Monday, September 28, 2009

Motor Home Adventures – How To Spend Money And Time Having No Fun

A couple weeks ago my wife and I bought a new (to us) motor home – called by owners of such things, a motor coach. The unit is a 29,000 mile 1998 Dolphin 36 foot Class A, a bus style on a Chevrolet truck chassis with a tag axle. An explanation of terms is probably called for, a Class A has the driver’s compartment as a part of the coach (or living area) while a class C has the driver’s compartment in a truck cab that opens into the living area. Most newer Class A coaches have a flat front end with a vertical wrap around windshield like a Greyhound bus has. A tag axle is another non-drive axle behind the dual wheeled drive axle that simply adds additional weight loading capability and stability to the coach.

When I went to look at the coach I found that the front tires had pretty bad age cracking on the sidewalls and I negotiated a price reduction with the owner to partly cover the price of new tires to get the thing from Bend, OR to Baker City, OR which is a distance of about 200 miles of curvy mountainous 2 lane highway. The rear duals didn’t look real good but passable. Two new front tires mounted cost $800, wow.

The coach has a slide out on the dining and living area. When this is extended there is an awning which rolls out with it to cover it’s roof from rain so water is not carried back into the coach when the slide out is returned to the in position. Part way home the stitching on the awning where it attaches to the main body gave up, requiring a couple wraps with a bungie cord to keep it from unrolling and flapping in the wind. The coach had set unused for a couple years and was filthy on the outside so on its arrival in Baker City the first thing on the agenda was a thorough scrubbing and waxing – a large job. My wife then detailed the interior which with a couple minor exceptions was in new condition and had the top of the line interior, solid wood cabinetry, hardwood kitchen flooring, and other amenities. In a somewhat fair distribution of labor I got to take care of the exterior detailing. That included dealing with the unstitched awning.

The stitching created a loop of vinyl fabric which went around a vinyl rod which was captured by “C” shaped retainer bolted to the side of the main coach. The spring loaded roller travels out with the slide out unrolling the fabric attached to the coach. The thread of the stitching had simply rotted away, unfortunately unraveling from the center which managed to tear a few inches of awning through the stitching at each end. I had no desire to dismount the roller assembly twelve feet above the ground and unroll the fabric and remove it to try to re-stitch the thing and certain had no sewing machine capable of dealing with 14 feet of heavy vinyl fabric. I did, however, have access to a vinyl roofing hot air welder and the expertise to use such a piece of equipment – being a construction contractor sometimes is convenient. Trying to sew the thing again would probably only have accomplished sawing the fabric by poking even more holes in it, the welding on the other hand would increase the holding area and done carefully to not burn holes be even more water tight and not subject to rot, at least not faster than the fabric itself. The draw backs are that welding roofing involves material firmly attached and stretched with draw tools and definitely does not involve an air space which a loop creates. That loop presented a further difficulty, something, the rod, had to create the loop and that rod was also vinyl – the same material being welded in very close proximity. The welder works by blowing very hot air through a slot nose which is slid between the sheets to be welded; that hot air blows back into the welded area right where the rod is in this case. I used series of clamps to hold the material in shape and only managed to stick the rod to the material a little in a couple places. I’d have been unhappy to see that weld on a roof but it sufficed and the rod pulled out with a serious tug. The welded loop then had to be set into the “C” and the rod inserted into the end. A couple tries involving a learning curve like adding a turn on the roller and using petroleum jelly on the rod got that done. Ok, good to go – sort of.

An examination of the rear duals showed that the trip home had finished them off, another nearly $1,600 to cure. Truly a pretty unfortunate use of tire rubber considering that there was over 80% of tread life left. This seems to be a general motor coach tire situation, the darn things don’t use up the heavy truck tires in mileage, they simply rot from age first. You use commercial quality heavy truck tires that would carry a lot of freight a lot of miles for amusement and wearing them out would involve an awful lot of amusement. I can't afford that much fun.

Well, the thing seems to be road ready - I think...


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