Our VERY Trying Month ...



You know, over the past few years, I have begun to doubt the power of the RV Gods. Harvey is running well, and I even made the comment that RV'ing now, compared to the first two years, was getting just a little boring. We had a great trip to Vernon and Oliver in June, and a problem free trip to Pendelton Oregon in August. Well ... problem free is a little bit of an over statement as the auxiliary brake connection in the toad was giving us a little agro, but I had learned how to solve that so it was not a biggie ... I thought.

So, as it was my turn this year to choose just when we left the "Big Wet", it seemed to me to be a no brainer ... the earlier the better. The summer in Vancouver has not been one of the best in terms of weather so October 4th looked like a great date to head to the sun. If we left at that time, we could miss all the snow in the Siskiyous Pass, hit the National Factory in Perris California for a few minor repairs, and then head over to the MotoSat Internet Rally in Tucson. Most years this Rally was held early in the Fall in Texas which made it very hard for us to manage to attend. We have had the Satellite on the roof of Harvey for 2 years now, and I still am very foggy on just how it works, and what to do if it doesn't work. So, Thursday October 4th was decided as the day we would pull out of Vancouver.

The RV Gods must have been chuckling ...

At first everything was going our way. We were going to provision Harvey on the Friday and Saturday and leave DogPatch on the Sunday. We decided at the last minute to postpone the departure from Sunday to Monday. The extra day would take the rush off things and besides, the weather was terrible. We woke up Sunday at 6:00 AM to prepare to leave, and the rain was pouring down in sheets. Elsie and I looked at each other, shrugged, rolled over and went back to sleep. Monday would be fine. Well, sure enough, Monday was a nice sun shiny day. The passage through one of the worst cities in the US to drive through, Seattle, was made easier for us as the Express Lane was going our way. No problems as we sailed south, Our destination for the day was Eugene Oregon about 6 hours driving. There is a nice RV Park there, Premier RV Resorts, and we looked forward to a quiet night. The cost of the park included a newspaper and a continental breakfast in the morning so things were just humming along -- though it did pour rain that night which made us just a little worried about the next day's drive.

Our next destination was Red Bluff CA just the other side of the Siskiyous Pass. The trip there was beautiful. Although it was a little windy, the sun did shine all day. Now you might ask about the windy comment if you are used to driving a car. With one of these RV's the sheer size of the side walls gives the wind a hell of an object to blow against. We have driven in really windy conditions and this one was just noticeable ... again no problemo... Things still going our way.

The drive south to Paso Robles was picture perfect. The sky was brilliant blue, the sun shone and the temperatures were in the mid 70's F (23.8 C). This is where things started to become a little unglued.

We were feeling really cocky as we left the last large city on our way south, Sacramento, when a trucker roared past us and waved wildly pointing to our rear. That is, indeed, just a little disconcerting!!! Now, just a note of explanation here. The speed limit for trucks and anything pulling a trailer is 55 mph. Cars roar by at 70 mph. Well, we have heard all sorts of horror stories about RV's towing a car getting special attention from the Chips (California Highway Patrol) so we religiously set the cruise control at 58 mph and stay there, dreaming about the great gas mileage that we are getting. Most of the big trucks scream by us at least 10 mph faster than us, but how they get away with it, is a constant puzzle. Anyway, you can imagine our consternation, as one of these huge behemoths roars along side with the driver madly gesticulating to the rear of Harvey. Pulling over very smartly, quickly becomes a priority!

The I 5 is half concrete slabs and half asphalt. This happened on the concrete section with each section being about 25 feet long and 12 feet wide. I had a quick glance down the passenger side of Harvey and lo and behold, one or the hatches was merrily flapping in the breeze. Each RV has the outside hatches most of which have handles so they can be opened and "stuff" put in. Well, most of it is jammed in. I could not see which hatch was the culprit, but if it was one of our rather full storage areas, the thought quickly came to us .... how much of our valuable "stuff" had been spread all over the road from Sacramento on? The "first shot" from the previously dormant RV Gods.

We did manage to pull over safely and scrambled out to view the disaster. It turned out to be just a half shot from the Gods. One of the hatches does not have a handle to allow the owner to easily open it. This hatch (fortunately on the Passenger side) is screwed closed underneath the frame, and it covers the access to the Grey, Black, and Fresh water tanks. Nothing loose is stored there. Good news Right??? Well, yes and no. We had not contributed anything to the detritus on the road side, but just where am I to get an inch and a quarter, self tapping, aluminum screw out there on the side of the road. No alternative, down I go flat on my back under Harvey with nothing but my legs visible. I look up to see where the hatch tags that are screwed to the frame were, and I notice one lone screw dangling perilously. Ahh ... luck is on my side. But, I do notice something that I had not thought about before. The I5 is a very busy road with lots of huge trucks lurching by, and as each one hits the slab I am lying on, it flops about 1/2 an inch. The wind, the noise, and the weird motion made inserting this last precious screw a bit of a daunting task. But with the aid of Elsie, my dauntless tool passer, I got the thing into what I hoped was a bit of solid tag and the frame. This was a badly worn screw, but it did the job. The hatch was closed!!! No more flapping.


