Warning: this is a long post. I outline the trials and tribulations we’ve endured over the past week or two in detail.
We had often heard from more experienced RVers that your first RV may not be your last RV. We started our journey in a 38 foot class A motorhome named Trudy. We renovated Trudy fairly extensively and got her pretty much where we wanted her before leaving.
Alas, things change.
For two months Calla slept through the night in the full-size crib (behind a curtain) next to our bed. She then began waking up throughout the night – which may or may not have been due to us disturbing her (how would we know – we were asleep). Regardless, we were trapped in the bed with a screaming toddler, questioning every wiggle and trying not to move at all. She knew we were there, we knew that she knew, and she knew that we knew that she knew. I think.
We purchased a twin memory foam mattress while in Santa Rosa Beach, FL in November. It was meant to be a temporary solution while Calla worked through her sleep issues. Over five months later Hannah was still sleeping on that mattress on the floor and I was still sleeping on the couch (which wasn’t a sleeper sofa and wasn’t long enough for me to actually fully lay out on). Each morning we moved the mattress and all of our pillows and blankets back into the bedroom and then pulled them out again every night before Calla commandeered the bedroom. This became tedious, and to boot the couch and mattress were both uncomfortable. Even worse was the fact that Calla continued to wake up throughout the night – which resulted in one of us getting up with her and trying to comfort her in the living area. This meant that nobody was getting any sleep. For months this went on.
Despite us enjoying living in Trudy and despite the fact that we spent a good bit of money getting her modernized and renovated, the realization that Trudy was the problem began to materialize.
There were many reasons not to try to get a different RV. We didn’t have a home base, so how would we sell an RV? What type of RV would we even get? Would we have to buy a truck? What will we do with the Escape? Would we ever buy a brand new RV?
But we also realized that the continuing to live in Trudy would result in us stopping full-timing in an RV sooner that we would like. We talked through it many times and agreed that we were not ready to stop RVing and getting a different RV was the only way to continue.
Back to the Hunt
We searched for an RV that would work for us for months before we started full-timing in August 2017. We searched Craigslist and RVTrader nightly, entertaining drastically different setups and trying to think through every situation we could.
We found ourselves doing the same thing nine months later. We weren’t exactly pleased by that. And we weren’t finding RVs that would work any better than Trudy! How is that possible?
Another main draw to get a different RV was the possibility of going smaller. Trudy was 38 feet long, which prevented us from staying in many national parks, national forests, and state parks.
When we first started looking for Trudy’s replacement, our priorities were as follows:
- Size – we wanted to be 30′ or less overall length on the RV.
- Quality – we wanted something up to full-timing and boondocking.
- Layout – we wanted our bedroom to be on the opposite end of the RV as Calla’s with no obvious disruption points.
- Type – we were open to fifth wheels, travel trailers (TTs), motorhomes, whatever worked best.
There are many bunkhouse travel trailers out there at or under 30′. However, the bunks are usually separated from the main living area by a curtain and the bathroom is right next to the bunks. Furthermore, some only have curtains between the main bedroom and the living area, meaning only two layers of fabric would separate Calla from us at night! That is not enough separation and also means we’d have to tiptoe around the main living area (and to the bathroom) when Calla was in bed. We weren’t ready to sign up for a slightly different headache.
Despite the less than optimal layout, at one point we were still considering a short Northwood TT due to their high quality, small size and off-road and boondocking capabilities. We found a 2019 Outdoors RV Creekside 27BHS TT that was as close to “right” as a short bunkhouse TT can get. We drove over an hour in the wrong direction with Trudy and made last-minute reservation changes after the dealership gave us a trade-in quote on Trudy over the phone that was close to acceptable for us (we had sent them detailed pictures and specs). They told us they would be more willing to negotiate on sales price in person. After changing plans and driving the wrong direction, they offered us 60% of what they said on the phone and wouldn’t budge on price. We stormed out of there with red faces, but we learned a valuable lesson – RV dealerships play games, treat you poorly, and think you’re desperate. You cannot trust them or count on them.
We finally accepted that that 30′ wasn’t big enough to get the separation we wanted. We decided to be a bit more lenient on the length, allowing up to 35′ or maybe 36′ max. Livability was more important.
We also came to the realization that we’d still probably have trouble with national parks with a 32′ or 36′ RV. Maybe the best idea is to get an RV that’s ideal for boondocking on BLM land right outside of many large national parks. Most national park campgrounds have no hookups anyway – so why not stay a few minutes outside for free? This made sense to us.
In Search of Quality
We pretty easily ruled out the short bunkhouse TT after we sat down and thought about it more. However, in the process of looking at them, we discovered how much better the brands by Northwood Manufacturing felt to us in person. These brands include Arctic Fox, Desert Fox (toy haulers), Fox Mountain, Snow River, Nash, and Outdoors RV. We also really liked Lance TTs but they suffered from the same layout flaws and do not make fifth wheels (but I have to say that their truck campers are AWESOME and feel HUGE inside).
