Goldline RV Cover – Winter protection for our new trailer!

September 2022 – It’s hard to believe it, but we’ve come to the end of our summer RV travel adventure and we’re back home living a sticks-and-bricks lifestyle once again!

We still have a few more travel stories to tell, and we’ll be posting them this fall and winter. But gosh, where did the time go? That sure was a quick 15 weeks!

This business of being part-time, seasonal RVers involves a whole different kind of planning and preparation than living in an RV full-time, and I will be sharing my thoughts on that as well as doing a detailed review of our Genesis Supreme toy hauler in the coming months as well.

In the meantime, we are eyeing the prospect of putting our trailer to bed for the winter, something we never had to do as full-timers. For those who are going to be doing the same thing, we wanted to let you know how we’re planning to tuck our rig in for its long winter’s nap.

Goldline RV Cover for a Fifth Wheel Trailer

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Before we left in June, one of the things that concerned us most about buying our virtually brand new Genesis Supreme toy hauler was how we’d protect it from the elements during the eight months of the year it was sitting dormant waiting to be the Mothership for our travel adventures the next summer.

Our 2007 Hitchhiker fifth wheel that we lived in full-time was out in the elements 24/7/365 for the twelve years we owned it because we were living in it year round except for the months it was in storage between 2009 and 2013 as we sailed Mexico’s Pacific Coast on our boat.

Sadly, even though we washed and waxed the Hitchhiker fifth wheel regularly, by the last few years we owned it, the exterior seriously showed its age and looked terrible. Likewise, the exterior of the formerly garage kept Arctic Fox truck camper we owned for a year was just beginning to show a few signs of aging after it sat outside for the 12 months we had it.

We don’t have a good covered storage option for our new trailer, so we decided we’d try protecting our new trailer each winter with a fabric RV cover.

There are quite a few brands of RV covers on the market, and all get mixed reviews. They tend to tear over time and generally fall apart. For several weeks before we left, we read reviews of various RV covers until our eyes got tired.

Then we came across a discussion in the Escapees RV forum about the Goldline RV cover, a brand we hadn’t heard of before.

This cover is made from a 7-ply material rather than the standard 6-ply material used by other manufacturers, and the reviews and discussion about its construction were very favorable.

We dug a little deeper and discovered that one of the things that makes the Goldline RV cover unique is the Marine Grade fabric used in its construction. Similar to Sunbrella, which has a weave density of 800D, this fabric, Marinex, has a weave density of 600D which translates to a 33% weight savings, a big plus when trying to pull a 50′ x 25′ piece of it up onto an RV roof!

Also, the the color of the fabric is obtained by dyeing the thread rather than dyeing the finished fabric which makes the color hold much better over time.

One of the things we liked is that the Goldline RV covers are sized in two foot increments. Other covers we considered have as much as four foot increments between sizes, making it difficult to get a good fit.

Our toy hauler is 32′ 10″ long, so we chose a 33′ Goldline RV cover. We’ve done a trial run of putting the RV cover onto the trailer so we could see how it worked and what we are in for when we’re finally ready to cover it for the winter.

It’s not hard to put this RV cover on. We laid it out on the ground next to the toy hauler, putting the “Front of cover” label at the front of the rig, and then Mark pulled it up onto the roof and lowered the sides.

Eevelle Goldline RV Cover fifth wheel installation 1

We laid the cover on the ground alongside our trailer.

Eevelle Goldline RV Cover fifth wheel installation 2

We located the “Front of Cover” label. You can also look for the piping that is on each side of the fifth wheel overhang.

Eevelle Goldline RV Cover fifth wheel installation 3

Up the ladder he goes! This is where the full weight of Sunbrella fabric would be a challenge.

There are panels on the two sides of the Goldline RV cover that can be rolled up by the roof or lowered down and zipped closed. This allows access to the RV door, windows and hatches as needed.

Goldline makes toy hauler RV covers for travel trailer toy haulers that have an opening in the back for the ramp door as well. This would be terrific! However, they don’t have a model for a fifth wheel toy hauler like ours available yet, so we went with the regular fifth wheel RV cover. We just won’t be able to open the ramp door when the cover is on the trailer.

Eevelle Goldline RV Cover fifth wheel installation 4

Mark pulled the cover towards the back of the trailer and let the sides fall as he went.

The last step in the installation is to cinch up the straps that go beneath the trailer and hold the sides down and also to tighten the straps on the rear end as well as the fabric that covers the fifth wheel overhang.

Eevelle Goldline RV Cover fifth wheel installation 5

Looking good up there!

Eevelle Goldline RV Cover fifth wheel installation 6

It seems like a good overall fit.

I’ll be writing a more detailed review of this RV cover once we’ve had it on our trailer for the winter months, gone in and out of various hatch compartments and the front door with the cover in place, and seen the cover through the worst of the mid-winter storms.

We rarely get snow in our area but we do get plenty of heavy rain in short doses, some wind, and tons of UV-filled sunshine. Those UV rays cause the worst damage to an RV’s exterior, so we’re excited to have found an RV cover made of UV resistent fabric that can protect our rolling home and hopefully keep it looking good!

Eevelle Goldline RV Cover fifth wheel installation 7

We tied a few of the straps but not all of them…this was a trial run.

Eevelle Goldline RV Cover fifth wheel installation 8

While it’s “in storage” we’ll be able to go in and out of it easily…nice!

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2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler – Our Big RV Reveal!

Everybody loves celebrating “Big Reveals” announcing special surprises these days, so here is our Big RV Reveal: Our new rig for our summertime travel adventures is a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler!

My last post left off with a bit of a cliff-hanger after I described selling our Arctic Fox truck camper. I dropped a big hint about what was coming, though, with this final image:

The Journey Begins - Genesis Supreme Toy Hauler

It is the logo that appears on the back of all Genesis Supreme toy haulers!

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler ramp door

Back when we were full-timing, we struggled for several years with figuring out what to get to replace our 2007 Hitchhiker fifth wheel. We went on several factory tours in Elkhart, Indiana, and I even did a big research project that resulted in a feature article for Trailer Life Magazine about the larger toy haulers on the market at the time. It appeared in the September 2019 issue of Trailer Life.

However, we couldn’t find a toy hauler that was built as solidly as we wanted for full-time use. We also wanted a separate garage that was at least 12′ long, but that meant the whole trailer would be north of 40′ and even as long as 44′. That is a Really Long Trailer! And Mark was not enthused about towing such a huge beast.

Also, the longer trailers were often a bit skinny on Cargo Carrying Capacity for our RZR plus full tanks and all our stuff (you have all your worldly possessions with you when you’re full-time). We’d had enough trouble with failing axles and a failed suspension on our fifth wheel trailer (and it wasn’t even overloaded beyond the factory specifications) that we didn’t want to risk towing around a huge trailer that was at or near its load limit.

Basically, we wanted it all, but we wanted it to be fairly short and really stout too. But we couldn’t find such a rig.

While we were camping in our truck camper last summer, I realized we could make do with a tiny kitchen and tiny bedroom for a few months of travel but we needed a big open area inside the trailer to relax and stretch out — recliners, sofa, something! If we could convert that open area to be a garage for the RZR and bikes while we were in transit, I’d be thrilled!

It suddenly dawned on me that what we needed was an open box toy hauler!

These rigs have a big garage area that converts into a living space with moveable furniture. The advantage over a unit with a separate garage is that you can arrange the living room furniture any way you wish and the overall length can be quite modest. The disadvantage is that you have a stinky dirty toy in your living room when you travel. It’s a tough trade-off and one we’d never make if we were living in the rig full-time. But for a few summer months it holds a lot of promise.

We would be able to haul the RZR and bikes inside the rig rather than having the RZR outside on a trailer or the bikes collecting road grime on a hitch receiver mounted bike rack. It would also give us an onboard gas tank to fuel up the RZR rather than carrying jugs of gasoline and we’d have an on-board gas generator which would allow us to turn on the air conditioning at a moment’s notice. If we bought a modern open box toy hauler, the ramp door would convert into an 8′ x 8′ patio off the back of the rig. All huge pluses!

Here’s where we landed:

Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Floor Plan

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Floor Plan
Ours has the two slide-outs. The “power queen bed” is on an electric lift system.

But how did we end up here?

There aren’t a lot of open box toy haulers on the market. The big Indiana RV manufacturers are focused on building toy haulers with a separate garage because no one wants that stinky dirty toy in their living room.

However, a small builder in California, Genesis Supreme, is manufacturing them under the brand names Genesis Supreme, Vortex and Wanderer.

Ironically, while out camping last summer, we met a guy camping in a Genesis Supreme Vortex. It was a massive model — 42 feet long — and it was cavernous inside. He didn’t use it to bring any kind of toys with him, though. Instead, being a really outgoing and fun-loving type of guy, he’d set up the whole interior to be Party Central for him and his wife and his crowd of friends and family that he camped with regularly.

He could fit 18 people in his rig comfortably (he had several Euro Chairs and gravity syle reclining camping chairs for them all). He also had a fully stocked bar and a beautiful huge kitchen with tons of counter space. The bedroom had a king bed and the shower was a full size tub enclosure rather than a stall shower. He stored it 10 minutes from where he liked to camp and he’d just drive his truck from the house to the storage lot (an hour’s drive) and then hitch up and drive a few miles to go camping. An ideal situation for him.