Well, that was a challenge we thought as we continued down the road, but one that we could master. The RV Gods did enter my mind at that point. Were there even more problems around the corner? Had I bragged too much about the predictability of RV'ing. It was amazing how often in the next several days that my eyes slid over the sides of Harvey ... just looking you know ....

Paso Robles we enjoy. There is a nice campground there, great wines and just a day from the National Factory. It is in a perfect location to fill in those extra days we build into the trip south in case the Siskiyous Pass is closed and we are forced to wait in Ashland for better road conditions. This year, of course, we had no problems so we could spend 3 days there before the run down the coast on the 101 to the factory. Things were looking great.

Not so fast ... sports fans. The Gods were to be heard from again.

We pull into Pasa Robles, and find out the Park now has an extra cost for dogs, 1.00 per day per dog. "Wait a minute", I say to the previously very friendly lady at the check in desk, "how much to you charge for kids?"

"Under 5 they are free".

"Well my dogs are under 5, and you don't have to build a playground for them so they are free as well?"

The lady was starting to look a little hot under the collar, I was just warming to my topic, when Elsie gave me a very swift kick on the ankle. You all know the action ... the infamous "shut up or else kick". Discretion, being the better part of valour, I did just that: shut up. I did manage a very brave mumble as we left the building that this was the last time we would stay here.

We got to our site, set up Harvey, and this is where the Gods came out swinging. The satellite arm would not deploy. It went up about a foot and stopped with the arm pointing to the roof A/C unit. Nothing. It was stopped. I re stowed the dish and fortunately it did retract. I waited several minutes and tried again. This time it went up and turned round and round and would not lock on to a bird. What do I do?

I did the only thing I could think of other than giving it a swift kick -- though it being on the roof was good protection against getting that well deserved kick from me -- I turned the thing off, waited for several minutes and then tried again. This time ... success. It was up and running. Well .... not quite.

I started to download the emails and the damn thing dropped the internet signal. No contact with the outside world. It repeated this anti-social behaviour several more times. What to do? After the obligatory, angst filled, soul satisfying, scream, I sat down and started to try to think things through. What would cause this behavior?.

There are a lot of parts to this system: a computer, a wi-fi card, a router, a modem, and a controller box. Add to that, all the stuff on the roof which, as a result of it being on the roof, I have never seen, and probably the most important part is the guy who installed the system -- only a phone call away: Bill Adams.

The obvious answer: phone Bill.

After describing the problems, he diagnosed a "router problem". The answer was to head to San Luis Obispo and hit "Best Buy" for a new Linksys router. The problems should go away. Note the use of the conditional tense here...

Off we go to the Computer Candy store and find that the router I wanted was on sale as Bill had said it was. Well, no problem. I have installed a lot of routers in my time so "out with the old and in with the new." Problem went away, right????

I could hear them chuckling as the Gods ramped up the problems. The system would shut down intermittently. Some time I would have connectivity for 10 hours and some times only 10 minutes. You could never tell. The only solution to get back on line was to "recycle the router" -- for you non-computer people out there that means, unplug it, wait 10 seconds and plug it back in. You do have to be able to use the fancy terms you know.

Following the faulty router diagnosis, I called Linksys, in India of course- with all the resulting language problems, and had them walk me through over 2 hours of "problem solving". Their final solution was that even though it was a new router, I should download the most recent software from their web page and reinstall it on my router. Of course, the problem here is obvious. It was a large file I had to download, and the machine would kick off sporadically with no warning. Sure enough, just 15 minutes into the download, about 75% of the file received, I lost the signal. Damn, that meant starting again from the beginning. But, on the second attempt, I was lucky and got the entire file. It was the same version that came on my brand new router. However, I went ahead and installed it anyway, and sure enough the problems ... continued. Unfortunately, it was time to head to the National Factory to solve Harvey problems so all computer glitches had to be put on hold..

We had heard on the news that the I5 around the 'Grapevine' was closed due to a multiple truck accident and fire in the tunnel near Santa Carla. We had initially planned to take this route but, obviously, now we would have to take a different route. We decided to take the 101 through LA and then east from there. It was a nice day, and a Sunday, so LA traffic was not too bad. When we arrived at the factory there were already a few RVs in the parking lot. 

