogen bulbs with LED lights as the halogens burn out, one by one.  I had a spare LED, and voila!  Brighter light with none of the heat put out by the halogen bulb--another great example of modern technology improving our lives.  These LEDs will far outlast the life of this coach, and they will use much less electricity while providing better lighting.  The only problem is that they are currently about six or seven times more expensive than the halogens.  Thankfully, I won't have to replace them all at once.

Halogen Lights

Burned-out halogen bulb

New LED bulb

We had some good Thai food for dinner and relaxed in Phannie's new recliners while we watched TV before turning in.  By the way, we love the great new I Comfort mattress.  The first day of the shakedown cruise comes to and end as a success!

Shakedown Cruise: Departing for OKC

As much as we hate to do road trips in Texas (or anywhere in the South, for that matter) when the weather is so miserably hot, the three-day FAA training session at the academy in Oklahoma City seemed a good opportunity to launch the dynamic duo of Phannie and Mae and see exactly what our efforts--and cash--had brought us.  

True, we had driven Phannie and Mae home from Nacogdoches when we completed the purchase, but that didn't count, because we really didn't know what we were doing.  Even though we had had a test drive and a pretty decent PDI, driving Phannie solo was much like trying to fly a new airplane without reading the operating manual and making only one flight around the airport traffic pattern.  I felt pretty uncomfortable fumbling for the myriad of switches and controls; at one point, I accidentally hit the air horn and startled the heck out of both of us.

Once home, I pored over the owner's manuals (there are many of them--for the coach, the chassis, the engine, the transmission, the entertainment systems, the appliances, etc., etc.), and slowly I began to be more comfortable with my knowledge of the systems and operating limitations.  Following that, I drove Phannie to the local Allison transmission and Caterpillar engine shops for some tweaking.  (Warning:  Techno-speak ahead; if you're not into that, you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph and a couple that follow it.)  I had the transmission downshift reprogrammed to fifth gear instead of second gear when the engine exhaust brake is engaged.  The automatic downshift to such a low gear seemed entirely too radical for my liking and caused the engine to speed up over 2500 RPM unnecessarily.  The tamer downshift to fifth gear is much more reasonable and, if I need a lower gear, I'll simply select it myself.

At the Cat shop, I had the technicians set the engine computer to soft cruise and latch mode.  Soft cruise allows a gentler automatic throttle control when in cruise, making for smoother speed and power changes when going uphill and downhill.  Latch mode causes the engine exhaust brake, if selected on, to actuate any time the throttle is closed above a certain speed and to disengage whenever the throttle or braking is applied, adding a desirable degree of automation to exhaust brake usage.  After this, I asked the Cat technicians to do a computer download for me, and I learned that that was the first time a download had been done on this engine.  There was a lot of information on the printout, and I was careful to include it in the maintenance record after studying it for a while.  I was happy to learn that the previous owner seems to have taken good care of the engine, as everything looked perfectly normal.  By the way, I learned about these adjustments from reading the Tiffin and Caterpillar forums, and I'm very pleased how useful the information was.  Phannie is now a smooth driving machine with excellent manners and easy power control.

In preparation for the OKC trip, I did my usual check of fluids and filters, washed the windshield and checked the tire pressures.  I made good use of the heavy duty truck tire inflator/guage that I had purchased earlier.  It's the kind that has a forward/backward valve necessary for dual wheel installations.  Fortunately, I already had a 150 psi air compressor, which now couldn't be considered overkill. (End of technospeak.)

Next came the checklists, which I fashioned from note cards and taped to the left driver's console.  If I learned anything from thirty years of flying, it was that checklists are indispensable as a means of self-preservation; those pesky airplane crashes usually don't turn out well.  And, since all sorts of ugly things can happen if a motorhome launches without ensuring all its appendages are tucked in and its systems ready to go, it would be foolish not to use a checklist.  The thought of Phannie's expensive satellite antenna being left up and getting taken out by a tree limb sends chills up my spine and down into my pocketbook.  So, I use a checklist for loading the coach, a pre-driveoff checklist and a checklist for using the leveling system, which is not particularly user friendly.

