There and Back Again: Murphy’s Revenge

So FINALLY, we’re ready to make our first major investment for the move to Texas. We entertained the idea of getting a travel trailer and towing it with our Jeep. However, while searching and doing some research, I came to the conclusion that any travel trailer that was large enough to allow us to feel comfortable would be entirely too heavy to tow with our Jeep and its 5000lb tow capacity. So, figuring that a motor home was certainly designed to tow itself, we switched gears and began looking at motor homes.

We decided to purchase a Class A motor home.  Basically, it’s built on a large truck chassis and tend to be roomy.  This is one step below the style that are built on a bus chassis and require a commercial driver’s license to operate.  We found one we liked in Toledo, Ohio with an asking price of $3500. It’s a 37′ 1985/86 Georgie Boy Motorhome. Here’s the pics from the Craigslist ad:

I contacted the seller and asked a few questions:

  1. Do you have a clean/clear title?
  2. Does this need any major repairs?
  3. Would it be safe for me to drive it to Cincinnati?

The seller answered quickly.  Clear Title, no major defects, no leaks, and it’s ready to drive to Cincinnati…EXCEPT…it needs new steering tires.  The seller even tells me of a shop that has them in stock.  They’re only $214+$45 (mounting) EACH.  However, since these are tractor/trailer tires, I know that they are tires that will last a very long time, so that doesn’t make me worry. 

We decide that we want to go see it and probably purchase it.  So we plan to take $4000 with us for the motor home and tires.

We made all the arrangements with the seller to meet them “noonish” on Tuesday, Feb 7, 2012.

February 7, 2012
Day One:

8:30AM

We swing by the bank and withdraw $4000 cash and head north. We decide to limit the amount of drinks we take with us to minimize potty stops.  We decide to stop every 45 minutes for a break.

11:40AM

We are in the metro Toledo area, just south of I-475, and the seller calls us to make sure we were still on our way.  I tell them that we’re almost there.  We decide to make one last potty stop.

12:15PM

We arrive at the seller’s house and start looking at the motor home.  This thing is much rougher than I thought, and rougher then what the pictures showed.  I’m also told that the pics of the motor home that were on the Craigslist ad (they are the ones above) were not recent, but from when the seller bought it from the previous owner.

I ask the seller to start it up.  I watch him turn the key and it doesn’t start.  So, he futzes with the gear selector and is able to make it start.  This can sometimes happen with older automatics if everything isn’t “just so,” and given that this is a 1985 model, I forgive this — after all, I’m a pretty good mechanic and I can usually tell the difference between a “problem” and “inconvenience” or “annoyance.”

He fires it up and it’s clear that there is a nasty exhaust leak.  Again, I’m not worried about this, since it’s just an exhaust leak.  Those are easy to fix, and I figure I can use it as leverage when it comes to negotiation time. I ask if I can drive it to make sure that it operates properly.

1:00PM

I jump in the driver seat. WOW, this thing is LOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG.  After all, it’s the length of a bus! He helps me get the thing out of his driveway and we go for a spin.  Clearly it needs a bit of a tune up, but the engine seems to operate just fine and the transmission shifts properly.  So, I decide that it’s good mechanically, but needs some TLC.

1:30PM

Linda and I finish looking it over and retreat to our car to talk.  We decide that we will offer him $2800 in the hopes of getting it for $3000.  And, as planned, I offer $2800 and he counters with $3000.  Rather than dicker further, I accept the deal.  We go down to the title office and transfer the title and get plates.  We come back to the seller’s house.  I then send my friend a picture in an email, with the subject line, “Mine!”

It’s visibly rougher in this pic than in the earlier ones.  This is why we offered $2800.

2:00PM

We drive down to the tire place and put it in the bay to get tires.  We drive off in the Subaru in search of lunch.

3:00PM

We pick up the motor home at the tire shop and pay our bill. We were also advised to take the one good tire with us just in case we encounter a blowout on one of the rears on the way home — this way we won’t get soaked on the price of a tire, just for the roadside service.

3:15PM

We head south on I-75 a few exits and stop for fuel. I get out using the driver-side door and discover that the latch mechanism doesn’t work from the outside. So, I’m effectively locked out of the driver door! The keys are in the ignition!  ACK! Thankfully, I had left the deadbolt on the side door unlocked and I’m able to get back in. I fill the tank up in sub-zero wind chills and then we head south again.