We went back to our truck camper in awe and with fresh new ideas swimming around in our heads. We woudn’t want to tow that beast, but my oh my, the things you can do with an open floor plan and moveable furniture!

I began searching online for open box toy haulers and there were very few. Genesis Supreme makes open box toy haulers exclusively, however, and they had a really cool unit that would suit our needs: the Genesis Supreme 28CRT.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

The fresh water tankage was better than the Hitchhiker by 22 gallons and although the waste tanks were smaller than ideal they were manageable for shorter-term, on-the-go, frequently-moving travels. It also had a generous an on-board gas tank for the RZR and the on-baord generator:

  • Fresh Water: 100 gallons
  • Gray Tank: 40 gallons
  • Black Tank: 40 gallons
  • Propane: 14 gallons
  • Gasoline: 40 gallons

I used to wonder why toy haulers are so often built with huge fresh water tanks and totally inadequate gray tanks — where did the manufacturer expect all that water to go? Well, most have an outside shower or hose for cleaning off the toy before putting it away. So, the assumption is that much of the fresh water will be used that way and will end up on the ground and not in the gray tank. Needless to say, the manufacturers should provide an appropriately sized gray tank for people who won’t be pouring fresh water on the ground as they wash their toys.

The weights and carrying capacity were good too (CCC nearly 5,000 lbs) and could easily accommodate full propane/gas/fresh water tanks (which is how we typically travel) as well as the RZR and our gear, clothes, bedding, tools and food:

  • UVW: 15,000 lbs
  • GVWR: 10,110
  • CCC: 4,890 lbs

When looking for a rig, especially a toy hauler that will carry something heavy, it’s important to add up all the fluids in the tanks plus the toy and then estimate the weight of all the other stuff you’ll be carrying, including upgrades with hidden weights like extra solar panels and batteries.

Our RZR is 1,250 lbs, our two bikes are 50 lbs, a full 100 gallon water tank is 830 lbs, a full 40 gallon gas tank is 244 lbs, and 14 gallons of propane is 60 lbs. The total for all that is 2,434 lbs. That leaves a comfortable margin of 2,486 lbs for any upgrades we install, our kitchen gear, tools, spare parts, clothing and food.

We saw plenty of toy haulers that had just over 3,000 lbs of cargo carrying capacity, and some of those had a 160 gallon fresh water tank which weighs 1,328 lbs. We wouldn’t be able to use one of those rigs and bring any clothes or food.

The Genesis Supreme 28CRT is 3′ shorter than our Hitchhiker was, a foot taller and 6 inches wider:

  • Length: 33′
  • Width: 8′ 6″
  • Height 13′ 6″

Although we don’t have the measurement from the Hitchhiker, the Genesis Supreme appears to have less of an overhang behind the rear wheels, a plus when taking a tight turn which makes the back end swing out and potentially hit things. Years ago our Hitchhiker hit a guard rail which peeled the entire fiberglass endcap back about a foot, revealing all the insulation and wiring inside the wall. Ugh! The cost of the repair (covered by insurance) was 25% of the new purchase price of that 5th wheel.

It also appeared that the Genesis Supreme was higher off the ground than the Hitchhiker which is good when going through dips and washes.

There was a Genesis Supreme 28CRT for sale at a dealership an hour or so away, so I went there with a tape measure, notepad and camera in hand to see what it was like. Mark decided to stay home with Buddy and he just said, “If you like it, make an offer!”

I really liked it, but I wasn’t going to commit us to anything without him seeing it and liking it too! I came home and we went over all the photos and discussed it at length. He liked the looks of it but didn’t particularly want to go to the dealership to negotiate.

“I don’t want to buy anything unless it falls in my lap!” He said.

I agreed 100%. Fall-in-the-lap deals are the best. You set the stage, do your homework, and aim for success, but you can’t force the right thing to happen. I’ve come to realize that every seemingly “perfect” deal that tragically falls through does so because it is making way for a better deal to come along. I knew RVs were selling fast, though, and I was concerned we’d lose this one if we didn’t act soon.

I called Genesis Supreme to see how busy they were. It’s a small enough company that you can actually call and easily get through to someone knowledgeable who has real answers! They said they had several dealer orders for Vortex 2815V models in the coming months and that those units were identical to the Genesis Supreme 28CRT models inside but were painted a different color on the outside (battleship gray instead of white with black, blue and gray stripes). These units would be shipping with a higher MSRP, of course, but at least the unit at the dealership wasn’t the last one to be delivered for 12 months as I’d been told last summer about a Desert Fox model I liked and that was nowhere to be found west of the Mississippi.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

One night, I casually looked on Craigslist, and tucked in between all the dealership ads for 2022 Genesis Supremes there was a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT for sale by a private party. Huh?

I contacted the seller and he said he’d had it for 5 months and realized it didn’t work for his purposes. He’d bought it to visit his inlaws on weekends and travel a little on the side but decided it made more sense to buy a small second home near his inlaws and get a small motorhome for traveling.

That would all be much more money than a truck and trailer, but he was more concerned about getting the right solution than the cost. Plus, a second home is an investment that will generally appreciate whereas an RV is a asset that will generally depreciate in value. We were intrigued that he didn’t own a big motorized toy like a RZR and he used the trailer to haul two big tricycles for riding around his inlaws’ neighborhood.

I asked if we could see it and he said, “Yes, but unfortunately I’m storing it in a lot that’s 90 miles from where I live…”

It turned out his storage lot was right down the street from where we live! WOW!!

It seemed like a very cool opportunity was falling our laps!

We saw it, loved it, struck a deal that was way below what we would have paid at the dealership, and brought it home. The unit at the dealership didn’t have an onboard generator because of supply chain issues while this one had a generator and some other small upgrades already installed. It had been used so few times that the microwave and stereo still had plastic film protecting the display.

The furniture is black, which is not my first choice. The unit at the dealership had more appealing cream colored furniture and some lighter trim which lightened the interior significantly.

However, unlike a full-time rig where I’d be very fussy about the interior, we’ll be in this for just a few months at a time, and hopefully we’ll be outside doing and seeing exciting things most of that time. We don’t have to worry about the long dark months of winter when full-timers can wind up staying inside quite a bit.

Stepping inside, you are facing the kitchen, and the garage/living area is to the left.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Interior

The sofa is pretty comfy both for sitting and for napping (it’s a jackknife sofabed)

The length of the garage area is 15’11” from the ramp door to the refrigerator. Our RZR is 9′ long. There are two small 20″ deep slide-outs, one in the main area for a fold-up sofa/bed and one in the bedroom for some drawers and a closet.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler main living area

An open box floor plan allows you to arrange the interior however you like with moveable furniture!

The tiny L-shaped kitchen is workable although not optimal, but with some minor modifications we’ve made it more spacious (details coming in another post).

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Kitchen

The sofa and kitchen are on the driver’s side

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Kitchen closeup

The L-kitchen is small, but with some simple modifications (not shown here) we’ve made it more spacious

The interesting thing about open box toy haulers is that everything is geared towards making room for and bringing in that big ol’ toy. The jack-knife sofa can fold out into a full-size bed but it can also fold up against the wall to make room for a big toy.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler sofa side

The jackknife sofa in its “living room” position.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler sofa up in travel position

The sofa is folded up against the exterior wall in “travel position.”

The recliners are very light and can be moved easily. The official setup has a small removable table between them.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Recliners

The recliners are light and can be moved easily. The factory provides a removable pedestal table.

But they could also be set up in the rear. This is where the guy who towed around Party Central really had fun. He could arrange seating for all his friends and family in many different ways. For us, we’ll see how we end up using it. I like having options!

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Living room

The recliners can also be placed in the rear of the rig the way they are in many traditional fifth wheel trailers.

In the rear there is a queen size top bunk (60 x 80 inches) and two sets of “rollover” sofas that can face each other or be laid flat to form a full-size lower bunk bed (54 x 80 inches).

Both bunks can be raised and lowered. The sofas (lower bunk) are the ones that actually move up and down the track while the top bunk simply rides on top of them. There are stops placed a few feet down on the rails to force the top bunk to stop descending as the lower bunk is lowered. Once the top bunk has stopped, the sofas that make up the lower bunk can be lowered all the way down to be set up as either opposing sofas or as a single full-size bed.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Happijac beds up

The bunk beds in the back are in the fully raised position so you can walk (or fit a RZR) underneath.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Happijac halfway down

The top bunk rides on top of the two opposing sofas which flatten out to make a full size bed.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler Happijac lowered

The top bunk stops descending at some stoppers placed midway down the track. The sofas (laid out as a lower bunk) descend down to traditional bed level.

The top bunk is really cozy and comfy and you get a great view out the window at the beautiful outdoors. The lower bunk is surpisingly comfy too, and what we’re finding is it’s fun to have it set up as a kind of lounging area, great for napping, reading a book or for watching the Outdoor Channel (Buddy’s favorite station on his Window TV).

Heading upstairs, the spaciousness missing in the kitchen has been totally regained in the bathroom. It is big and roomy.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler bathroom sink and shower

The bathroom is very spacious.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler shower

Fancy stall shower.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler bathroom

What the kitchen lacks in space, the bathroom makes up for in spades!