Homemade Checklist Added

With all the pre-departure stuff done, I backed Phannie with great care out of her snug RV berth and parked at the curb to hook up Mae.  Having previously only observed the dealer's employee hooking up the Blue Ox towbar between Phannie and Mae, I was a little uneasy about performing the process myself, a task that must be done correctly if I indeed want Mae to arrive at the same destination as Phannie.  So, what do you do if you need a quick primer on something?  Bring up YouTube on your computer, of course!  A quick search on "Blue Ox" brought a very informative demonstration video that lasted about five minutes.  Perfect!  Armed with this refresher, I nudged Mae up to the towbars behind Phannie and, in a few minutes, everything was connected and the lights tested, just like on the video.  Is there anything you can't find on the Internet?  What a great time to be alive for information junkies like me!

All Hooked Up!

Next came the final chore before departure:  Making sure Phannie was suitably cool and comfortable when the lady of the manor herself, the lovely and gracious Sandy, made her way out to Phannie and ascended the stairwell to her oh, so comfortable throne--the luxuriously soft leather Flexsteel power recliner that is the copilot's seat.  Knowing that Sandy recoils from summer heat like a vampire from a crucifix, I cranked up Phannie's diesel generator and turned on all three air conditioners to the coldest setting to precool the rig.  It didn't take long for the coach to cool down to a temperature which you would expect in, say, Anchorage.

In due time, when Sandy finished all of her own little rituals in the house, like triple-checking each door lock and closing the shutters, she strode out to what was now about fifty feet of connected rolling stock and climbed aboard.  Feeling the cool air rushing down the stairwell brought a smile, and when she kicked back in the recliner with an iced tea in her hand, I'm pretty sure I heard a contented purr.  Life is good, and we're off to OKC!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Making Phannie our Own–Creature Comforts

We humans are really programmed differently, aren’t we?  The comments on my recent posts—which I love getting—reflect the diversity of thought and opinion that makes us all part of a fascinating mosaic.  For example, it hadn’t occurred to me that some folks would have a disdain for air conditioning and consider it a necessary evil, but I can certainly understand the desirability of enjoying fresh air when you can. 

For us here in Texas, it’s hard to remember what cool, fresh air is like.  The problem is that there isn’t any during the five months that constitute the main travel season.  The reason it’s not fresh is because our wind is first routed through hell and then out over the landscape, parching it like a giant hair dryer.  That’s why Amarillo isn’t a port city on the Gulf of Mexico—the hellish wind has dried it up!  And that explains why we added the third air conditioner to Phannie and why we would probably call a wrecker if it went out.

We actually admire those rugged folks who ignore the harsh elements and do things like drive with their windows down on a July afternoon in Texas.  There is a certain cachet, I suppose, in leathery skin and crow’s feet that imply durability--like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Old Testament, for example; they certainly could have used some cool air!  I suppose we would have survived had we lived before Willis Carrier invented air conditioning in 1902, but who would want to?

That brings me to some other creature comforts that we added to Phannie.  When the coach was built, Tiffin installed two sleeper sofas that faced each other across the center aisle. This configuration is great for visitors, who could look directly at each other while chatting, but not so great for watching the TV, which is installed in the front end of the coach.  Being prone to getting a stiff neck, I instructed the dealer to remove one of the sofas.  Then we found, at Dillard’s, two euro-style swivel recliners—perfect for TV watching and snoozing (something we seem to do more and more often).  They’re very comfortable and easy to move around as needed.
In this photo, the slides are in; when they’re out, it’s much roomier for the recliners.