The schedule at the factory is that after you check in, your RV is taken into the shop, which is behind huge barb wire fences, and you have a choice of sitting in the customer lounge or heading out in the Toad to look around the place. This procedure happens every day -- they pick up your RV at 7:00 AM -- you have to get up at 6:00 AM to get Harvey ready to go -- and return it to you at 3:30 PM. If they run into a snag that they need to discuss with the owners, and you are not readily available, all work stops on your Rig until they find you. Not being around can add several days to your stay in the factory parking lot. So, we tend to stay around.

Other than having them make sure that the flapping bin lid was very well secured, there were only two other things for them to do: replace the front door support that stops the door from being slammed shut if open in a wind storm and repair the three holes that were drilled too low for our front window sunshade we purchased in a National Rally in Lake Skinner last year. I had contacted the owner of the company who did the installation, and he had agreed to pay for the repair. That is until he got the estimate form the service. Between Diane, the Asst Service Manager, and myself, we must have been on the phone to the jerk a dozen times. He finally beat up National sufficiently to get a 50% discount on the labour. As I had to pay when I took the RV out of the shop, he agreed to send a cheque to me in Vancouver for the remainder. Whether that cheque will be waiting for me on our return, I don't know. I sure think very little of a company that would expect another company to absorb costs that were caused by the incompetence of their own employee.

Usually, from previous experience, we can count on being at the Factory for 4 or 5 days. This time we got out in 3!!! WHOOO WEEEE. We have time to stop in Pilot Knob, just west of Yuma, for a couple of lazy, getting rested days. This up at 6 AM to get Harvey ready for the 7 AM invasion by the Techies does get wearing on you. Several days resting up and concentrating on the Internet setup would be a nice touch right now. We could get a pull through and leave the Toad connected as we vegged. Nice thought eh.

The weather was warming up and the day temperatures were hitting the mid to high 80'sF (29 to 33C)

On the way to Pilot Knob we were heading east of course, and the sun was beaming into those huge front windows. We were finally getting hot. It was only a few hours run, and by the time we got there, we were extremely hot and quite tired. I became just a tad cranky. This is still early in the SnowBird Season, so the park was quite empty and the person on the front desk was not up to speed on sites and their idiosyncrasies. As pull-throughs are a scarce commodity at this park, she told us to go and have a look for ourselves. The ones she told us were empty were full and vice versa. The only one we found that would take Harvey was one that had the power and water services on the wrong side ... the passenger side. That means that you have to pass the 50 amp electrical cord, and the water hose, under the rig. As long as you have sufficient cable and hose that is not a problem. But, the fact that we were leaving the Toad hooked up, meant that we could not back Harvey up at all. The arms of the hitch are designed to pull the toad not to push it. As we drove in, we tried to guestimate just how far our electrical cord could reach on the opposite side of Harvey. Unfortunately, we were a foot short on the electrical hookup! Damn! Patience wearing very thin, sweat running down our faces, we did the unthinkable. We backed up slowly, ever so slowly, making sure there was no pressure on the hitch arms. Voila ... we are in and done.

The next steps are to level Harvey by putting down the hydraulic jacks, to try put out the slides and to put the AC on high!!! Two very long days of rest and relaxation. Time to BBQ a Hagen steak!!!

The Gods were not finished with us yet.  Next problem ... the Bedroom slide would not go out.  It was stuck!!!  What does that mean, you ask?  Well with the slide not moving, and our bed going east/west, the person who sleeps on the left side of the bed has to crawl over the one on the right side.  Fortunately, I sleep on the right side and given my vintage, those age determined necessary visits during the night to the library would not be a problem. However, Elsie does go to bed long after me, so she would have to climb over my dead asleep body.  Given my size, not an easy chore!! Getting the slide operable was a very necessary step. But it could damn well wait until tomorrow.

Well, the next day, after raising the bed and mattress and examining the slide mechanism, lo and behold, we find that the drawer catch had broken on the drawer beneath the bed and the whole thing had slipped forward. It had put enough pressure on the electrical cable that activated the slide that the connection had come lose. So, a little pressure on the connection, and we are back in business. This does seem like a little bump, but I have neglected to tell you about the hour long diagnosis process that Elsie and I had to go through to arrive at this simple solution. Suffice it to say, the Gods are guffawing, and it's blood pressure pills all around for Elsie and me.