The bedroom is very small and the bed is a short RV queen (60 x 74.5 versus 60 x 80) that runs “north-south,” i.e., parallel to the road. There are two hanging closets, four drawers, a lot of storage over the bed and a cubby for laundry as well as a bedside table. Plus there are windows on both sides of the bed.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler bedroom 1

The bedroom has good storage space but just a short RV queen bed (60 x 74.5 inches).

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler bedroom 2

There is plenty of drawer and closet space in the bedroom.

Oh, look who just jumped up on the bed!

Buddy feels right at home here!

I think he wants to head outside, so let’s go.

Camping in a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

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One thing we love is that the windows are very large.

Camping in a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

The trailer is 13’6″ tall and you can see the height in this pic where Mark seems quite small next to it.

Another wonderful feature is the back patio. The ramp door opens up and hangs on cables from the frame to form a patio that can hold 3,000 lbs. A set of railings (by MorRyde) roll out and clip into place. Those rails will be handy for giving Buddy a way to be outdoors at times when we don’t want to let him run free.

Ramp door patio 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

The ramp door to the garage converts to a patio.

There’s a back gate you can open to get down to the ground.

Back patio of a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

It’s very cool to have an elevated outdoor space to hide out in!

Playing guitar on the patio of a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

Happy camper!

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler ramp patio

“What’s going on up there?”

Solar Power

Another bonus is that it came from the factory with a basic solar power setup. All the components are from Go Power. It’s a small system, but it may be enough for us to squeak by in the summer months when the days are long, the sun is high, and we use very little power because we go to bed at sunset and wake up at sunrise.

  • One 190 watt solar panel
  • Solar charge controller + Battery Monitor
  • 1500 watt pure sine wave inverter
  • Four 12-volt Group 24 wet cell batteries

We’ve never had a battery monitor before, so this is a new gizmo for us. We always kept an eye on the voltages reported on the solar charge controller to get a sense of how the batteries were doing. Now we can glance at the screen in the living room and it tells us the batteries are 100% charged, or whatever. How accurate it is, I have no idea!

As for all the other solar gear, we’ll do a summer with the factory installed setup and see how it goes. Down the road we might put more solar power on the roof and/or upgrade the batteries and/or upgrade the inverter. But for now, in 9 days of camping in mid-May, the system did just fine and the batteries were fully charged before nightfall. Of course, there’s always the onboard generator that has a switch in the kitchen and a switch by the bed so if you feel a need for power at 2:00 a.m., you can roll over, hit the switch, and snooze to the hum of the genny.

Sunset over a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

We really enjoyed our shakedown cruise and can’t wait to go on our bigger summer trip.

A few other big positives for us are:

Refrigerator

We didn’t want one of the huge 18 cubic foot four door refrigerators because they go through propane pretty quickly when boondocking and, over time, there have been more problems with them than with the smaller 6 to 10 foot double door refrigerators.

The double door 8 cubic foot refrigerator on this rig is the same size we lived with for all those years in our Hitchhiker, so we’re used to living with a small fridge. This particular one has a bigger freezer than our old one, so that’s a nice plus.

In our Hitchhiker, our 8 cubic foot fridge and our range used 7 gallons of propane every 3 weeks. If we had a refrigerator that was more than twice as big, we might be hunting for places to fill our propane tank every 7 to 10 days. It’s not always so easy to find propane, and it’s enough of a pain to unload the tank from the rig and into the truck and then chauffeur it to the propane store and load it back into the rig that we’d rather do it as infrequently as possible.

An electric fridge is fine if you have enough solar power to support it, but we’re just trying to have fun for a few months each year and we’re not looking for a long term full-time RVing type of solution.

Two Fresh Water Intakes and No All-In-One Compartment

Unlike most modern fifth wheels that have an all-in-one filling/dumping compartment on the side of the rig, this unit has all those things placed separately but near each other. We like having them all spaced out and operating independently of each other and not having to follow a chart for switches to be aligned different ways to go between dry camping, winterizing and full hookup camping.

Tank management on an RV

There are 2 separate fresh water intakes, one for filling the tank for dry camping and the other for a fresh water hookup.

The all-in-one sanitation compartments often have the fresh water intake recessed within the compartment which makes it impossible to add water to the tank with jerry jugs. It’s possible to rig up a pump to pump water out of a tank or jug and into that recessed intake, but we like the simplicity of hoisting a jug up and emptying it into the tank rather than getting out the pump and all that. Obviously, with some creativity, it is possible to make it very easy to use a pump and many people do.

Some rigs we’ve seen don’t even have a gravity fill fresh water intake which makes it difficult or impossible to add water to the tank from water jugs. The system uses switches instead to direct the water flow to the holding tank or to the interior of the rig.

This unit has one fresh water intake specifically for filling the fresh water holding tank that is located a little lower than the one on the Hitchhiker which will make it easier to access. It has another fresh water intake for a city connection for when we have fresh water available at our campsite (which is rare).

Electric Awning

Mark never thought he’d want or like an electric awning, but he’s loving this one. “As long as the motor keeps working!” he says. Hopefully it will because even I can open and close this awning in my sleep at 3 a.m. if I have to!

Keyless Door Lock

Again, we never thought we’d want or like having a keypad on the entry door that can be used in place of a key. But we love it! So often we approach the door and realize we don’t have the key with us. Now, we just punch in the magic code and Sesame opens for us!

There are keys for the door too, so you can use a key if you wish. There’s also a key fob with a remote so you can open or lock the door from a distance too!

RV keyless entry

Keyless entry is handy when you don’t have your keys on you.

Radio Reception and Outdoor Speakers

We could never get good radio reception on the radio in the Hitchhiker and that was something we noticed right away when we bought the Arctic Fox truck camper because it got great reception. It is so nice to listen to the radio and tune in to whatever is going on locally.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler outdoor speakers

Music outside – what fun!

We’ve enjoyed many a radio show consisting of call-in classified ads for farming and ranching equipment in the big rural western states, something we just don’t find elsewhere. The Genesis Supreme gets great radio reception and the outdoor speakers are an added bonus.

Shhhh — We promise to keep the outdoor volume down so we don’t bother the deer and the rabbits!

Sunset over a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler

Hopefully we’ll enjoy many years of travel in this baby!

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Buddy – A Journey in Sprit

The pages of this blog are full of travel tales from the lives we’ve lived on the road, at sea and abroad, but there are other kinds of journeys and adventures in life that don’t involve an RV, a sailboat or an airplane. This story is more profound than any we’ve shared with you in the past, and it has impacted our lives in the deepest ways imaginable.

Buddy - A Journey in Spirit

Our neighborhood has been inundated with mice and pack rats, and every neighbor keeps the hoods of their vehicles wide open in hopes of deterring these rodents from setting up housekeeping in the engine compartment. Not one neighbor has been spared from repairing the wiring in their car, truck or RV engine. And now, neither have we.

Rumor has it that the wire shielding is made with peanut oil which rodents love. Whether or not that’s true, in the space of a month, part of our truck engine’s main wiring harness was gnawed right through on two separate occasions. Of course, they chewed the wire to the nub, so it was nearly impossible to make the repaired connections hold. To make matters worse, the damaged part of the wiring harness was located beneath the fuse box in a spot that is extremely difficult to reach. Installing a new wiring harness would cost somewhere around $2,000, but by sheer determination and tenacity, Mark was able to make a successful repair.

Puppy at Glen Canyon

After all this, Mark was beside himself with frustration because the source of the problem was still out there. Over the course of a year he had purchased every rat deterrent and trap he could find, and in the process he’d disproven most of the old wives tales about the effectiveness of things like dryer sheets, Ivory soap and strobe lights that blink all night long. Each morning, many of his 20 or so peanut butter baited traps around the truck and the house would be tripped—and empty, licked clean and surrounded by fresh rodent droppings.

In a fit of pique, he bought some rat poison and put it under the truck. That would stop them, for sure!

The next day we took the truck to town and when we returned we parked it in different spot, our minds elsewhere. About 20 minutes later I noticed a green block on Buddy’s mat on the patio that looked like a dog treat. “What’s this?” I asked, holding it up for Mark to see. His eyes were saucers and his jaw dropped. “That’s the rat poison! What’s it doing there?!”

Buddy was bouncing around chasing lizards nearby.

Pup bouncing around

The poison stick appeared uneaten and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Then I caught sight of a second one. A quarter of it had been chewed. My heart stopped.

The chew marks looked rodent-like, but how had these things gotten on the back patio? Mark had put them under the truck on the other side of the house!

As we scrambled to try and piece together what might have happened in the last 30 minutes, Buddy continued trotting around, tail high and spirits higher.

I immediately called Tomcat, the manufacturer of the poison. Their poison hotline told me that if a 25 lb. dog ate just 1/4 of a brick of the poison — bromethalin — it wouldn’t be a lethal dose. Phew!!

At that moment Mark came barreling into the house, his eyes wild. “The kit came with 8 bricks and I can find only 7, including the one that was chewed. I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find that 8th brick”

As he ran outside again to continue searching for the missing brick, I called Tomcat back. The formerly calm and friendly gentleman at their poison info line had a sudden seriousness and urgency in his voice as he told me that a full brick and a quarter was a lethal dose and Buddy needed to go to the hospital immediately. He needed to be given activated charcoal to absorb as much of the poison as possible ASAP. He gave me a case number for the veterinarian to reference.

My world keeled over and crashed as I heard these words.

