18 volt Cordless Drill
with 8" extension, 3/8" drive and 3/4" socket.
Truck overloads made a huge difference for our rig.
Before the Timbren overloads
were installed - a bit saggy.
better weight distribution.
Cracked Equalizer hitch weld to the right of the top bolt.
Sheered off Equalizer hitch bolts.
New Grade 8 bolts, washers and nuts.
New Grade 8 bolts
(6 hash marks).
Old Grade 5 bolts
(3 hash marks).
Shrink-wrapped screen door.
Let the sun shine IN !!
RV Tips - Tricks to make RVing easier!!
We have come across a lot of little tips and tricks during our five years of RVing, and I thought I'd share a few here. These
are little things we've come across or come up with, and hopefully they can help you or even inspire you to come up with your
own even better ideas.
UNHITCHING and SETTING UP
Cordless Drill for Easy Jack Setup
We don't have electric stabilizer jacks on our fifth wheel trailer (nor
did we on our travel trailer). However, we use an 18 volt cordless
drill, and it's very easy. We put an adapter in the drill that has a 3/8"
square male drive on it. This attaches to an 8" socket extension with
a 3/8" drive. Attached to that is a ¾" socket with a 3/8" drive. This
setup worked on both the 4 stab-jacks on the travel trailer and the two
rear scissor jacks on the fifth wheel. We keep the drill in a handy
place so it is easy to grab during both setup and breakdown.
Working Solo - Hitching up a Fifth Wheel
Mark and I work together to connect the trailer to the truck (Mark drives and I operate the electric landing legs in the front of
the trailer). However, for those who do this task solo, friends of ours have a great trick. Our friend Bob marked one of the
front landing legs of his trailer at half inch intervals all the way up and down the leg. Then he numbered each hash mark. He
keeps a pad and pen in the hatch near the landing legs button. When unhitching, once he's raised the trailer to where he can
drive the truck out from under it, he jots down the hash mark number that is visible on the leg. Then he drives out, parks, and
walks back to level the trailer. When he hitches up again to leave, he adjusts the trailer height to the exact hash mark where
he unhitched. That way, when he gets in the truck to re-attach to the trailer, he knows the trailer will be at the correct height
as he backs the truck up into the hitch pin (and he doesn't have to get in and out of the truck several times to check and adjust
the height of the trailer).
Leveling with 5' Boards
There are many methods for getting a trailer level, but we have found that with two 5' lengths of 2"x8" board and one 5' length
of 1"x8" board we can always find a combination that works. A 5' board is relatively easy to drive onto and provides a solid
platform for the trailer's wheels. Our pressure treated 2x8's have lasted 2.5 years. Our non-pressure treated 1x8 lasted two
years and then split lengthwise. We store them in the bed of the pickup. When using two boards, we stagger them a few
inches so the trailer is driven first onto one level and then up a step to the next. We have to remember to back up when
coming off stacked boards or the upper one will tip up and hit the bottom of the trailer while driving off it (think of a sailor
walking the plank).
PREPARING TO LEAVE
Flexible Cutting Board Carpet Protectors
The carpets take a beating as the slide-outs roll in and out. Most slide-outs aren't quite square and one wall or the other
presses particularly hard on the floor while driving. You can buy fancy carpet protection gizmos from RV stores that fit under
the slides. I went a cheaper route and bought a package of four flexible plastic cutting boards from Walmart. Taping two of
these end-to-end, they fit under the slide-out walls perfectly and are thick enough to protect the carpets. I keep one pair
under one slide-out wall while driving, because that slide is crooked and its one wall gets wedged against the floor pretty
tightly. The other slide-out walls hover above the carpet as we drive, so I pull the plastic cutting boards out from under them
so they don't get lost underneath while in transit.
After having a cabinet door fly open while traveling, allowing two unbreakable Corelle bowls to fly across the trailer and break
in half, we now latch every cabinet door with bungee cords. We get the 3" loops with the ball end found at Camping World
and other RV stores. For drawers we use a thin, short bungee with a hook at each end, hooking the top and bottom drawer
Rolled up Carpets
We have a large pots-and-pans drawer that always insists on opening, even on the smoothest drives. We roll up our throw
rugs and place them so they can't unroll in front of the drawer to keep it closed.