These brands had higher-quality interiors, off-road frames, bigger, insulated holding tanks, and more insulation all around. They weighed significantly more than others as a result, but we were okay with that since we were planning on buying a tow vehicle to suit the RV anyway.
They don’t try to wow and distract the buyer with excessive LEDs, outdoor TVs, and outdoor kitchens. Instead, they build in features that we actually cared about – extra exterior storage, more insulation, and better off-road and boondocking capabilities.
The problem was that they didn’t offer a short bunkhouse layout anymore! They had previously offered attractive layouts, including the Fox Mountain 335BHS, which seemed perfect for us on paper. While in Yuma, AZ we came across two 335BHS near Phoenix – which is where we just were – but both were already sold or under contract. One was privately listed on Craigslist and one was at a dealership that we had already visited a week prior when we were limiting length to 30’… which meant we didn’t even look at it when we were there. Argh.
We decided we couldn’t wait for the perfect Northwood RV to fall into our laps and we weren’t willing to drive to Montana to look at one (that’s where the nearest Fox Mountain 335BHS was). So we continued looking at other brands. We scoured dealerships and came away with absolutely no leads. Doors wouldn’t even shut on some brand new half-ton rated (lightweight) fifth wheels we saw. Others rocked terribly or just felt intolerably cheap to us.
We’ve always liked Grand Design RVs. They seem well-built but aren’t perfect for us – they have luxury features that we don’t really care about (outdoor kitchens, outdoor TVs, etc.) and don’t come with other, more full-time friendly features. They offer a handful of models that could work for us but were hard to find in person (28BH, 290BH, 328M models). While we were visiting Joshua Tree National Park, we found a high volume dealership 90 minutes west that had all three models. I got up early the next day (Saturday) and met a salesman before they officially opened to check them out. The 28BH turned out to be a good option for us overall and I saw no reason why it wouldn’t work for us.
We bartered with the dealership and were happy enough on sales price and trade-in value. The high volume dealers seem more open to negotiation, which makes sense since they had eight identical 28BHs on the lot. We really didn’t want to purchase a new RV due to immediate depreciation but it seemed like our only choice at the time. We decided to take Trudy out to the dealership the next day (Sunday) to pursue the 28BH sale further.
The Stars Align
Before I could call the dealership to tell them that we wanted to go through with the sale, we got a text stating that the used Fox Mountain 335BHS listed on Craigslist in Phoenix was back on the market after the tentative buyer’s financing didn’t pan out. We called them immediately and told them that we were seriously interested and put the Grand Design 28BH idea on hold. This felt right.
We hightailed it back to Phoenix the following day (Sunday) and saw the Fox on Monday morning. We found a few issues with it, negotiated with the sellers, and walked away with a verbal agreement to purchase the Fox!
Now we needed a truck, so we went straight to a nearby street lined with where tons of car dealerships. We went to 4 or 5 dealerships, including Peoria Ford, whose “senior sales staff” treated us like absolute garbage and lied to our faces. We would not recommend going there unless you hate yourself and hate money. We were looking for a used truck, but we ended finding pretty much exactly what we wanted in an leftover 2017 Ram 3500. It was the last 2017 they had on the lot so they were willing to negotiate quite a bit, and they even gave us more than we expected for the Escape. SOLD. You can read more about the truck here.
Out with the Old Girl
At this point Trudy had been on RVTrader for a week or two with little interest. We dropped the price several times and we also had it listed on Facebook and Craigslist.
Some well-known full-time RVers (188sqft) that we occasionally talk to graciously gave Trudy’s listing a shout out in their Instagram story one day. This resulted in an interested private party contacting us! What a world we live in – the old fashioned listings gave us effectively no leads, meanwhile one mention by a popular RVer on social media does the trick! Thank you, Mandy!
The Stars Revolt
At this point we were on cloud nine. We had the truck in our hands, the sale of Trudy was getting serious, and we were finalizing the plan to purchase the Fox. Then, of course, the roller coaster we were riding came to the peak and the bottom fell out below us.
Here’s what happened:
Thursday: (the plunge)
- We wired the funds to the Fox’s seller. We waited around all day for the funds to hit their account… but they never did. It turns out the seller didn’t know that we had to include their loan account number on the wire, so our money went to some general account at their bank. And wires are not returnable.
- Trudy’s buyers’ financing fell through since it was an out-of-state private party sale. We considered the sale dead in the water at this time.
- So, in summary, we wired tens of thousands of dollars to who-knows-where and the one hope of selling Trudy abruptly died.
Friday: (the coaster goes back up, over a dip, and up some more)
- The seller and I worked with our banks to send updates to the wire early in the morning. The funds go through. We finish the paperwork and officially own the Fox.
- We successfully tow the Fox back to Lake Pleasant with zero casualties.
