Recreational boating enthusiasts spoke of something called “Three Foot Itis.” The same syndrome applied to RV owners. Your present twenty-six footer was adequate, a twenty-nine footer would be better. The rationalization–more room and the extra length wasn’t any harder to pull. I tried in vain to hide my “Newbieness.” It came out the first night with a backing accident. A spruce tree limb reached out and “touched” my shiny new trailer. Humbly, I went to my insurance agent, and submitted a claim. A bitter lesson compounded by my leaving on vacation that same weekend. Duct tape provided a temporary fix. At my destination, ants seemed to have an unusual attraction to duct tape adhesive. RV’ers should take note. They had no problem finding the patched holes. Armed with a spray can in each hand, the battle was on. A shakedown local trip was recommended for the first outing. I didn’t need any “stinkin” short trips. My first trip was eight hundred plus miles. …Danger! steep learning curve ahead!
With a twenty-five gallon fuel tank, stops were frequent. At two hundred miles, a gas station needed to be in sight. Strong headwinds, sent the gas gauge needle into a rapid descent. Crosswinds and passing large trucks buffeted both tow vehicle and trailer. Roads patched with tar strips set the rig into motion. This elongated “jiggling machine” made my muscles sore. Outside mirrors were rendered useless by vibrations. Low clearances needed to be watched. Stops and starts required advance planning. Sixty miles per hour was my chosen cruising speed. This relegated me to the slow lanes. Now, I was one of the slow vehicles everybody despised.
There were most of the comforts of home. …Air conditioning, heating, hot and cold pressurized water, Bathroom with tub and shower, and master bedroom. Outside was an attached rollout awning. These niceties required extra precautions and maintenance. The most obvious were the holding tanks–separate for fresh water, wastewater, and soapy water. Set up and take down took between thirty and sixty minutes. Only when everything was set up and levelled could I sit back and relax. By then, I needed a nap. It was a big change from former days of tent, tent trailer camping. Awnings were for fair weather only–a lesson learned the hard way. Sudden windstorms damaged two of my awnings. In an early summer morning incident, a violent windstorm whipped the extended awning. My wife and I scrambled to retract it. The wind got under it and like a giant sail, lifted both of us off the ground. The canvas wasn’t torn, but one of the support posts was bent. In another windstorm the trailer nearly tipped over.
A hazardous “near miss” happened years later. I’d “three footed” up to a twenty-nine foot trailer. It towed and tracked nicely. My vehicle had been in the shop repeatedly for an unusual noise in the rear axle. No trouble was ever found. On Easter weekend in ’94 we headed south for a week’s vacation. For a head start, I drove part way Friday afternoon. The first nights stop was planned at a campground inside the Tennessee state line. That left time to finish the trip the following day. It was close to four in the afternoon–we were almost there. There was an aroma similar to kerosene. An unusual whining sound emanated from the back of the truck. When I exited the interstate and turned left, the inside tire squealed. I unhitched the trailer and set it up. Inspection revealed a sprayed oily substance covering the entire undercarriage. The warranty assistance person advised me not to drive the vehicle under any circumstances. A tow truck carried my crippled vehicle to the nearest dealer. Since it was Easter weekend, the earliest repair appointment was Tuesday. I begged and pleaded with the service department. Meanwhile, we spent quality time with our two grandkids, ages three and six. It was cold enough at night to run the furnace.
A manufacturing defect in the rear axle caused fluid to leak out. The gears became overheated to the extent they welded together. Things could have been much worse. The service department associate told me, if I hadn’t stopped, it could have been catastrophic. …Axle separation, coming out of the housing. The result, loss of control and a horrible accident. Thank God it didn’t happen. Better to be a few days late and safe. We reached our destination the following Wednesday.
It had to be the shiniest, most beautiful thirty-six foot RV ever. Were there bigger and fancier models? If so, I hadn’t noticed. It was the star of the ’99 Winter RV Show. It had three big picture windows near the entrance door. …Built-in satellite dish. There were two slide outs, one for the living room and kitchen, one for the bedroom. Room? there was an abundance of room inside. A floor to ceiling entertainment center decorated the front wall. The capper, it had an island kitchen. …A curved breakfast bar with three stools. It called my name in the worst way. We had informal open house for a week after it was delivered. It was our home away from home at a private resort for four years.
After retirement, I realized beauty came at a price. The first time I towed it, the weight shocked me. Fully loaded it weighed twelve thousand pounds, That was an astonishing six tons. My tow vehicle was overmatched. It took forever to start and stop. My truck engine needed all of its 345 horses at four thousand RPM to pull hills in Tennessee and Alabama. A surprise gust of wind caught me in North Alabama. The whole truck and trailer shifted to the left lane. My life flashed before my eyes as I fought to regain control. The swaying stopped and I somehow survived. I pulled into a rest stop to light a cigarette, (I don’t smoke), say some Hail Marys, (I’m not Catholic), rinse my face with cold water, and compose myself.
The thirty-six footer was our home for eight months. Hurricane Ivan altered our plans to build a new house. Over time the RV seemed to get smaller and smaller. There were little irritating things. The heating and cooling system only took the edge off. In the dead of winter, the maximum inside temperature was sixty-three degrees. During the hot, humid Gulf Coast summers, the bedroom didn’t stay cool. A box fan in the hallway seemed to help. Supplemental electric heaters tripped breakers. The propane tanks needed refilling every five days in the winter. Trailer park life was less than ideal. I was accustomed to a quiet, subdued life. Hurricane recovery workers caroused till the wee hours.
My “Three Foot Itis” was cured. My attention turned to our newly constructed home. The trailer sat vacant in a storage lot for four years. Southern sun faded the paint and trim. It was no longer insured. Severe windstorms could turn it into a worthless pile of match sticks. The inside still looked good. In a quest for better mileage, my towing vehicle was sold. My former beauty became a burden. I sadly put my RV up for sale. A retired gentleman bought it for himself and his dog. My RV “love affair” was over. I had no desire to camp ever again.