Buddy walked in and looked at me with a puzzled expression as if to say, “Why all the intense emotions around here all of a sudden?”

I called our veterinarian and his assistant urgently told us to get to the emergency animal hospital that’s nearly an hour away as fast as possible. “You need to go right now!” his assistant said, “but first induce vomiting by spraying hydrogen peroxide in his mouth.”

Mark did that and Buddy promptly threw up some very pale green phlegm. Our hearts sank. There was no doubt now that he had ingested the poison.

Puppy at sunset

We grabbed Buddy and drove like wildfire to the emergency animal hospital.

Murphy, of Murphy’s Law, was working overtime, though, and we arrived at the hospital right in the middle of a huge rush. One dog had heart failure on both sides of his heart, and another dog had swallowed something he shouldn’t have, and other crisis cases kept pouring in. We got in line.

I was less than patient waiting there, and I complained bitterly to anyone who would listen. The wonderful receptionist, Anne, and the lead veterinary technician, Angela, kindly listened to my complaints and apologized for the delay.

After an hour or more, Buddy was finally taken into the triage room.

He was bright eyed and bushy tailed and looked at us pleadingly as the vet techs took him away. Unfortunately, the team of doctors and nurses on duty was so busy it took another hour or so before they could administer the activated charcoal. Another hour after that he was finally brought out to us.

We learned that he’d thrown most of the charcoal back up. He had charcoal on his paws and his hips even though he’d been cleaned up.

Worse, he was totally panic stricken and his eyes were wild.

We looked at each other in shock. This was not the same dog we had handed over to them two hours before.

Beautiful patriotic dog

We whisked him away from the stress and trauma of the animal hospital towards home, and then decided to stop at a park near the hospital so he could stretch his legs and relax and start to regain his good spirits.

I put him down on the ground next to the car and he promptly laid down and wouldn’t get up.

Hmmm. I carried him to a quieter shady spot under a tree nearby and set him down again. He collapsed and wouldn’t budge.

Something was very wrong. Was it the trauma in the hospital or the charcoal and its after effects? Or was the poison beginning to take effect?

The veterinarian had told us that this particular poison causes brain swelling and seizures and if a dog has a seizure there’s no hope. He’s done. She had seen dogs die on the operating table.

There’s no antidote for bromethalin.

Puppy by the shore

I called the hospital, my voice shaking, and they said to return immediately.

As we drove, Buddy suddenly became a whole different animal in my arms. He was terrified. Not scared like I’ve seen him scared of things. He was constantly squirming in my arms now. His breath was shallow, his mouth agape, teeth showing, and his eyes were wide with terror.

He pinned his ears back and he strained to get out of my arms. His expression was like nothing I’ve ever seen. He wanted out of my arms and out of his body. Now!

His whole muzzle began shaking uncontrollably while I hugged him and consoled him and Mark drove 90 mph back to the hospital.

Puppy in a police car

The vet techs ran to us as we walked in the door and they whisked Buddy away into the triage room.

For the next hour Mark and I alternated clinging to each other and pacing the floor. At one point we heard barks, howls and wails coming from the emergency room that sounded like Buddy’s voice.

We were both beside ourselves. Mark was in tears and I couldn’t stop pacing and incessantly drinking water from the waiting room fridge as I tried to get rid of my dry mouth and panic.

Just a few hours earlier we had gone for a short hike with Buddy on one of his favorite trails. He’d been as charming as ever, trotting along ahead of us with his dear puppy prance, his whole sweet little body overflowing with joy at being alive.

Leaping for joy

The lead daytime veterinarian, Dr. Frost, finally came out of the emergency room and took us into a quiet room for a consultation. Her face was ashen as she leaned towards us to speak. “Buddy just had a grand mal seizure.”

I gasped and couldn’t breathe.

“I hate to be blunt, but I have to be honest with you.” She went on. “His situation is very grave. And you are going to have to make some very difficult decisions. If you want to continue, he needs the highest level of care that we offer. It costs about $5,000 a day.”

Mark broke down and put his head in his hands. “I can’t live without Buddy. If something happens to him, I don’t want to live.”

Dr. Frost rushed over to him and put her hands on his shoulders and looked him deep in the eyes. “Don’t say that!”

Puppy helps out with a photo shoot

We were all quiet for a moment and then someone appeared at my side while Dr. Frost slipped back into the triage room. The person was holding a formal quote for ICU care for the next 12 to 48 hours. The range was $6,000 to $18,000.

I glanced at the quote and the numbers didn’t even register in my mind. They didn’t matter. All that mattered right now was getting Buddy and our happy lives back to how they had been five hours before.

Beloved pink rope

Images of Buddy flitted through my mind: our happy-go-lucky little friend trotting around with his tail held high, and our dear cuddly pup playing under the blankets in bed.

Puppy on the rocks at dawn

Big puppy stretch

He was our sweet kindred spirit who loved adventure as much as we did. He would come alive when we were out exploring new trails.

Puppy on the hiking trail

Puppy dog running in the snow

I closed my eyes and vowed, “Buddy is fine. He’s fine.” He had to be. Come hell or high water, he had to make it. There was no other possible outcome, no other option. There was no other future for us except with Buddy living out his full life in our little family.

Mark sat on a bench with his head in his hands for a long time. The receptionist, Anne, came over to him and said quietly, “We can bring in a grief counselor for you…” He looked up, his face in agony, and said no, that wasn’t necessary.

Puppy love

I couldn’t stop pacing up and down the waiting room halls and drinking water.

Time stopped.

People were waiting patiently on the benches around the room, dogs and cats in their laps or at their feet, but I barely saw them.

Someone suddenly appeared asking for a credit card so we could make a preliminary payment of $7,800. That would cover Buddy’s care until 6 pm the next day. We gave him the card without a moment’s hesitation. We could sell things once we got home, if it came to that.

I went outside and paced all over the parking lot, out across a grassy field and around a distant building. I was half out of my mind, like a maniac, but I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t sit still.

Puppy plays with a slipper

With all my heart, I wanted to beg God for a miracle right now. With every fiber of my soul I wanted to plead with God to save our beloved little friend.

But I knew deep inside that that wasn’t the right approach.

I’ve done a lot of reading about divine healing over the past few years, and we experienced a miracle healing ourselves a while back.

I’d learned that healers who seek divine intervention don’t beg for assistance. They command that the healing take place and they believe deep in their hearts that the healing has been completed successfully already. They even speak of it that way, as a done deal.

I kept repeating to myself — silently and then out loud once I was out of earshot — that Buddy was healed, as if it had already happened. I thanked God profusely for Buddy’s full recovery and for gifting the doctors and nurses with healing hands.

I visualized the whole hospital staff being astonished and overjoyed by Buddy’s recovery.

I imagined the scene of the veterinarian and vet techs glowing with wonder and happiness that Buddy was fully healed.

In the doghouse outhouse

As soon as I’d finish saying and visualizing those things, I’d do it again.

Sometimes I’d phrase it a different way, but each time was like a vivid, forceful statement that had the full impact of all my ragged, intense and frazzled emotions behind it.

I went back in the waiting room and Dr. Frost came out to speak to us again. “I know how much you love your dog,” she said. “I want to make sure that if Buddy needs CPR you want us to do it.”

Of course!!

Modeling in the director's chair

She went on to explain that right now Buddy needed medication to reduce the brain swelling caused by the poison, but they couldn’t administer those meds until the seizures stopped.

So, they were putting him in a medically induced coma to force the seizures to stop.

Once the seizures ceased, they were planning to give him the anti-brain swelling medication. Eventually, if he survived, they could bring him out of the coma. It might take a few days or a week.

The big hope was that if he made it to the point of regaining consciousness, the seizures wouldn’t resume.

Pup in the wildflowers

Dr. Frost sighed and looked me intently. “There’s not much you can do right now.” She said. “But you can pray.”

“Oh, we have been!” I said. “Nonstop!”

I had asked our friends to pray for Buddy, and Mark’s daughter put out a request for prayers on Facebook. The response was overwhelming. Many shed tears when they heard what was going on and ardently prayed with us for a miracle.

Best Friends Forever

Puppy makes friends big and small

Best friends forever

We realized that this was all going to take a while, so we decided to go home and get our truck camper and stay in the hospital parking lot overnight.

We were silent on the drive home.

Mark wanted to apologize and felt the deepest guilt, but I wouldn’t hear it for a second. Our only way was forward.

Any second guessing, guilty feelings, or wishing we’d done things differently were useless at this point. Every ounce of our energy had to go towards manifesting a 100% recovery, with vehemence. With exuberance!

Family portrait with the truck camper

I don’t even remember the drive back to the hospital with the camper. By then it was dark. We parked right around the corner from the front door of the hospital and quickly went inside. For a split second I worried we’d be greeted with bad news, but I banished that thought as soon as it came.

As I fought all negativity out of my mind and opened the door, the evening receptionist looked up with a big smile and said, “He’s doing well!”

Owners aren’t usually allowed into the triage room, but she said we might be able to go in late at night if things got quiet. So, we went out to the camper to wait. A few hours later it was quiet again and we were allowed to see him.

I have never been in an ICU before. The scene was straight out of a TV show or movie.

Puppy portrait black and white

Buddy was lying on his stomach, his front paws on either side of his head. He was intubated with a tube that went all the way down to his lungs. His long tongue was hanging out of his mouth on the table, totally limp.

