Getting Agnes Home
So we bought an RV. But it was in Texas, and we live in Michigan. What better way to ease into RV life than by driving a 29 foot vehicle on a 1250 mile road trip as the first time we’ve ever driven it?
As an aside, we named her Agnes because she’s from the state of the Aggies, and she’s white and burgundy, which are their colors. So my wife dubbed her Agnes.
Preparing For The Journey
We flew to Texas on a Friday morning. My in-laws picked us up at the airport and took us out to dinner for our birthdays. Cate’s was actually the next day, but mine is in July. When we got back to their place there was Agnes in all her glory. My father-in-law (Joe) called the seller and he came over to show us around. We plugged it in and had power, so we could see the fridge worked etc. We turned on the water pump and made the sink and toilet work. It had been winterized, so we actually emptied all the tanks so we wouldn’t be hauling heavy fluid across country. Other than the chemical smells nothing smelled bad.
The seller told us the front tires had been replaced “fairly recently” but he wasn’t sure about the back tires. It has dualies, so there are 4 in the back. There was some weather checking on the outside tires which I asked about, but I was assured there was plenty of tread on the tires and they would get us home safely.
We looked over the engine, he told how the battery charging system worked, and I paid close attention. There’s a Book that came with it, but it’s mostly a huge collection of small manuals for each individual thing, like the generator, and the hot water heater. There isn’t a single manual that shows how everything works together.
For all that it’s 20 years old is has some newer stuff on it. The seller had put a new $7000 roof on it, and had had the tanks replaced. It still has a 19 inch CRT television and VCR built into it though.
We loaded all our gear into it and hit the sack. We slept in it in the yard that first night.
Hitting The Road
We got up about 7am, said our goodbyes, and hit the road. It rode a little rougher than I expected, and there was a light shimmy at 70-75 mph. Most of Texas has roads with a 75 mph speed limit, even the narrow back roads, so there was plenty of room to test various speeds.
We drove for 4 or 5 hours and I started to get sleepy. That happens to me when I drive. So we stopped at a rest stop and took a nap on the bed. It was super hot out, so we turned on the generator and ran the air conditioner. It worked great and kept us very cool.
We were in a construction zone, so there were concrete barriers on both sides of the freeway. On our right we were probably 12-24 inches from the wall. On our left was a lane of traffic. We were all moving at about 65. The RV suddenly lurched, like it had driven over something round. The back end slid sideways toward the traffic next to us. It was pretty scary. Cate thought I actually hit the wall, and that was what caused it. But it straightened out and rode fine, so we kept going. There wasn’t anyplace to stop in that zone anyway.
Near Benton, Arkansas there was a tremendous explosion in the rear of the RV. I looked in the mirror and there was smoke and giant pieces of rubber coming off the rim. I didn’t lose control very much at all, just a little swerve. We were in the right lane, so we pulled over. Cate didn’t want me to get out and look at it in traffic, so we just called AAA.
A Word About AAA
We’ve had AAA for our car and home insurance for more than 20 years now. For the most part we’ve been very happy. When we had car trouble they took care of it quickly and easily.
When we got the RV I simply called Elizabeth, my agent, and had her add it to our plan.
I’m not going to spend the many pages I could on how disappointed I am with them in our experience on this trip. The people were all very nice, but suffice it to say the architecture of the system they have there is wretched. We spent a total of about 11 hours on this trip sitting just feet from 75mph traffic. The majority of that time was trying to get people to understand what was happening, what we needed, and even simply getting connected to an agent. Every single time I called I was on hold for 20-25 minutes and the first person I talked to said “Sorry, I’m not in your area, let me start you over in the line and you’ll get someone who can help you.” Every. Single. Time.
Back To Our Story
About 15 minutes after calling AAA the local fixit place called. She asked what kind of big rig I was in, and I said we’re in an RV, and she said “Oh, we don’t service those, you’ll have to call AAA back and get someone else”.
(Insert loop of calling AAA, getting started over, and then talking to several agents who try to understand)
Towing an RV is horrible, you have to disengage the drive shaft and everything. Fortunately there’s a service called Transit Pros that deals with stuff like this. After 2 hours of wrangling, AAA connected us with them. The agent at Transit Pros spent about an hour looking for tires near us (he was in Missouri), and finally got a guy headed our way.
He showed up and looked at our tires and pointed out that the OTHER side was also bad. The entire sidewall was hanging off. This is from the time through the construction. So we needed two tires. It was $750. We had the money in a fund we’d set aside for RV stuff, so this was actually pretty easy to deal with.
So this guy fixed both tires there there at the side of the road. It was magical. The inner tires looked in MUCH better condition than the outside ones had, so I felt pretty good about leaving them where they were. My friend John-Thomas (who used to work in a big rig repair shop) warned me that the old ones are actually smaller then the new ones due to wear, and will get hot faster because they’re traveling differently. I filed that away so I would know to get new tires when we got home.
The End Of Day One On The Road
We had planned on being MUCH farther along at this point, maybe close enough to drive through the night and get home. That wasn’t happening, so we started looking for a place to stop for the night. We weren’t finding much, and I was getting tired, so we pulled into a gas station. It wasn’t really a truck stop, but we noticed about 100 big rigs all parked in the back. ALL of them were running, but the lights were off. I went in and started asking about the next place we could park the RV for the night and they said “Oh, aren’t there any open slots in the back here?” We went out and looked and she pointed out several open slots. I asked how much it cost and when they close, and she said it was free, and they don’t close.
So we pulled up next to a big rig and crawled into bed. We ran the generator for about 30 min to cool it down inside, but then shut it all down and slept.