4:00PM

I’m truckin’ down the highway at 65MPH turning 3000RPM.  It’s going well.  We’re making good time!  Looks like we’ll be home by 7PM or so!  Every time I go over a bump the whole thing shakes.  It sure is like driving a bus! I’m getting used to all the new noises this thing makes and I hear a “WHAP!” sound. I figure it was just a rock on the windshield or something.  More rattles and bangs with every bump.  Nothing terrible.  Just the noises of a motor home.

4:45PM

WTF? Why am I losing power?  I’m decelerating!  WTF is up?  Now the engine is missing!  WTF! I just bought this!  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  I pull over. As soon as I stop, the engine dies. Then it’s clear.  I’m overheated.  It’s pretty obvious with all the steam pouring out of the front of the engine. I let it cool a bit and start looking for answers.

5:15PM

CRAPPITY CRAP CRAP! Here I am at the Bluffton exit on I-75 (mile marker 145) with an overheated engine with no tools and the light starting to fade. I rummage through the Sube looking for a flashlight and locate one in the rear compartment. Returning to the motor home, I remove the engine cover and start looking inside. The alternator belt has broken! The problem is that the alternator belt also drives the water pump.  This is why the engine overheated. I need to get some tools and a new belt to get this thing on the road!

 I get on the phone and locate a Harbor Freight Tools and an AutoZone in nearby Lima, about 20 miles south of where the motor home broke down.  We head over to Harbor Freight and I pick up a set of tools for $40. We then head to AutoZone.  We drove on route 309 for quite a while until  we were pretty far out of town.  So, we call the AutoZone again and are told that we had gone the wrong way and that we needed to turn around.  The AutoZoner told us that they were right across the street from a Save-A-Lot store. 

6:00PM

We drive until we see the Save-A-Lot.  However, there is no AutoZone anywhere near there. We drive down the road another mile and discover that the AutoZone is not only on the same side of the street as Save-A-Lot, but that it’s across the street from the local hospital!  How could this AutoZoner be so wrong?  I go in and pick up the belt for the alternator and we head back north.  Of course, we have to go to the next exit north of where the motor home is and turn around and come back.

7:00PM

I climb in and get my new tool set out. When I release the adjuster bolt for the alternator, it slides easily.  WTF! Someone forgot to tighten the pivot bolt! No wonder the belt broke! The tension would loosen the belt a teeeeeny bit and allow it to start to slip.  This burns up the belt slowly and it will eventually break.

I install the new belt…and it’s too long!  AAAAGH! I triple-check to be sure there is NO way that this belt can fit.  I grab the broken belt (yeah, I know I should have taken it with me the first time….) and head back to AutoZone, 20-something miles down the road.  While on the way, Linda and I decide that once I get the belt back on, we will go to the truck stop that is 10 miles south of where the motorhome broke down and get some dinner and decide what to do next.

7:30PM

I return to AutoZone and get the shorter belt.  The first (longer) belt was $4.99. This new belt is identical in every way except for its length.  It’s shorter. Yet it’s $8.99.  WTF!  But hey, it’s only $5 difference, so who cares?  I take my new belt back north (another 20-something miles) and install it on the engine.  Once I got the tension set, I TIGHTENED THE PIVOT BOLT. DUH.

W00t! It starts up!  YAY!  We head south to the truck stop.

8:30PM

As I’m getting off the exit, I notice that the engine seems to be missing more that I should expect.  It’s still driving OK so I pull into the truck stop and park in a truck parking space.  I jump out the driver door to check everything out to be sure there’s no damage and discover that I’m low on water from the overheat.  That’s when it hit me. 

8:45PM

YOU DUMBASS! You got out the driver door and left your keys in it again! This time, however, I had locked the deadbolt.  I was locked out of my motor home and the only keys to it are locked inside. It’s really cold with subzero wind-chills and I’m outside my motor home in a T-shirt trying to break in.  I could not get any of the windows to open, and the driver door was not cooperating. After about 10 minutes of attempts, I give up and head inside the truck stop to call a locksmith.