Rubber Shelf Liners
This stuff is invaluable, keeping everything in its place on each shelf as we travel. We try to make sure no plates, mugs or
glasses are touching each other.
To Do List
We thought we could memorize all the things that need to be done before we start driving somewhere, but a few mishaps
taught us otherwise. We now have a "to do" list taped inside the same cabinet that houses the main slide-out controls. A
quick glance reassures us before we leave that indeed all the hatches are closed, the shower door is latched, the
hummingbird feeder is not hanging on a window somewhere, etc.
Slide Roof Cleaning
No matter where we park, the slide roofs need attention before we bring them in. Either they are dusty, in the desert, or they
are covered with twigs and leaves, in the woods, or they are wet from rain. Slide toppers might help with this, although I have
heard that they tend to make noise in high winds, sag over time, and sometimes end up with leaves and twigs trapped
underneath. Mark has a very wide squeegy he uses to get the water off, a broom for the leaves and branches, and a
California Duster and/or broom for the dust. Getting up on the roof before each move is also useful for checking out all the
rooftop items like hatches, TV antenna, solar panels and wiring.
DRIVING OFF INTO THE SUNSET
We have a Dodge 3500 (one ton) truck and a 14,000 lb. fifth
wheel. When hitched up, although the rig looks quite level, it
actually dips slightly at the hitch, leaving the front wheels of the
truck a little light. Mark would notice this lightness as we drove
in windy conditions or got passed by a semi on the freeway.
The truck had a tendency to wander.
He got the Timbren Suspension Enhancement System installed between the axles and leaf springs of the truck. What a
miraculous change. Suddenly the truck tracked really well regardless of wind conditions or size and speed of vehicle passing
us on the highway. These are solid rubber donuts that fit between the axle and the leaf springs. They are not airbags, so
there is no concern about them losing air or needing to be balanced. The rig is not quite as level looking when hooked up, but
it drives a lot better.
Installation seems like a job that a handy guy could do. However, it turns out that there are spacers that can be a vital part of
the installation, and they don't come with the kit that you buy. Because we had towed our fifth wheel about 15,000 miles, the
leaf springs had sagged a little and needed more spacers. The installer had these on hand and was able to get the truck
balanced properly in one shot, rather than Mark having to return to the store several times to find the right spacer combination
if he had tackled the installation himself. The whole system, installed, cost $245. http://timbren.com/ses-kits.htm.
Equalizer Trailer Hitch
We had two major mishaps with our 12,000 lb.-rated Equalizer bumper hitch in one year of use. Despite researching
extensively before buying, and determining that Equalizer was the hitch to buy, I am not sure that this hitch was up to the task
of pulling a 7,000 lb. travel trailer full-time. If we were to do it again, we'd look very seriously at the PullRite travel trailer hitch
Cracked Welds on our Equalizer Hitch
The first problem we had with the hitch was when the welds cracked. By some divine good fortune, Mark noticed the cracked
welds while we were unhitched at a campground. He is meticulous about checking things around the rig, and he was
checking the bolts on the hitch because they had a tendency to loosen. What a shock to see that the welds were cracked on
both sides of the hitch! The whole assembly was being held together by an inch or so of good weld on one side and little
more than that on the other.
Equalizer was very accommodating (the hitch was 4 months old at the time), and they replaced the entire hitch at no cost to
us. The dealer that handled the replacement sent the failed hitch back to Equalizer, but we never heard their engineers'
reaction to it. The fact that the welds failed at all is very scary, as our 7k trailer was well within the design tolerance of their
12k hitch. We had not driven over anything unusual or abused the hitch in any way.