Day Two On The Road
We started this day feeling pretty good about things. The tire thing had been spooky, but we had new tires and an open road. What could go wrong?
It rode so much more smoothly with the new tires! I had been thinking we needed and alignment on the front, but with the new tires I was confident they had been the issue.
We had a great trip from Arkansas to Illinois. Then just north of Marion there was another tremendous bang. I looked in the right mirror and saw smoke and rubber flying again. This time I came a lot closer to losing control. I was in the middle lane. I had seen a big rig behind us in the right lane, so I started swerving to the right to get off the road, thinking he’d slow down. He was too close though, and powered through, so I came really close to just plowing right into the side of him. I saw it in time though and swerved back to the middle long enough for him to get by and then pulled off to the side. I went and looked, and indeed the inside tire and blown. I couldn’t really see much though. I smelled smoke, and it smelled like burning grass, so I got back in and pulled ahead a bit. I went back and looked and didn’t see any sign of fire, so I was relieved.
Then I called AAA again and the circus began anew. The second person I talked to (because the first person simply said he couldn’t help me and started me over) said she’d never heard of Transit Pros and was going to get me a tow truck to tow my Jeep. I worked through the idea that I wasn’t in my Jeep, I was in my RV.
She finally found a tire repair place quite near us, and said they’d be calling us within one hour. It was expedited because of our dangerous situation.
So we shut it off and turned on the generator and ran the air conditioner.
The first time we’d lost the tires we ran the main engine the entire time, and ran the vehicle air conditioning. It used about one needle’s width of gas on the gauge in a 4 hour wait. This time instead we ran the generator and the house air conditioner. It ran for 5 hours and the needle never moved on the gas gauge. That made me happy that we could run it than long and never even notice.
The first time we waited, back in Arkansas, we never once saw a policeman. None stopped, and I didn’t even see any go by.
This time, in Illinois, after about 2 hours of waiting a local cop stopped by. I told him we had called AAA and they had someone calling within an hour. He said that was all fine, hoped we had a better day, and took off. But that’s when I realized no-one had called within one hour, not even AAA to find out if things were ok.
So I called AAA back. The first person said they weren’t in my area, but they could start me over in line to talk to someone who was. So after another 30 minutes I got someone who was local to me and they said they didn’t know what had happened to the other place, but they’d be happy to help me find someone new. About halfway into the conversation I got disconnected. She knew who I was, so I waited patiently for her to call me back. After about 10 minutes I called again.
The first person said they weren’t in my area, but they could start me over in line to talk to someone who was. So after another 30 minutes I got someone who was local to me and they said they didn’t know what had happened to the other call, but they’d be happy to help me find someone new. While I was on this call cop number two showed up. My wife handled him gracefully. The license plate came back odd for him, so he wanted to see the title. He looked at it and left.
The final AAA person DID know who Transit Pros was and hooked us up. Once they called me they told me someone would be there in less than 90 minutes. 89 minutes later he pulled up.
The Final Repairs
We had decided to have both inside tires repaired, we didn’t want a fourth blowout. The new repair guy showed me how you can find the date of manufacture on a tire. The two that he took off were 14 and 11 years old, respectively. He said no tire older than 7 years should be used at all, even if they never HAD been used. The rubber expires. He said to be careful buying from small shops, their tires often sit in a warehouse for years, and you could be buying new, never used tires that only have half their shelf life left.
I had him examine the front tires and they’re 6 years old, with good tread. He said they’d get us home (and they did).
These two tires only cost $699, I don’t know why they were cheaper.
So after 7 hours by the side of the road we were on our way. Once again we knew we wouldn’t make it home that day. We drove on into the night to get as far as we could, and stopped about midnight to sleep.
The Last Night
We found a gas station with a HUGE parking lot that was mostly empty and pulled up to an edge. Rather than run the air conditioner and generator, we turned on some ceiling fans that vent to the outside. We had one blowing out and two blowing in. They run off the house batteries (not the engine battery). When I got up in the morning I turned them off. I got dressed to go inside and use the bathroom, but when I opened the door of the RV our little electric step was really jerky coming out. Then it didn’t go back in when we shut the door. I had some dark suspicions at that point.
When we got back the step did go back into its slot, but on a hunch I tried starting the generator. Sure enough, click click click. The batteries were dead. There’s no way those three tiny fan should have killed 2 12-volt batteries after 5 hours of running.
We didn’t need the batteries or the generator to get home though, so we hit the road. I had gotten a 32 ounce cup of water, and as I hit the gas it flipped out of the tiny little cup holder and dumped all over the floor. Since it was just water and things were bad anyway I just left it and drove on.
That’s pretty much it. We made it home without further incident. the next day I called a local RV maintenance place and scheduled an inspection. They have a really broken WordPress site and the guy was excited that I might be able to help him.
Big shout out to my in-laws who stayed in close contact the entire trip. Especially all the great advice from my father-in-law Joe. He felt terrible about telling me the tires would last, but some things we just can’t know.
We bought gas every time it got to about a half tank. That was three times. We paid about $2.67 the first two times, and $3.10 the last time. All told it cost us about $290.00 in gas to get home.
The bed is pretty comfortable. The mattress is a regular house one, not a weird RV one, and it has some nice egg shell foam on it.
Cate just got a new job, and it involves planning a big event that happens in October. We’ve decided not to leave until after that so she’s not stressed about travel AND work at the same time. This fits nicely with what the RV needs. RVs are really popular right now, so availability of maintenance people and parts is pretty low. Our inspection is planned for three weeks from now, and any repair work probably won’t happen until July or August.