The next item to be dealt with was the mattress in the bedroom.  It’s hard for me to imagine why Tiffin would put such a sorry mattress in a multi-hundred thousand dollar motorhome!  It’s even harder to imagine how the previous owner endured it during the time he owned it.  In readying each of the RVs we’ve bought, one of the first things to go has been the mattress; it was no different with Phannie.  We found a newish technology Serta I-Comfort king to our liking, and the store delivered to Phannie and took away the thing that it replaced: You really couldn’t call the old one a mattress; it was merely a rectangular object upon which you could place a bedspread to give the appearance that a bed was underneath.  I'm fairly certain that sleeping on it would have been fatal.

Finally, there was an issue with the, uh, toilet.  Shockingly, the factory had installed a model whose bowl could not be filled with water after flushing.  We had never seen that before and, well, let’s just say that’s not acceptable and let it go at that.  We ordered it replaced with a top-of-the-line porcelain unit that works as one accustomed to indoor plumbing would expect.  We’re still scratching our heads over that strange toilet installation, wondering if it had something to do with the fact that the Tiffin motorhome factory is in Alabama.  (Just kidding; we love Alabama and Alabamans!)

We are readying for a shakedown cruise on Monday; I have an all-week training course in Oklahoma City, and we will let Phannie and Mae stretch their legs as we get more familiar with them.  I'll be posting a bit more often for the next few days during this trip.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Making Phannie our Own–A/C Rules!

Mel, our salesman, blinked when we told him a third air conditioner would need to be added to Phannie.  Apparently,  he had not often heard that particular request, but it took only a couple of seconds to respond with, “Sure, we can do that!”  (His ‘customer is always right’ sales training must have been successful.)  And they did; the technicians dropped that puppy right into one of the roof openings formerly occupied by a vent fan and voila!  The need for a refrigerator in Phannie is now questionable!

Why a third air conditioner?  One word:  Texas.  As much as I love my state, I hate her summers.  There is no escape from the Hades-like heat.  We are virtual prisoners from June through September, hopelessly confined to whatever air conditioned space we can find.  We’re so looking forward to retirement, when we can simply escape in June and go north until October or November.

I suppose we could get a break somewhere out in the Davis Mountains in west Texas, but I don’t think even they are high enough to make much difference.  We have survived by air conditioning everything—perhaps even over-air conditioning.  Our SUV has a/c in the front and in the rear; our smallish house has six tons of air conditioning.  But when we crank the thermostat down to a daytime temperature of 73 degrees, where we’re comfortable, we expect 73 degrees and we expect it relatively quickly.  Such was not the case with Phannie (or with Homer, for that matter).  On the hottest days where there was no shade, the two a/c units would struggle, and we found that to be the case with virtually every large coach we’ve seen with only two air conditioners. 

So, dropping in an extra unit was a no-brainer, and the problem is forever solved.  Furthermore, if one of the units happens to fail, we can still be relatively comfortable with the other two.

Now, before you classify us as energy hogs, you should know that we spent quite a bit extra for foam insulation, double-pane windows and energy-efficient appliances when we built the house.  As a result, our energy cost is incredibly low—sometimes less than our water/sewer bill!  With this in mind, we don’t apologize for having a cool Phannie!  (Grin) 

The new a/c is toward the bottom of the photo.IMG_0654

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Making Phannie Our Own–New TVs

After five years with Homer, Sandy and I had become intimately familiar with our fifth wheel and all of its furnishings and systems.  While it was by no means a top-of-the-line RV, it was comfortable, and we pretty much knew where everything was and how it all worked.

Then, along came Phannie!  Well, the differences are staggering!  It will take us quite a while to get comfortable in this behemoth.  Before we even took delivery, we decided there were certain things about Phannie that would have to change.  Perhaps the most ambitious of these was scrapping the old (2006) television sets and replacing them with new Samsung high-definition LCDs—one for the main lounge and another for the bedroom.  We also replaced the old DVD players with new Samsung Blu-Rays.  This required some modification to the cabinetry, which was expertly done by Motorhomes of Texas in Nacogdoches.  To get the hi-def signal into the coach, we had the dealer install a new Winegard automatic hi-def satellite antenna.