He had a catheter for urine, an IV inserted into one leg, an automated blood pressure cuff on one paw and something inserted into his abdomen, and his fur had been shaved to accommodate all these things. Wires and tubes went from his tiny little body to display monitors next to the operating table, to an IV bag on a hook and to a urine bag on the floor.

His eyes were covered with a blindfold and ear buds had been placed deep in his ears to block out all the lights and noise of this busy room.

Puppy covers his eyes

But his sweet little ears were still recognizable amid all that technology. I leaned over the back of his neck, nuzzled my face into his familiar warm fur and talked to him.

I told him how much we loved him and how God was bringing him a miracle. How he was going to be cured and made healthy again.

I couldn’t stop talking to him. It was a stream of consciousness of constant encouragement.

Two of the graphs on the monitors were going haywire the whole time. His heart rate and blood pressure were steady (and not far different than ours would have been), but his breathing and some other waveform were totally erratic. They spiked all over the place and then would stop.

“Is he flatlining?” I asked at one point in a panic. Then the graph started spiking again.

As I spoke to him, he suddenly made a gagging noise on the tube in his throat. It seemed that he was responding to what I was saying to him.

Then he let out a very familiar big sigh that always signals his total contentment. I think he was grateful we were with him.

Puppy sleeping

Dr. Frost came around to talk to us. I straightened up from having my head buried in Buddy’s neck and without even thinking about what I was saying, I blurted out, “We’re expecting a miracle. We’ve seen miracles happen. And we’re going to witness a miracle here.”

She nodded and looked at me with the saddest expression in her eyes. Her heart was breaking for us.

“I think everything in life happens for a reason,” I went on. “And I think there’s a silver lining in every cloud. Sometimes it takes many years to see it, but when something terrible happens, it’s making way for something new and wonderful to happen later. Even a tragedy like this happens for a reason.”

I petted Buddy’s soft fur as I marveled at what I’d just said and wondered where it had come from.

“Not many people would feel that way, especially at a time like this,” she said quietly.

“I think talking to him helps,” I went on. “People have come out of surgery and they remember what the surgeons were saying.”

She nodded but looked so sad.

I finally stepped back and let Mark have a turn whispering in Buddy’s ear.

Mark talked to him about hiking and going on RZR rides and chomping on his bully stick, and suddenly his breathing increased and he gagged on the tube again.

Buddy with the RZR

Oh my! He was definitely responding and knew we were there.

In the ICU there was a vet tech stationed by his head every minute of every hour. They worked in shifts, and the first was Emma, a young woman with a warm smile.

She had a clipboard in her lap and was taking notes as she monitored the machines.

Occasionally, she swabbed his closed eyes with artificial tears and moistened his dry tongue.

He was on a dozen different medications, so she was continually swapping out the IV bag with different meds on a strict schedule. Electrolytes and fluids were added into the mix to keep him going.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. We each took turns talking to him some more, but we didn’t want to excite him or disturb him too much, so we gave him some gentle hugs and made our way out.

Chatting with a puppy dog on a hike

We went back to the truck camper and for two hours we lay side by side, wide awake in the dark, staring at the ceiling. Then we couldn’t wait any longer. We went back into the hospital to see if we could visit him again — and they let us right in. It was now after midnight.

This time we were prepared for seeing him wired up.

He was on his side now with a blanket over him. He looked much more comfortable.

Sleeping puppy

All of his graphs had stabilized. The crazy spikes and flatlines were gone now, replaced by steady patterns up and down. Most important, he’d finally become stable enough to receive the anti-brain swelling medication too.

We were overcome with relief. We hugged him tight, closed our eyes and whispered thank you a dozen times into his thick, warm fur.

After straightening up and wiping our eyes, the overnight veterinarian came over to us and took us aside.

“This all looks good, but I have to be frank with you. His situation is very grave. I don’t mean to be harsh, but we don’t know what will happen when we bring him out of the coma. The seizures might resume. He might not be able to lift his head. He might not be able to stand up. He might be deaf, or he might be blind. We just don’t know. He may require intensive care for another few days or for a week or more.”

Buddy bundled up on a recliner

I heard her words but couldn’t let them sink in. For a few seconds I pondered how I would help him learn to walk again if need be, but I rejected that thought too before it could take root. I was certain we were going to see a 100% recovery and nothing less.

Yet deep inside I knew exactly what the veterinarian was saying.

Years ago, a special friend had developed a malignant brain tumor, and its rapid development and treatment left her changed forever. Her once beautifully athletic body couldn’t move fluidly any more and her once robust and expansive personality became more withdrawn, quirky and detached.

For all of us, good health is not only precious but it is often fleeting as well.

Buddy watches the sunset

We returned to the camper and lay wide awake staring at the ceiling for a few more hours.

When we spoke, it was only to talk about how much we loved Buddy, reminding each other of his many special little traits that we cherish.

He is a unique dog, incredibly smart and surprisingly fastidious, and he has a gentle, respectful temperament.

We nodded off for a short spell to internal lullabies of nonstop prayers.

Around 5 a.m. we ventured back into the hospital and were invited into the triage room again.

This time Buddy was lying under a thick pile of blankets. The vet tech at his bedside explained that his temperature had dropped to 98 (normal is 101 to 102.5) and that they had heated up the table he was on and added blankets to keep him warm.

Pup Bundled up on a blanket

We each talked to him again, and as we nuzzled him we thanked God over and over for giving Buddy a total 100% recovery, cementing our own certainty that he would indeed recover as we gave thanks.

We were calmer now and the air in the room was calmer too, although his temperature drop was unnerving.

He was now the only urgent care animal lying on an operating table in the center of the room.

The walls of the room were lined with kennels that were full of dogs and cats resting, and they each had a front row seat to all the action. Some were snoozing, but some were awake and taking it all in. One puppy kept crying.

By the time we came out of the hospital, morning was dawning.

Pause in the Buddy trail for Sunrise-4

The evening before we had rushed home and grabbed the camper in a hurry, thinking no further than sleeping in it for the night. We had no food or anything else with us!

So, we drove back home to get some food, fill the camper with water for showers, and get set up to stay next to the hospital for as long as necessary.

When we got home, a flood of emotions hit us.

The footprints of Buddy’s spirit were all over the house and in every corner of the yard.

He is as important in our little family of three as the two of us are, and the thought that we might lose him forever suddenly hit us full force.

I thought about the sad couple we had seen leaving the animal hospital the previous morning when we’d first pulled up. They were carrying a collar and a leash but no dog, and they were crying.

I kept trying to push those kinds of thoughts out of my mind as best I could so I could keep functioning and gather what we needed from the fridge and pantry, but Mark was overcome.

Puppy in the water

Buddy has a favorite place to rest in each room and all the blankets and cuddly spots were still just as he’d left them.

His favorite toys were in the living room, and his water bowl was on the floor where it had been since before this nightmare struck.

His favorite kibble was in the pantry, his jackets and dog brush were in their drawer, and his favorite homemade chicken soup that I’d just cooked the day before disaster struck was still in the fridge, untouched.

There was no way we could come home from the hospital after this with just his leash and harness.

We finally got back to the hospital with the fully stocked camper, including the fresh chicken soup, around 9 in the morning and when we went in the hospital door we were greeted with wonderful smiles.

“He’s doing well!”

We breathed a massive sigh of relief.

We went in to see him and were astonished that his eyes were open.

Puppy relaxing

The team had begun reducing the coma-inducing meds (a 12 hour process), and he was out of the deepest stages of unconsciousness, although he was not fully conscious yet.

To everyone’s astonishment, the seizures hadn’t resumed.

We hugged him and felt a huge wave of happiness wash the stress away as we excitedly talked to him and fought back tears.

Puppy portrait, resting

Thankfully, the tube going to his lungs had been removed, so his tongue was now back in his mouth.

But a tiny pair of oxygen tubes now went around his head to his nostrils and he was still wired up with the automated blood pressure cuff, the IV, the urine catheter and other plugins.

The lead vet tech, Angela, was at his side now, and it turned out she was the mother of the young vet tech Emma who’d cared for him the previous afternoon.

Angela was overjoyed to see Buddy’s incredible recovery so far, but I noticed her eyes were red-rimmed and she looked tired. She said she hadn’t slept much the night before because she had been worrying about Buddy. She’d stayed on duty at the hospital for 4 extra hours the previous evening to make sure Buddy was receiving the best care possible before she went home.

She had just lost her own beloved, healthy six year old dog a month earlier to an unexpected and sudden 48 hour battle with meningitis. She knew our pain and fear too well.

She said when she woke up this morning, the first thing she did was get online to check on Buddy’s condition. She was so relieved that he was still alive.

Fast puppy in the snow

As we chatted, things began to get busy in the ER again. More sick and injured animals began to arrive.

When two vet techs ran past us pushing a gurney at full speed into the waiting room discussing lacerations and leg injuries as they ran, we knew it was time for us to go back to the camper.

We’d only been in the camper for an hour or so when we heard a knock on the door. It was the early shift veterinarian, Dr. Jackson, and she had the biggest grin on her face. “He’s fully awake!”

We lept out of the camper and ran into the triage room, and there was Buddy relaxing on the operating table looking at us.

His eyes were fully open, his head was erect, and his ears were as perky and as expressive as ever.

We melted on the spot and wrapped our arms around him in huge hugs and kisses.