- On the first trip to the dump station, I find out that the Fox may have a leaky black tank valve (or it just wasn’t shut – I still don’t know for sure). I discovered this out when the previous owners’ black waste poured out of the waste pipe when I took the cover off. Fortunately I heard it hiss when I first cracked it and put a bucket under it, but I ended up with it all over my hands and it splashed on my clothes and body since I was kneeling right in front of it. Absolutely disgusting.
- Trudy’s buyers found out that some RV dealerships may be willing to work together with their bank to facilitate an out-of-state private party sale. This seems like a long-shot to us but they find a dealership in Mesa that will work with them! We agree to take Trudy to the dealership on Tuesday.
Saturday and Sunday: (the coaster… coasts)
- We transition our lives from Trudy to the Fox.
- I tried to forget the black tank experience.
- On Sunday we moved the Fox to an actual campsite at Lake Pleasant. Trudy was abandoned in the dry camping / overflow area by the lake. We were only a few minute’s drive inside the park from Trudy which made it easy to go back and forth.
Monday: (another plunge)
- Trudy is empty and Hannah does a final cleaning.
- I went over to Trudy around 8pm to make sure everything was in order. I had my wallet inside, all of the lights on, and the generator going. I went outside to check a compartment and when I went to go back in the door wouldn’t open!
- I tried the locks. Still won’t open. All of the windows are locked. I’m seriously locked out.
- After several hours and some gentle prying (fortunately I still had some tools there), I gave up. We called several locksmiths but none will come out. Hannah puts in a roadside assistance request with our insurance around 11:30PM. They finally get there around 2AM after the guy got lost and I had to give him directions.
- The roadside assistance guy was great but he couldn’t figure it out, either.
- We got the door open around 3:30AM after prying and bending the door more and determining it was the door’s latch being stuck/broken in the door jamb the whole time (which was my original thought but I couldn’t access it properly).
Tuesday: (another coast)
- We took Trudy to the middleman dealership. Not one tear was shed after the previous night’s fiasco. It was like Trudy was trying to sabotage us.
Wednesday: (another drop in the coaster)
- We only have the truck and the Fox now and are getting this situated. We’re moving to a different campground the next day so we’re trying to prepare for that.
- That evening the Fox’s electric went out a few times. We heard pops from the breaker panel. I killed the power, removed the cover from the panel, and found that all of the neutral 110v wires were scorched. What we heard was sparking, and could have led to a fire.
- Obviously the electricity is not turned back on. We decide to continue on to the next campground the next day and investigate further there.
Note the burned and split neutral wires. They’d spark when I turned the breaker on.
Thursday: (yet another drop)
- We make it to the next site without issue.
- We have a full hookup site but aren’t using the electricity. We’re powered our fridge and water heater with propane. Fortunately the Fox has a 100w solar panel on the roof that kept the 12v side charged up enough (the house systems all feed off 12v for their control systems even if they use propane for fuel).
- The fridge stops working properly on propane. The ignitor won’t actually ignite it and stops trying after 4-5 attempt cycles. I investigated the fridge’s business end (behind a panel outside the RV) but everything seemed fine to me. It continues to go into “gas check” mode and I continue power cycling it until it lights. And of course I broke the stupid latches that hold the exterior fridge cover on.
Friday: (the coaster pulls into the station)
- I had planned on investigating the electrical problem myself. After some research I determined it was due to loose neutral connections. However, I decided I wasn’t comfortable doing it myself and called in a local mobile RV repair guy (Gideon from RV Medic).
- We were his last stop before the holiday weekend. With 35 years of experience and having seen this problem many times, he came to the same conclusion – loose connections. 15 minutes later he had trimmed the neutral wires back to new metal and unburned insulation (they had barely enough slack apparently) and also got full turns out of some of the connections of the positive and ground wires in the panel. He suspects they had been loose since the unit left the factory and that the wiring person that day apparently had weak forearms.
- Gideon (RV Medic) also investigated the fridge. He charges a minimum of 1 hour so we threw everything we had at him. The spark gap in the ring ignitor was apparently way too small, so he opened it up to where it should be (~1/8″) and the fridge fired up immediately on gas mode.
- Gideon also suggested that the black tank’s knife valve simply wasn’t shut all the way when the previous owner dumped the tanks last. The valve handle’s rod is a little bent so it can be tricky (a new rod is on the to-do list).
- Finally, at 5pm on Friday, we have power and everything works. We’re pretty much settled into the new RV.
It’s now Monday. We’re not considering giving up RVing anymore. Or selling the Fox. We’re back to being happy people.
The middleman dealership overnighted us the check for Trudy today. We’ll get it tomorrow, send the title back to them, and we’ll officially not own Trudy anymore.
And the best news? Calla has slept through the night in the Fox every night except for one night (and that was likely due to poor nap timing that day). And we have our own queen size bed! It’s been absolutely amazing to have an actual bed again!
Life can certainly be a roller coaster. Living in an RV can make it seem worse sometimes. But if you can stay strong, keep your head up, and dig deep when you need to, you’ll figure it out. At least we did this time.