Sheered Bolt on our Equalizer Hitch
Our second problem with the hitch came when we had been using it
for 10 months and one of the two bolts holding the hitch together
sheered off. We think it happened as we drove out of a bank parking
lot onto a street. There was a short "ramp" from the parking lot to the
street, as there are at many parking lot / street intersections. We felt
the dip as we drove very slowly onto the street but thought nothing of
it, as those kinds of things as well as speed bumps, curbs and
potholes are all over the place. But apparently this dip was more than
the hitch could take. We did not notice anything wrong immediately,
but 100 miles down the road when we stopped for a break, Mark
walked around the rig as usual just to check things out and he saw that
one of the two bolts was jiggling around with no nut on its back side.
The bolt had sheered off at the nut grooves.
There was a Fastenal store within a few miles, and we stopped to get a new bolt. Here we
learned about the tensile strength of different types of bolts. The bolts that came with the
hitch were Grade 5 (three slash marks on the bolt head). The replacement bolts and nuts
that Fastenal sold us for a few bucks were Grade 8 (six slash marks on the bolt head). The
new bolts and nuts worked fine for the remaining two months that we owned the trailer/hitch
combination. It is hard to argue that the Grade 5 bolts were strong enough for this hitch.
However, when we told Equalizer about this mishap they assured us that the Grade 5 bolts
were well within their design specs for towing a 7,000 lb trailer with their 12,000 lb. rated
hitch. If you own one of these hitches, I would recommend upgrading the bolts.
If you are curious about bolt tensile strengths, there is a chart
Black Water horror stories are a favorite around the campfire, especially as happy hour drifts into its second or third hour. We
were told we wouldn't be true RVers until we had a story of our own. Now that we have two very gory stories to our credit
(both too disgusting to share on these clean white pages), I guess we have joined the ranks of true RVers. (Just make sure
the hole in the ground where you place the sewer hose is actually the dump hole, and also be sure to close all the holding
tank valves when you finish dumping so you don't get a big surprise the next time you start).
Much of the trouble with getting stuff out of the black tank depends entirely on what has gone into it. Many a horrific black
water story seems to get only partially cleaned up at the dump station, leaving the remnants of the tale for the next guest.
Yuck! I am amazed at how much once-wet and now-dry toilet paper decorates the surroundings of many RV dump stations.
One easy way around potential tank-cloggings caused by toilet paper is to minimize how much toilet paper goes into the tank.
We keep a waste basket lined with a supermarket plastic bag next to the toilet and deposit most toilet paper there. Each day
the bag is tied, double-bagged if necessary, and put into our main trash or tossed immediately. It is a great way to stay on top
of all those accumulating supermarket plastic bags and it keeps the tank filled with organic material rather than synthetic.
That way we can also use the plushest toilet paper that we wish.
I mentioned RV Digest-It on the boondocking page but will mention it here again because it is great
stuff. This bacteria-based product puts live creatures in your tank that munch on the black waste and
liquify it for easy dumping. After emptying the tanks at the dump, we put 2 ounces in each of the grey
tanks (28 and 50 gallons respectively) and in the black tank (50 gallons). We have been in our trailer full-
time for a year and a half and still have 100% accurate readings on our black and grey tank monitors.
Because the bacteria liquify the contents of the tanks, when we dump, 95% of what comes out of the
black tank is liquid (we have a clear connector that we put on the sewer hose so we can see what's
Formaldehyde based tank treatments not only destroy RV dump stations but also potentially leach into
the ground and our ground water systems. RV Dump stations have had to close due to poisoning by RV
tank chemicals. Many RVers swear by formaldehyde based chemicals, but formaldehyde is a
preservative, and in reality it simply preserves what is in the tank rather than liquifying it. Remember
those formaldehyde preserved dogfish and fetal pigs we dissected in high school? They were perfect
specimens even after a few weeks of hacking by kids with scalpels. Why preserve all those solids in the
black tank in their original form? That leaves the tank vulnerable to clogging. Better to use
biodegradable bacteria to break the solids down into liquid so they can easily be flushed out of the tank
like running water.