9:00PM

Linda and I decide that we are going to sleep in the camper. We’re both too tired to make the drive home by this point. I go up to the front desk and ask for a referral to a locksmith.  The manager offers me a set of slimjims to see if I can get in myself.  I go out and freeze for another 10 minutes trying to use the tools with no results.

9:15PM

I return the slimjim tools to the manager.  She tells me she will look up a locksmith. Around that time, another employee that says he’s had lots of success getting into semis wants to go out and try again.  I tell Linda to go into the Denny’s and get some dinner and I’ll join her as soon as I can.

9:30PM

The employee and I go back out and try for about 10 minutes.  No dice.  Freezing my butt off, I return to the manager and she agrees to call a locksmith.  I tell her that I’ll be in Denny’s getting some dinner so they will know where I am when he gets there.  After a few minutes, she comes into Denny’s with her cell phone in hand.  She has a locksmith on the phone who says that he can get me in for $50 and that he’d be there in 25 minutes.

10:00PM

The locksmith arrives. He’s a somewhat seedy-looking individual with his front teeth missing. I understand that this is typical of meth addicts and he looked a little bad.  But hell, what do I care?  If he can get me into my motor home, I’m happy! So, we head out.  He spends about 10 minutes trying to pick the deadbolt on the side door.  Then he spends a few minutes trying to get into the driver door.  No dice.  By this time I am frozen solid.  I tell him to do what he needs to and that I will be waiting for him in Denny’s.

10:20PM

Just as I’m finishing my dinner, the locksmith returns and holds my keys up triumphantly.  SUCCESS!  I ask what I owe him and he says $50.  I give him an extra $5 since it was harder than he planned and because it was so damn cold out.

10:30PM

As I’m getting up from the table, I see the locksmith come back in escorted by a police officer.  He gestures toward me and the police officer approaches.

“Good evening, Officer.  How can I help you?”

“Do you own a motor home, and were you locked out?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you hire this gentleman to unlock your doors?”

“Absolutely, I did.  He’s legit.”

“OK.  We got a call about someone breaking into a motor home and just wanted to check in.”

“No problem.  Thanks for checking in, and have a great evening!”

10:40PM

Linda and I head over to Wal-Mart in Lima, about 10 miles south of the truck stop.  We purchase a few things that we need.  Since the motor home doesn’t have any heat yet (because I have not filled the propane tanks or tested the systems) We pick up a comforter and blanket and plan to bundle up to stay warm.

11:30PM

After returning from Wal-Mart, I add the needed water to the engine and start it up to make sure it’s all good.  Seems to run fine, so I shut it down and Linda and I unpack our bedding.

11:59PM

We crawl into bed, cuddled up for warmth (it was 40 degrees INSIDE the motorhome!), and go to sleep.

February 8, 2012 (Linda’s Birthday)
Day Two:

8:00AM

We get up and stagger into the Denny’s for some breakfast.

8:30AM

Once we’re done with breakfast, I go fetch the Subaru so it can warm up for Linda to drive behind me in the motor home. I fire it up and we head out.

9:00AM

While just cruising down the road minding my own business, there is a sudden change in the sound of the engine.  It sounds much louder and rattly.  It’s a very disturbing sound, so I pull over at mile marker 127. Again, the engine has overheated.  However, this time, I cannot get the engine to turn over.  I go out and check the oil level.  There’s nothing on the dipstick!  Now, stupid me, I didn’t check the oil level before we left Toledo!  How I managed to forget that basic thing, I’ll never know! So, I decide to let the engine cool and go get some oil.  We head back to the same AutoZone from the night before and pick it up.

9:30AM

I return to the motorhome and put the oil in.  It still won’t turn over.  So, I start clicking the starter.  I can see that the engine will turn just a teeeeeeeny bit each time I engage the starter.  After several attempts, it starts turning over.  However, the batteries are are running low from all the starting and stopping over the last day and then the added load of trying to turn an engine that is acting like it’s seized will drop the voltage so low that the spark plugs can’t ignite the fuel.  CRAP.  I need something volatile like brake parts cleaner of starting fluid.  There’s none in either the Sube or the motor home.  So, it’s back to the parts store for starting fluid. This time, I went to Advance Auto because I was too embarrassed to go to that very same AutoZone again.