The problems persisted with the internet. It would last from 10 minutes to 10 hours and then throw both Elsie's computer and mine off the internet. This past summer I had put a more effective wireless security encryption on the system so I thought maybe this was causing the problems. From the new WPA I returned to the less secure, more simple, WEP encryption. Still no joy in Mudville. Mighty Joseph was striking out.

Two days later we get ready to head to Tucson , I find that the power cord had slipped under the leveling jack and now was a little flat. No bloody wonder as the jack holds several thousand pounds of coach weight. Have I destroyed the cord? What impact will this have on power supply to the coach? We begin to pull in the slides and again the bedroom slide will not move. Up goes the bed, and the switch is reconnected and the slide behaves properly.

No more problems, we thought. The techies at the MotoSat Rally would be able to help with the Internet screw ups, and some duct tape will solve the slide issue. Do you hear the Chuckles from the RV Gods?????

On the way to Tucson, our auxiliary brake setup in the Toad stopped working. What does this mean, other than you don't have quite the same amount of braking power you should have? The dash gizmo that allows you to set the amount of pressure for the brakes in the Toad starts to beep. That beep drives both Elsie and me NUTS to say nothing about the impact of that high pitched squeal on the dog's ears. The solution is to disconnect it under the dash and have a look next time we stop. When we stopped for lunch, it was obvious that one of the six pins necessary for proper connection had broken. Not a big deal, but yet another part to replace in Tucson.

In Tucson the temperatures were hitting highs of 105 F (40.5 C) and there was no way that I was going to crawl under the Toad to fix this. The last time I replaced this switch was in Whitehorse on our way to Alaska in 2005. It was snowing slightly, but I did the job in under an hour. I guess I am getting soft as the Rally site was right beside a Camping World. They could do it for me so a $9.00 part only cost us $60.00 to fix. Remember, "no problem is so great that if you stand back far enough and throw enough money at it, it can be fixed"!!!!

Last year, we had attended a Rally in Gila Bend AZ that related more to the Internet Systems that were on a tripod that you have to put up every time you want to use them. The system we have is on the roof. All that is supposed to be required is to push two buttons and it will enfold as it should. This Rally was all about the roof mounted systems. I had problems understanding a lot of what went on last year, but this year, I really understood just how different nerds are to the rest of the world. These guys can programme in more languages then most of us can speak. They consider an hour and a half discussing magnetic discrepancies and how that affects cross polls -what ever they are- as time well spent. I could understand only one thought in three. This was truly "Revenge of the Nerds".

MotoSat, the company that manufactures the internet connectivity parts, holds this Rally, and they have techies come to repair, realign and solve problems with people's systems. Well, it was a long story and an even longer week. The techie who came to work on our system knew even less about computers than I do. He could not make head or tail sense with our internet problem except to say that it had to be another defective router. I talked to anyone who would stand still long enough to listen, and no one had a clue. During all this kafuffle the intermittent problem of the satellite system not finding the bird and freezing was forgotten. By the last day, I am one pissed off guy. I got into the face of the chief techie there, nicely of course, and told him I was not happy. He once again passed me off to the same techie who came before, and this time he decided that the two power supplies that ran the modem and the controller were velcroed on top of each other and therefore were running far too hot. This would cause a drop in the amps or volts or something that could cause our problems getting the thing to find the satellite. He replaced one of them and then ran out the door. Glad to get out of there, I figure.

But by this point, Elsie and I were talking, and we thought what would happen if I logged on to the wireless network for the guy next door. If I could exist on his network, then it had to be a modem problem. The fellow next door was happy to oblige this little test until within 10 minutes, his system had crashed, and he was off the internet. The only conclusion was that it had to be my computer!!!!!

When I bought this Dell laptop, the salesman threw in a 3 year parts and labour, next day, onsite, warranty. His point was that if we are traveling in the US, it would be a good idea to have this if there were problems with the system. I could have the problems fixed in one day. What a break!!! Dell to the rescue ... hear the chuckles??????

I called Dell ... got India of course. Told them it was a wireless problem, and they told me that they did not handle these problems, I would have to call another phone number. To get this far took about an hour. I dialed the new number, and you won't believe it ... I was in Toronto with someone who could actually speak English. My first comment was, "I love your accent!!!"

"What accent", she said.

"Exactly", I said!

She just laughed, and asked me what the problem was. I explained, and she had me switch from Intel Drivers to Windows Drivers, handling the traffic to the router. Would this solve it? I hung up and sure enough within 15 minutes the system crashed. I called again and another techie had me reflash the bios of the network card in the computer. Even worse! I could not even recycle the router to get back on. It was time for him to call in the Big Guns, but they too could not understand it. Their conclusion was to replace the NIC (Network Card). The problem was that I was in the US, and they could not service the computer from there. I nicely explained that my salesman said it could be done. He said emphatically that it could not. He went on to say that everyone knows that salesmen lie. He was very sorry, but that was all he could do. I was thunderstruck!