Why all the fuss and expense?  Well, we have gotten used to our hi-def TVs at home and, frankly, we now find it hard to watch the old non-high definition blurry screens. Since Phannie will be our home away from home, we don’t think our entertainment experience should be diminished.  Fortunately, the factory-installed surround sound system seemed fine, so we kept that in place.
Pop in a DVD and Julie Andrews sings, "The Hills are Alive..." on the main lounge TV
New bedroom TV
With all the fancy new electronics, I decided it would be a good idea to install a Surge Guard electrical power monitor.  If you do much RVing, it’s only a matter of time until you hook up to shore power that has voltage or polarity problems, and the Surge Guard will only allow power it likes into the coach.  It has already shown its worth by rejecting a hookup at the dealership, where a 50-amp receptacle had a loose wire and sporadic electricity flow. 
Surge Guard Electric Power Monitor

I mentioned in the last post that I had decided on a frequency for blogging.  I've come to accept that, until I retire, I  just can't be as prolific a writer as many of the daily bloggers I read.  On the other hand, six months between posts is a little difficult to explain.  (I thought my excuses in the last post were pretty good, though.)  Lord willing, I’m going to try to update this rag about once a week if at all possible.

We’ve a lot more to tell you about getting to know Phannie, and that will continue in the next installment.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Overcome by Events and A Blog Name Change

“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” – Benjamin Franklin

What has happened to Homer and Lucille and their owners?  Where shall I begin—my medical problems?  My daughter’s wedding?  The new RV? 

With all that’s been going on, something had to give; blogging was the loser.   I have also used this time to decide what kind of blogger I’m going to be and how frequently I plan to post; more about that in another post.

I’m going to try to condense into three paragraphs those things that have kept me in a blogging strait jacket.  Here goes: 

The medical problems involve a couple of episodes of atrial fibrillation and an arthritic hip.  Medication seems to have solved the afib, and eventual surgery—when I’m good and ready—will hopefully resolve the hip issue. 

Mindy and Tyler, our daughter and son-in-law, after getting married in a civil ceremony a couple of years ago, decided to hold a commitment ceremony at their large church here in the mid-cities.  Whatever it was, it was still a big church wedding with the substantial price tag that fathers—including this one—underwrite.  Mindy and her mother, as would be expected, jumped headlong into the whirlwind of wedding planning and I was caught up in the vortex much more often than I wished.  On those occasions when I was tossed mercifully, if only temporarily, out of this tornado, I dutifully followed the advice I was given:  Shut up and write the check.  It was a lovely wedding, and Mindy was very respectful of our budget.  She made many of the decorations herself, and we marveled at her creativity!

The new RV?  Well, thank Mr. Arthritis for that.  While we enjoyed our fifth wheel, tending it was somewhat demanding, physically, and I was getting to a point where all the hitching, unhitching, kneeling and bending was becoming a bit much for me and Arthur (Itis).  So, we bade farewell to Homer and Lucille and now own a 2006 Allegro Phaeton QDH motor home.  It is quite new to us, as we have driven it only from the dealer’s lot to our home near Fort Worth.  We will devote many other posts to our getting to know Phannie.  (Yes, the first order of business was to give her a name—“Phannie” Phaeton.  We also acquired a dinghy, a bright red 2009 HHR, that we have named “Mae,” as in Fannie Mae.  Get it?  Okay, maybe it’s a bit lame, but I’m hoping they will not acquire the infamy of their failed namesake that helped create our national financial crisis.)

With the arrival of the new vehicles, the name of the blog must also change once again.  Ergo, the reason you see Phannie and Mae instead of Homer and Lucille.  (See, there’s yet another change; you can’t get away from them!)   As if this were not enough, I’m changing the blog template as well—may as well go for a trifecta.