Dog in the grass

“It’s so wonderful to have you back,” we kept saying into his fur as we hugged him. “Thank you, God!”

His eyes moved slowly around the room as he watched the action going on and we realized he hadn’t lost his vision.

Suddenly, there was a loud bang at the other end of the room and he turned his head to look in that direction. Oh my, he could hear!

I closed my eyes and kept repeating, “thank you thank you thank you” deep in my heart.

Dr. Frost was on duty again and she came over with a radiant smile on her face. Then I realized that everyone in the ER was grinning from ear to ear and was over-the-top happy for us.

Jumping and running puppy

After this first rush of joy I looked down on the ground and noticed that Buddy’s urine bag was a dark shade of brown, almost black.

I didn’t want to think about what that might mean, but Angela explained it was probably due to dead muscle cells being flushed out of his body. Apparently, when you have violent seizures it is extremely hard on the body and your muscle tissue breaks down rapidly.

Not only had he had the grand mal seizure — where his entire body was convulsing — but the seizures had gone on for a long time. They had started when we were in the car at the park and his muzzle had started shaking uncontrollably.

Angela also explained that Buddy had developed pneumonia in his lungs and they were monitoring that.

We went back to the camper for another hour or so and then returned for another visit. Activity in the triage room had surged again, so we couldn’t see Buddy that time, but a few hours later we were allowed in.

He looked up at us from the operating table with the sweetest expression on his face.

Adorable puppy

We brought him a small bowl of my fresh chicken soup, and once we got the okay, we held it out and he lapped it up with gusto. He was hungry!

Please, sir, may I have some more?

We were thrilled to see that he could now push himself up on his front legs but we noticed that his back legs weren’t working at all.

We were also disturbed that his urine bag was still the color of espresso, so we refocused our prayers on restoring all the strength and agility he’d always had in his hind legs and healing all of his organs inside.

Leaping in the grass

A few hours later we went in for another visit and before we entered the triage room, the receptionist, Anne, greeted us saying, “Did you know that an anonymous person paid $100 towards your bill?”

We were shocked.

It turned out that a couple had seen us at our lowest moments the day before, and they’d asked if they could contribute towards our vet bill anonymously. We were blown away by their unexpected kindness.

Puppy dog checks out a trailer in Utah

Then she told us that Buddy had graduated from being on the operating table to resting in a kennel on the floor.

When he saw us come around the corner to his kennel, he gave the tiniest thump of the tip of his tail on the floor.

He still couldn’t get up on his hind legs, but we hung onto the hope that his mini tail wag meant his hind end was healing and he would soon be able to stand up on all fours once again.

After nuzzling and talking to him for a while and giving him a few more slurps of chicken soup, we each stripped off a piece of clothing that had our scent on it and left it in his kennel with him and then we ran out to the camper and got a squeaky toy he’d had since he was a puppy.

He snuggled up in the shirts and put a paw over his lamb chop toy and closed his eyes as we tip-toed out of the room to let him sleep.

With his favorite toy lambchop

Out in the parking lot we noticed a mobile food van had parked next to our camper.

The owners of the hospital had hired the food truck to provide a free lunch and dinner to the hospital staff in appreciation of all their hard work over the last few months.

People in scrubs lined up at the food truck window all afternoon.

Puppy dog at the drive-through window

During a lull at the window, we started chatting with the husband and wife team that run the truck. Their little dog was lying patiently under a tree nearby.

In a back corner of the truck we’d noticed the words “We believe” painted next to a small cross.

We told them Buddy’s story, of the prayers, the visualizations and the stunningly deep conviction we’d both had that he would recover.

After exchanging some emotional hugs, they told us how their little pup had barely survived a pit bull attack a few months earlier. The good hospital staff at this very hospital had patched him back together again.

They insisted on giving us a free meal, and we felt truly jubilant as we sat down to eat. It was as if the world around us were glowing.

Buddy at sunset

Late that afternoon we came in to find Buddy happily sitting up and looking around the room from inside his kennel.

After another small serving of my chicken soup, we picked him up and cuddled him for a while and then set him down on the floor to see if he could stand.

He stood stock still on all four paws, without collapsing, and a collective sigh of relief and excitement swept the room. He took a few steps and cautiously wagged his tail. Hallelujah!

Several people stopped what they were doing to come over and talk to him, scratch his ears and kiss his forehead and congratulate him.

Puppy in Wyoming

After holding him and talking to him for a while, we put him back in the kennel and closed the wire door.

He put his paw up on the grate in the door and looked at us pleadingly as we left the room. Our hearts melted as we promised him we’d be back soon.

After the evening shift change of doctors and nurses was completed, we went into the hospital again and asked if we could take Buddy for a short walk. It felt so good to put his little harness on him and get him set for a brief outing.

We walked with him into the waiting room and then he led us outside.

He made his way behind a small bush to do his business. This was the first time he’d gone in two days. His poop was rock sold black charcoal. Literally, it was rock.

He sniffed around for a few minutes but then turned around and headed right back to the hospital door and waited for us to open it.

Then he led us over to the door of the triage room, and once inside the room, he led us over to his kennel.

He was ready for a nap, and this was where he planned to take it.

Beautiful pup

If that isn’t a testament to he quality of care he was receiving, I don’t know what could be. I’ve never known an animal that wanted to go into the vet’s office and that tugged on his leash to pull you in that direction!

But he was happy in his kennel and it was home to him for now and we knew he was in great hands.

We took off his harness and watched him get wired back up to the IV and catheters for another dose of meds.

Only days later did we realize that by visiting him and feeding him our own homemade soup, we were throwing their carefully timed medication and feeding schedule for a loop!

Dog in the snow

As we settled into bed in the camper that night, we felt awestruck and overwhelmed by the day’s events.

Without a doubt, we had just witnessed a miracle.

I had prayed that God’s hand would reach down and cradle Buddy to give him strength and help him recover, and it had happened.

However, there was still a long way to go.

The veterinary staff was worried about the condition of his liver and the coffee color of his urine, not to mention the pneumonia that still infected his lungs.

But he had come out of the coma without any visible brain damage and he was still the same sweet little personality he had always been.

Puppy under a rainbow

We visited again briefly around around midnight. We had to ring the doorbell to get in, but patients are admitted all night long and the nighttime staff was wide awake and ready for action. At the moment, though, things were quiet, and we had a chance to talk to the crew a little. What a dedicated group they are!

We also noticed the sign on Buddy’s kennel: “Severe toxicity (bromethalin).”

Next to that, the pre-printed letters CPR were circled and the letters DNR were crossed out.

A shudder went down my spine as I thought, “DNR – Do Not Resuscitate.” I remembered answering Dr. Frost’s question about whether they should administer CPR if Buddy needed it. It hadn’t dawned on me, though, that it was an either/or question and that the alternative to CPR was DNR.

Puppy on a bridge

We managed to sleep deeply for a few hours for the first time in two days, and at the crack of dawn we lept out of bed to see Buddy. He was in fine spirits.

“We’ve all been taking turns cuddling him,” one of the nurses told me. It showed.

He was as happy and well adjusted as is possible for being sick in a kennel in the middle of an emergency room, attached to a urine bag and an IV bag, and surrounded by antiseptic smells and a menagerie of dogs and cats in various stages of recovery.

Dog on the beach at Lake Powell Arizona

A few hours later we took Buddy outside for a longer walk.

We meandered down sidewalks and he sniffed the bushes and left messages for other dogs.

We realized it was such a privilege to be able to do this simple activity with our beloved pup.

He acted as though nothing had ever happened, yet we’d just had our lives turned upside down!

He was tired after about 20 minutes of walking and was happy to get back to his kennel for some rest.

Puppy at an RV window

By noontime, his urine bag began to be more yellow and less brown. Dr. Jackson was on duty, and she suddenly announced that he could be released from the hospital later that afternoon. We wanted to leap for joy!

But we weren’t about to rush home. We planned to stay in the parking lot for an extra 24 hours so we could monitor him and be right at the hospital if he suddenly took a turn for the worse.

Later that morning we took him into the truck camper for an hour of quiet togetherness.

He was excited to be in the camper and he made himself at home on the bed as he always does, master and commander of our tiny rolling home from his perch among the pillows in the middle of the bed.

Puppy resting in a truck camper

We all took a nap together, utterly elated to be able to do that as a little family once again.

At long last the hour came that Buddy’s catheter and other plugins were removed and he was completely disconnected from everything. He was a free dog now and was ready to go home.

Out in the waiting room I held him in my lap as a vet tech reviewed the four pages of single spaced typed documents that outlined the various treatments he had received.

He’d been administered well over a dozen different medications in varying doses throughout the day and night for three days.

I gulped when I realized he was being discharged into our care while still on 10 different medications!

Puppy dog on the trail by a lake

The vet tech explained each medication, what it was for, how much to give, the frequency, the duration, and whether it went with food or not.

I was dizzy listening and had her repeat several things that mystified me the first time around.

“And make sure he gets lots of rest,” she said. “He needs to be a Couch Potato,” she said firmly.

His total bill came to $12,643.

On a hike in Utah

Mark’s very kind and loving sister who couldn’t afford to do so had secretly called the hospital and paid $1,000 of our bill.

We hadn’t even talked to her or cried with her, but she had been riding the terrifying roller coaster ride with us in spirit throughout the ordeal as Mark’s daughter shared Buddy’s updates on Facebook.