Pour a Pail of Water in the Toilet
The biggest problem in the black tank is right below the toilet. The tank is some 8' long and 2' wide but only 6" deep, and the
bulk of the solids build up right below the toilet, for obvious reasons. Even though we have a fresh water flush system on this
tank, it flushes the sides of the tank but not necessarily the spot right under the toilet. Every second or third time we dump,
after the black tank has drained, I fill a 4-gallon pail with water and pour it down the toilet. Usually a few solids get dislodged.
I repeat this process until Mark reports the water is running clear (usually one or two pails full, on rare occasions it takes
three). If we had the right window configuration on the trailer, we could run a hose from the water spigot through a window to
the toilet, but marching the pails in and out of the trailer works fine for us.
Being Sanitary at the RV Dump
If you stop to think about germ propagation, RV dumps are scary places. Surprisingly, many RVers jump into the task with
bare hands. We have a long pair of heavy rubber gloves and a stash of disposable thin ones. Mark dons both, disposables
first and heavy ones for an outer layer, and he washes the reusable heavy rubber gloves before putting them away. He keeps
a paper towel roll mounted in a hatch door and hand sanitizer nearby. We have some spray bleach that we use to spray
down the fresh water nozzle and our hose nozzle before filling the fresh water tanks with potable water as well (even so, we
still don't drink from our water tanks, relying on gallon bottles and reverse-osmosis water refilling stations instead). That's not
to say that we've got it all down -- too often, in the midst of trying to get this ugly job done quickly, we find that we've grabbed
something clean with "dump hands," but we try...
STAYING WARM IN WINTER
Plastic on our Screen Door
Our first winter we watched with envy as the experienced RVers kept their doors open all
day while the sun poured into their rigs. They had shrink-wrapped thin plastic on their
screen doors and could enjoy the sun without feeling the biting wind. We, on the other
hand, had a porous screen door and would freeze every time we cracked open the door.
And try to find a box of shrink-wrap plastic for doors and windows in Arizona!! That stuff is
sold only in the northern states. So the next year we got a bunch on clearance when we
hit Kansas in May. Our second winter we had a wind-proof screen door too.
You can find window plastic in hardware stores and at Walmart. The instructions for
installation are on the box. For us it was a two-person job to get the shrink-wrap on. We
simply cut the plastic with scissors to a few inches bigger than the door. The shrink-wrap
plastic comes with two-sided tape in the box, and we placed the tape along the outer edge
of the door all the way around on the outside of the door, except at the door handle There
we outlined the square open area where the plastic slide is, going in towards the middle of
the door (basically following the outline of the plastic slider when it is closed). Then Mark
held the shrink wrap at the top of the door and I pulled it taught towards the bottom. Then
he pressed it flat and pressed the edges onto the tape. Next, he took a knife and cut out
the section that covers the plastic slider. Last, he blew it with the hair dryer to tighten it all
up. When it was finished, the plastic slider could open and close as always. When open,
there is a "hole" with no shrink wrap. But we keep that little plastic slider closed except
when reaching through the door from the inside to access the door handle.
Our first attempt had some wrinkles... maybe this year we'll get it clean and flush like the seasoned pros.
As a lark, we picked up a DVD of a fire crackling in a fireplace called Fireside Reflections. Friends of
ours who wanted to bring their toasty Montana fireplace with them in their fifth wheel to the Arizona
desert in the winter turned us on to it. What a fun surprise! Put this in the DVD player, and you've got a
great backdrop for a cold evening. The fire crackles and pops and burns down, and crazy as it sounds,
the image adds a nice glow to the room. You can discover just how susceptible your mind is to tricks of
suggestion if you sit in the seat closest to the TV. Everyone who has relaxed in that chair in our trailer
has reported after a half hour or so that their face and body are getting warm on the side next to the fire!
There was so much to say about our heater that it's on its own page.
We have a fabric ceiling liner and twice we've had to clean a stain from it. Each time we used a spray bleach and the results
were miraculous. You couldn't see where the stain had been. Just make sure you cover everything nearby before spraying
bleach in the air or you'll have not just a clean ceiling but white spots on the rugs and upholstery too.
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