10:15AM

After getting the fluid and taking an emergency potty stop, I return to the motor home and squirt starting fluid in.  It starts!  YAY!  After putting things away, we decide to head down the road, driving with blinkers on and staying slow.  We just want to get home so I can fix this thing.

10:30AM

I call Linda and tell her I plan to stop at all the rest areas to allow it to rest.  How prophetic. Just before we get to the next one, I start losing power again.  I managed to coast the rest of the way to the rest area and park. 
Apparently, I wasn’t BURNING oil like I had thought, but somehow it was escaping the side of the engine and coating the frame rails on the passenger side. Since I don’t have a temp gauge (one of the things on the list to fix) I had no way to know when the engine was getting too hot.  So, I decided that I’d just get enough oil and water to keep putting into the engine so that I could limp all the way home.

12:30PM

I stopped at O’Reilly Auto Parts and got four GALLONS of oil, and then went to Wal-Mart and got 16 GALLONS of water and a digital thermometer.  I figured I’d tape the thermometer to the upper radiator hose so that I can read the temperature, and that would allow me to stop and rest the engine before it got terribly bad.

1:15PM

I got back to the motor home and added oil to the engine. I also wound up adding over three gallons of water!  The radiator on this thing is enormous! I taped the thermometer to the upper radiator hose and set the alarm temperature to 220 degrees.  I start it up and we head down the road.

1:30PM

We’re chugging along down the road and it seems to be going rather well.  The engine temp is staying low and is quite reasonable. Of course, the strange engine noise was still there, but there was no change in how it sounded, so we just kept on going.  I was even able to get up to 65 MPH for a while.  Then, around mile marker 95, I heard it backfiring again and power dropped off a little. It seemed to recover and then after a short distance, started backfiring and losing power pretty quickly. It was having trouble staying running at the lower RPM, so I downshifted to 2nd gear to keep the RPM up.  That only worked for a few seconds before I had to downshift to 1st gear because of the loss of power. I continued to slow, and got down to 25MPH. It was clear that I wasn’t going any further. I pulled over at mile marker 94.  Sure enough, there was steam again and it was overheated.

1:45PM

I exit the motorhome and walk back to the Subaru and get in.  I tell Linda that it overheated and that I was just going to let it cool down.  Just then, we hear a loud “POP” and steam comes out like gangbusters.  I say “Great, there goes the radiator.” The steam is so thick that it completely obscures the roadway. Linda expresses some concern, but there’s nothing I can do about it except wait for it to dissipate.

1:47PM

While sitting there waiting for the white steam to dissipate, it suddenly turns to black smoke. I say “I think that’s a fire!”  Linda agrees.  I jump out of the car and look along the passenger side of the motor home.  Sure enough, there are flames licking out of the wheel well. I run up to the motor home and open the side door.  There is thick black smoke inside.  It’s so thick that you can’t see anything.  It’s like a black wall.  Thankfully, the fire extinguisher is right by the door and I don’t have to enter to get it. I say to myself, “Oh, PLEASE work!” as I grab the fire extinguisher and pull the pin.  I spray the yellow powder all over the fire and get it to go out.

1:48PM

I look back and a state trooper has pulled up and is fetching a fire extinguisher from his trunk.  I holler at him that the fire is out, but he can’t hear me.  I walk back to meet him. He looks at the area and agrees that it’s out, but tells me that the fire department is on the way to be sure that it’s OK and safe.  He asks me if there was anyone else inside the motor home and I tell him that I was the only one.

1:55PM

A trucker who saw this unfolding had stopped and walked back with his fire extinguisher.  We told him that the fire was out and thanked him for stopping.  He said that he had to get going, and turned and left. I then open the hood of the motor home to let the steam and smoke out.  I also went inside and opened several windows to let the yucky black smoke out before it settled on everything. Right about that time, we hear the sirens of the fire truck approaching. The park in front of the motor home and I meet them.  I explained that I got it out, but they wanted to inspect to be sure.