The kindness from everyone was overwhelming, and we pondered it all as we quietly took walks together, read and rested together in and out of the truck camper next to the hospital over the next 24 hours.

At last, we felt confident that Buddy was going to be okay and we went into the hospital one final time to say goodbye.

We were astonished when we went inside to see the whole staff casually chatting with each other. For the first time in three days there were no crisis cases on the operating table or lines of animals and people out in the waiting room.

Every member of the staff took a moment to say goodbye to Buddy and to reiterate to us how surprised and happy they were that he’d survived.

Puppy at Bryce

The only person busy with a patient was Dr. Frost, so we wandered outside to wait until she was free.

Suddenly she came running out of the hospital, arms flung wide for hugs, a huge smile on her face.

“In 31 years of practice, I never thought I would learn anything new,” she said to us. “But I learned a few things from Buddy. His case was the most rewarding case of my career.”

We were speechless. We had all learned a few things!

Puppy dog in the wildflowers

When we first met Dr. Frost at the beginning, she’d told us she’d just finished a segment of Continuing Education on toxicology, “So I’m up to date on all the latest toxins.”

Throughout the ordeal she’d been consulting with toxicology experts that were advising her on strategies and treatments. I had assumed the experts were located downtown, but as we stood outside under the trees she told us she’d been speaking with the nation’s top toxicologists in two distant states!

She bent down to talk to Buddy and he looked up at her intently. “Now, I want you live to be 20, Buddy, and I don’t I want to see you in the ER again!”

She wiped away tears as she hugged him and said goodbye.

Elegant dog

When we got home we felt like we were floating on clouds.

Everything was exactly as we’d left it, but we’d made a huge turn in our lives.

“Now, where was I?” I joked when I finally sat down. Who knows what we had been doing or what had been the pressing issues of the day before all this. Our lives had been transformed.

As we lay in bed in the dark that first night home, we talked about the inner changes we had both decided to make. Neither of us had known that the other had made new plans with new intentions, but as we lay cloaked in darkness, we poured our hearts out to each other.

Puppy in glowing light

At the height of the drama, when I was praying for, commanding and visualizing Buddy’s miraculous recovery, I realized that I knew almost nothing about the Bible…or Jesus, for that matter.

I didn’t know Moses from Abraham or Isaiah, and the closest I’d gotten to the New Testament was, well, maybe, some music group called Peter, Paul and Mary.

However, as Buddy lay comatose in the ICU and I rode those powerful surges of emotion, I realized it was high time for me to find out what lay in the pages of that book.

It was also time for me to accept Jesus, something I’d never been interested in before.

Since those dark days last October, my thirst for knowledge and understanding of the Bible and divine healing has been unstoppable, and I keep coming back for more and more and more.

Buddy on a rock

We knew that Buddy’s sight and hearing had escaped unscathed, but it was our nightly game of hide-and-seek that confirmed his sense of smell was still 100% too.

Every night after dinner I grab a handful of treats, let Buddy sniff them, and then ask him to stay in the kitchen while I hide them all around the house.

Once they’re all hidden I tell him to Come, and he starts sniffing high and low to find each treat.

He absolutely loves this game, and if I forget it’s time to play it, he’ll start sniffing along the baseboards and in the corners as a pantomime to show me that it’s time for our game.

Our first night home we started playing and I was really relieved that he remembered how to Stay and how to Come (as well as to Shake, do Other Paw, go Down and Crawl). Better still, even with the lights off, he found every treat in every room, his little nose twitching excitedly the whole time.

Puppy dog playing

As I mentioned, Buddy was on 10 different medications when he got home, each with its own schedule and dosing, some requiring an empty stomach and some taken only with food.

It took me almost an hour to sort them all out and come up with a schedule that would work for us all. From 5:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. he got either a drug or a meal every hour for the first week.

The hospital sent us home with two cans of wet dog food that was ideal for hiding pills. Buddy loved that food, and Mark was very good at getting the pills-wrapped-in-food to the back of his throat so they’d go down.

Playing puppy tug

One of the meds was administered by spraying something in his throat that made Buddy sneeze, and the liver support pill was huge and required an empty stomach — no food for an hour before or after.

Mark had to shove that thing way way back behind Buddy’s teeth to get it to go down.

Buddy became adept at making it look like he’d swallowed the pill and then quietly spitting it out.

Soon, Liver Pill Time became a game between Buddy and Mark as the pill invariably wound up in his fur or on the floor.

But all the pills eventually went down and Mark got some belly laughs in the process and I suspect Buddy got some sly chuckles out of it too.

Fast puppy

About 10 days after he came home, we took Buddy to his regular veterinarian as requested by the hospital.

The kindly country doctor walked into the exam room holding a thick stack of doctor-to-doctor documents he’d received from the hospital about Buddy’s case. It looked like a book.

“This is incredible!” he said, waving the papers.

“We witnessed a true miracle from God,” I smiled.

“Yes, you did!”

He checked Buddy’s vitals and everything looked good. Most important, his lungs sounded clear. They hadn’t been clear when he left the hospital, but by now he’d finished the course of antibiotics for pneumonia and his lungs were well on the way back to full health.

Big puppy stretch

The veterinarian told us that his liver recovery was the final hurdle.

His liver had processed not only a lethal dose of poison but a boatload of medications round the clock for 10 days.

He held up the papers from the hospital and showed us that when he was discharged, the key indicator for his liver health was a number that should be under 100. It had been 1,500 at the hospital.

After drawing some blood, he called us the next day to let us know that the number was now down to 350. Phew!

He felt Buddy’s liver would be 100% healthy within a few months.

Taking a portrait shot of a puppy

Four months have now passed since all that drama, and we have cherished every minute we have with Buddy.

He was a well cared for dog before, but now we value his presence in our lives infinitely more.

It took him a while to get his stamina back. Even though he was perky and ready to run and chase right away, he would tire quickly and slink off to take a nap.

The first time we walked one of his favorite 1.5 mile loops, he faded in the last half mile, tongue lolling and head and tail down, so we carried him the rest of the way.

Two weeks later we did the same trail and he leaped and sprinted right to the end.

Dog running down a dirt road in the Utah red rocks

A few weeks after that he was able to trot a more challenging 4 mile hike, and a month later, after finishing that 4 mile hike, he wanted to do a little bit more before going home.

Looking at him now, you’d never guess what he went through.

I used to say thank you every night for Buddy coming into our lives. Now I give additional thanks for our lives being transformed and for us each being given a second chance and a new beginning.

Baby pic of a puppy

A WORD ABOUT RAT POISON

We learned some scary things about common rat poisons in all this that might be helpful to you if you own a pet or live with toddlers.

In the old days, rodent control manufacturers used a poison that had an antidote. It was an anticoagulant that made the rodent bleed to death. So, if a dog or cat ate the poison, a simple injection of high dose Vitamin K would thicken their blood and they would recover.

The poison used nowadays, bromethalin, has no antidote. It causes a horrifying death by brain swelling and seizure that occurs anywhere from 4 and 48 hours after ingestion. All the veterinary staff at the hospital and at our local veterinary office agreed that it should never have been allowed to be on the market.

But it’s there on store shelves everywhere.

Tomcat Rat and Mouse Poison

The insidious thing about rat poison is that it is designed to smell delicious and taste truly yummy.

It is bait, after all.

I’d always naively assumed that “poison” is something distasteful with a nasty chemical odor that you would recognize as poisonous and not want to eat. But it sure smelled good to me when I sniffed the piece Buddy had left intact on the patio.

After we got home from the hospital, Buddy went out to the patio and began sniffing around where he’d left the poison bricks. You could almost see him thinking, “Where did my tasty dog treats go?”

The packaging touts that the product is “kid resistant” and says to use it only indoors.

Ironically, we saw identical rat poison boxes in the bushes next to several buildings in the huge medical complex around the animal hospital.

In addition to being aromatic and flavorful, the poison bricks aren’t biodegradable. Once the poison is out there on the ground somewhere, it will be just as lethal 10 years from now as it is today.

I shudder to think how many toddlers, pets and wild animals have died from this stuff.

Even worse, the veterinarian said sometimes angry people put it out deliberately to kill their neighbor’s annoying animals.

Dog playing in the snow in utah

A WORD ABOUT OTHER POISONS

As we chatted with the hospital staff about all the different ways dogs can be poisoned, they told us one shocking story after another of unexpected poisonings they have treated.

They’ve seen dogs die of poisoning from grapes, from chocolate, from the fake sweetener Xylitol (some people cook with it and then share the dessert with their pup) and from lapping up antifreeze that dripped on the ground (it tastes sweet).

The heartbreak these hardworking doctors and nurses have seen in their careers is mind-boggling. I don’t know how they keep going, but they said a case like Buddy’s will keep them floating on Cloud 9 for a long time.

As for unusual pet poisons, there are plenty of lists available of things that are poisonous to our pets that are not poisonous to us, and some things, like those above, are very surprising.

Best buds on recliners in the fifth wheel

DIVINE GUIDANCE and NOT SO COINCIDENTAL COINCIDENCES

In my mind, this whole event unfolded in a very unusual way, as if the stage were being set deliberately.