The next morning I got on to Dell.ca and began to order a new computer. When I got to the warranty section, I went to the "live chat with a salesman" link and asked the person directly if Dell would support in Canada and the US. He said, "Yes" . I then copied this conversation and waited for an hour and did the damn thing again. I got a different salesman, and he said exactly the same thing. Now, I am mad.

I called back to Toronto, and this time I got a Techie who was pleased to put me through to his Floor Supervisor who said there would be no problem with them shipping a new NIC to my next address in St David's AZ. The only thing is that I would have to install it myself. OK .... the problem could be nearing solution. This was on Friday Oct 26th. and we were off to St David's the next Monday. He asked if it would be OK if it took two business days to get here. That fit us down to the ground.

We left Tucson and headed to St David AZ. This is an older Western Horizon Park, and we hoped to stay for two weeks. HA!!!! The first night the power went out, starting at 11:00 and continuing all night. It was fine all day even running the AC. Could this be caused by the power cable that we squashed in Pilot Knob? The only solution was to disconnect all power appliances each night to make sure that a power spike would not wipe them all out. I called the office to tell them of the power problem, and they immediately said that they would send the maintenance man. Well, over an hour later, a motorized lawnmower pulled up; the guy got off still hanging on to his weed eater. He stood at the front of the site and stared at the power pedestal. I explained the problem, and he just stood and stared without making a sound. Puzzled at how long this could go on, I stood there too waiting for him to speak. It must have been two minutes, and he did make an utterance .... "Don't know" was all he said. He never did check the power to the pedestal, nor did he want to look at the condition of the 30 Amp plug. The fellow camper next door did have a device to check the power, and he and I tried to see what was happening.

The deal is that we have on board a low power protection device and a high power protection device. If the power drops below 108 volts or goes above 132 volts, the system will shut down immediately to protect our electronic devices. Most of the rigs in this park are older and are not setup as well as ours, so we were the only ones to notice the huge power fluctuations. With conditions like this, some rig is going to have a very expensive bill to replace toasted devices. The two weeks we were supposed to be here was immediately changed to one week. The risk is sure not worth it, and the running around each night disconnecting devices was a real pain. Who needs this on top of all the other "challenges" we were enjoying?

Back to the Dell delivery wait. Monday came, Tuesday and Wednesday came and nothing from Dell. I called again, and this time they told me that the part shows on the Canadian system as "pending", and I would have to call US support and "unpend" it. No problem; I did what I was told -- and got India again. This time the poor slob had no clue about what I was talking . All he could say was "No Worries, Be Happy". I was afraid that he would break out in song. But, I do think, he said that it should be delivered next day. I'm not sure. But, nothing came of course.

The next Monday, Nov 5th, we had arrived in Las Cruces New Mexico, and I got on the phone again. After having to explain to the young man on the phone in Toronto that New Mexico was not part of Mexico and really was a State in the Union -- and we say that Americans are ignorant about Canada --- he put me through to the same day floor supervisor I was talking to before. He apologized and said that he would send another part to me in New Mexico. If I did not get it in three days, by Nov 9th, I was to call him back directly, and he would track down the shipment.

OK! Now I want to talk to Customer Care. The tech support I got was great. These Customer Care Bozos are an insult! The clown I talked to was pretty high up on the Dell food ladder of infamy, and he was totally uninterested in the fact that customers were being lied to by the sales staff. He said that there was nothing he could do. "Suck it up Cupcake" was his attitude. He did give me an address in Toronto I can write to if I was really concerned. The fact that I was almost yelling at him by this point should have indicated to a moron that I was really concerned. Will I write the letter .... you betcha. It will be a pleasure to have my letter sit in the Dell round file case.

The last call to Toronto was yesterday (Tuesday) and lo and behold, the new part arrived today. WOW oh WOW. Can you believe it?

I installed the new NIC and sent the old one back. Things seem to be working .... cross your fingers.

We have completed the month from Hell, paid more respect to the RV Gods and have had 3 days with nothing going wrong. Have we paid sufficient penance to the Gods? I sure hope so!!!!

We have 12 days left here in Las Cruces .... time for complete relaxation to begin. Our Holiday has begun.

Perhaps you had better cross your fingers, legs, etc and touch wood for us...


Looking for better times ...

Joe Elsie and the two most popular members of the family, Lord Stanley and Lord Thurston.


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