2:05PM

After several minutes of inspection, I saw that they were trying to get their eyes on the top of the engine.  I offered to go inside and remove the doghouse cover so they could see the engine.  They said that would be good.  So, I went in and pulled off the cover.  Apparently, the fire HAD gotten all the way up onto the top of the motor.  The insulation on the bottom of the doghouse cover was completely burned up and crispy. I looked down at the engine. THERE WAS STILL AN EMBER GLOWING.  The firefighter took the air cleaner off and fetched a large CO2 fire extinguisher and hosed down the engine until he felt it was safe. 

2:10PM

Now that the fire was out, the “official business” began.  I met with the firefighters for a few minutes and they gave me their business cards and I gave them my contact information.  They packed up and left.  I met with the trooper.  He had called a tow truck for us, and while we waited for the tow truck to arrive, we completed the accident report. Strangely, he kept focusing on what I would need if I were going to file an insurance claim.  I guess he just assumed that I’d have full coverage insurance on the motor home that would cover this.  Lol.  Right now, I only have liability. I never dreamed that THIS would happen!

2:30PM

The tow truck arrives. He starts to hook up to the motor home.  I ask him what his tow rate is.  “$150 for the hookup and $3.50 per mile.”  OUCH.  I figure we’re 100 miles from home, and some quick math says it would cost me $500 to have it towed home.  I retreat to the Subaru and discuss it with Linda.  We decide that towing home is the better option.  If we towed to their yard, we’d have to pay storage and STILL pay to have it towed at a later date.  Since we had the money available to us, we figured getting it home was best so that I could affect repairs.

2:45PM

I tell the driver that we want to tow it home.  He tells me that we still need to tow to their shop first so they can call in a driver to take it, since he was not going to be the one to bring it. He completes the hookup and we drag it back to the shop.

3:00PM

The tow company tells me that they will need to disconnect the drive shaft for the long tow so that it doesn’t harm the transmission, and that labor will be an additional $50.  They tell me that it will be about an hour before the driver gets there.  We decide to go get some lunch and come back in an hour.

3:15PM

We stop at Bob Evans for lunch.  Worst service we’ve ever had at a Bob Evans.  Waitress took forever to bring things, and Linda’s Cobb Salad took 10 minutes or more to prepare.  The place was nearly empty and I can’t understand how it can take more than about 2 minutes to make a salad. We eat most of our food and pack up the rest as leftovers and head back to the tow shop.

4:15PM

The tow shop says they are still trying to locate a driver to haul my motor home to my house.  We decide to just head home and have them deliver it as soon as they can.  I ask them to call me as soon as they have a driver assigned so I can estimate when they will arrive with it. I pay the tow bill ($532!  ACK!) and Linda and I get on the highway and head for home.

6:45PM

We stop at the Kroger pharmacy to pick up medications that we had ordered the day before.  There are 3 cars ahead of us and it takes almost 30 minutes to get through the line and get Linda’s meds.  The pharmacy is understaffed….AGAIN. Ugh.

7:15PM

We arrive home and let the dogs out.  I collapse on the couch.

7:30PM

I start writing this blog entry.

7:45PM

I realize that I have not received a call about the tow. I call to ask where my motor home is.  They tell me that the driver “just left” and that they will have him call with an ETA. I continue writing the blog.

8:00PM

I get a call from the driver saying that he’s “just about to leave” and that he expects that he will arrive right around 10PM.  I tell him to call me when he gets off 129 so that I can go meet him where I want to drop the motor home. He agrees and I continue writing this blog entry.

9:30PM

I’m still working on this blog entry waiting for my motor home to arrive.

10:00PM 

Finally!  He called me and I went out and met him. We dropped the motor home on a side street near my house. Over the next couple days, I plan to either get it running and drive it to the parking area behind my house, or tow it with the Jeep and put it there on the weekend when Ken comes over.

11:59PM

I’m glad this day is over.  I’m going to sleep.

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About The Ratrace Losers

My wife and I have moved to the West Texas desert to live off-grid, to follow the Lord, and to help others by applying our skills. Check us out on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter! http:/blog.theratracelosers.com/
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One Response to There and Back Again: Murphy’s Revenge

  1. Rob says:

    WOW. MOST. DRAMATIC. RV. STORY. EVER. LOL

    Looking to buy on of these beauties for my family to live in, for only $1,000. Now I am terrified that “needs some work” entails a bit more than new light bulbs…

    Great blog! How did it turn out?

    Like

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