  • I am still astonished that I saw the uneaten brick on Buddy’s mat. I have no idea why I went out on the patio at that moment. I wouldn’t have normally been out there at that time of day and I had no reason that I can remember for going out there just then. If I hadn’t realized that Buddy had eaten the poison when I did, we never would have made it to the hospital in time.
  • Equally surprising is that the poison had been placed 20 yards away on the other side of the house, yet for some reason, Buddy decided to carry three bricks around to the back patio rather than eating them where he found them. After moving them, he ate one in its entirety, ate a quarter of another and left the third one fully intact. He couldn’t have carried all three of them in his mouth at once, however. He must have gone back for each one individually which is highly unusual behavior and shows just how enticing he found them to be.
  • If we had driven all the way home instead of taking a 15 minute break at the park near the hospital where we were able to observe his increasingly weird behavior up close, we wouldn’t have noticed the beginning of his seizures until we got home and, when every second counted, we would have had a full hour’s drive to get back to the hospital.
  • By calling our local veterinarian first rather than doing as the Tomcat poison center had recommended and taking him straight to the animal hospital, and by having a very knowledgeable person answer the phone there, we were given important instructions for how to induce vomiting as well as getting another round of urgent advice to go to the animal hospital ASAP so he would be in the care of the right people with all the necessary equipment.
  • I had no idea that spraying hydrogen peroxide in the mouth would induce vomiting. How fortunate that we had some on hand! Even though only some phlegm came up, it was better than nothing, and the green tinge to it told us he’d definitely ingested the missing green poison block, something we weren’t 100% sure of until we saw the phlegm.
  • If we hadn’t recently bought a truck camper, we couldn’t have stayed right around the corner from the hospital door for easy midnight visits for three nights. Sure, there are motels in the area, but it was so convenient to be able to walk in at any time of day or night without driving anywhere. The fifth wheel might have worked, but we would have had to park in a distant parking lot where it would fit, and we might not have gotten permission to do so.
  • Likewise, what a blessing it was that the hospital staff allowed us to stay in the parking lot and also allowed us into the emergency room to see and encourage Buddy (and even feed him our chicken soup) so many times.
  • I bake a chicken about once a week and make broth from the bones. Buddy gets most of it throughout the week with chicken meat scraps thrown in. Ironically, I had just made a fresh batch the night before all this happened. The hospital has top quality commercial pet foods, of course, and they give recovering animals real meats too, but how wonderful it was to be able to feed him something we knew he loved to eat, that was nutritious, and that was a reminder of our simple home life. It was as therapeutic for us to feed him as it was for him to eat.
  • We pay off our credit card each month and the payment had just cleared the day we went to the hospital. What good fortune that we could put such an enormous bill on the card in one fell swoop without exceeding our credit limit and scrambling for another solution. Dr. Frost told us that nine out of ten pet owners would have put their pet down — an expensive procedure in itself — because they couldn’t justify or afford the cost given a zero percent chance of recovery.

In many ways, as tragic as this event could have been, the way it unfolded included many extraoridinary blessings that nudged us towards a most beautiful outcome.

A friend of mine suggested these not-so-coincidental coincidences were the “synchronicity of divine intervention” and I added that they constituted “guided movement towards a more fulfilling end.” Whatever name we give it, there’s no doubt in my mind that we were the recipients of divine intervention.

If you have a loved one who is in need of healing, wether a pet or a person, I hope that you carry our miracle with you and feel encouraged to pray for them, not by begging or pleading or bargaining with God, but by commanding it is done, visualizing the recovery with conviction and believing in your soul that it is being accomplished as a demonstration of a deeper truth.

Puppy dog on a dirt road at dawn

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Truck Camper and Small RV Storage Tips!

We’ve been taking our new-to-us truck camper on short jaunts this summer. These “shakedown” cruises are helping us figure out the ins and outs of traveling in a truly tiny home, and we’ve learned a lot about living large in a very small space.

In the process, we’ve come up with some storage ideas that we’d like to share.

Truck Camper and Small RV Storage Tips

Northwood Manufacturing did a great job with creating large storage spaces throughout our 2005 Arctic Fox 860 camper. There is a full height closet, two shirt closets, huge bins on either side of the bed that can hold lots of clothes and good sized storage spaces under the dinette seats, not to mention several cabinets and a sliding pantry.

However, creating storage spaces for small things like keys, glasses, flashlights, pocket knifes, pens, pads, small tools, etc., are projects they leave up to us RVers. And it’s been fun to get creative!

The first thing we noticed on our maiden voyage was that all our small stuff kept ending up in a huge pile on top of the dinette table. Nothing makes a small space feel really cluttered than having a single horizontal space piled high with stuff.

So, we mounted a few different types of storage spaces for small items on the walls.

As a reminder of what our camper looks like inside, here are pics of the interior so you can see the bigger picture of where each storage item wound up.

Arctic Fox 860 truck camper kitchen

The kitchen needed a few extra goodies to increase the storage sapce

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

The dinette also got some simple upgrades to keep the dining table clutter-free.

For starters, we put a spice rack on the wall next to the range hood right below the microwave’s swinging door but high enough to be out of the heat of the flames on the range. This is handy for all those things I like to have “right there” for cooking.

Spice rack on RV camper wall

A spice rack near the range makes cooking essentials easy to reach.

There is very little counter space, and I found that a second spice rack under the window helped get things like dish soap up off the counter so other things could be tucked underneath as needed.

The towel rack was already in place, whether from the manufacturer or the previous owner, I don’t know. I added another towel rack for a dish cloth.

Spice rack on RV camper kitchen wall

Wire spice racks proved useful in the kitchen and elsewhere! A towel rack for the dish cloth helps it dry fast and keeps it off the faucet.

We like bananas and when we lived in our fifth wheel we had a banana hook for hanging banana bunches that we used a lot. So, we put a ceiling hook (also called a “swag hook” for hanging plants) in between the range hood and the kitchen light. It is screwed directly into the bottom of the cabinet. We may put a second one on the other side of the light too. In that position it would be further from the heat from the range burners.

We’ve found in both the fiver and the truck camper that the bananas actually stay on the hook while we’re in transit, even on bumpy dirt roads, and this helps keep them from bruising as we move from place to place.

Truck camper storage upgrades banana hook

Bananas bruise so easily we like to hang them up on a ceiling hook!

Although we rarely used a toaster in our fifth wheel, we’ve been enjoying having one in our sticks-and-bricks life and we wanted to have one in this camper too. Toasters and other small kitchen appliances are bulky and awkward, and I almost gave up on finding a home for it.

However, there’s a large cabinet over the sink that has just one shelf in it, and if I could get a second shelf in there it would be perfect for the toaster. After tossing a few ideas around for installing a shelf in that cabinet, I found a standalone shelf unit that fits perfectly. The dishware is stored underneath and the toaster fits on top. I take the toaster down and put it in the sink when we travel, but while we’re camping it is wonderful to store it out of the way and be able access it easily when we want to use it.

Standalone shelf for kitchen cabinet in truck camper

The big kitchen cabinet needed a second shelf. Building one in would be a good idea too, but I like this standalone shelf unit.

We’ve always had key hooks over our entry door, so we put two sets of four hooks over the door.

Key hooks on RV camper wall

Our many keys and glasses all need a home of their own and these key hooks work well.

After a few trips, we realized that these 8 hooks weren’t enough. Between the keys to the camper, the truck and the RZR plus multiple pairs of sunglasses (light ones and dark ones), multiple pairs of reading glasses (strong and weak) and various hats, we decided to add two more strips of 7 hooks each going right across the wall so there would be plenty of room for all those things.

There is almost no space between this rear wall of the camper and the slide-out wall as it slides in and out. So, all the things on the hooks have to be put elsewhere when we travel, but the hooks themselves fit just fine and it sure is convenient while we’re camping to have a home for all those items.

Key hooks inside RV camper

A long row of key hooks gives us lots of hanging options, and although we have to remove the items to move the slide-out, the strips of hooks themselves don’t interfere with the slide-out movement.

One of our earliest outings was a trip to visit our friends Ann and Phil who were camping nearby in the woods.

Phil and Ann have been living in RVs for over three decades and are a wealth of knowledge. They travel in both a “winter home” that is a beautifully appointed Alpenlite fifth wheel and a “summer home” which is a smaller, really well laid out and more maneuverable Class C. Phil spent his working years as diesel mechanic and mobile RV mechanic and he has an incredible shop built onto the back of his Freightliner that is a sight to behold. He and Ann ran an RV park for many years, and Ann is full of great ideas for ways to make life in an RV comfy and cozy.

During our visit they had two great suggestions for us. The first was to use a product called Alien Tape to mount lighter things on the walls of the RV. This is a double sided tape that has a stronger stickiness than any tape we’ve seen before, and it doesn’t ruin the walls when you remove it.

We used this tape to mount the key hooks and it was a snap. Later, when we mounted a clock and then decided we didn’t like the location, all it took was a good strong twist and the Alien Tape came off of the wall and also came off the clock and didn’t leave a mark or a stain behind.

Key hooks and Alien Tape for mountain inside RV camper

Alien Tape makes it a cinch to hang things on the walls — and remove them too!

We also wanted a bigger storage area for things like sunscreen, moisturizer, bug spray, wallets, flashlights, etc., right by the door. I found two cloth hanging baskets that fit perfectly in the space next to the bathroom sliding door — his and hers!

Hanging wall storage baskets on walls inside RV

These hanging baskets are good for slightly bigger items including wallets, moisturizer, sunscreen and flashlights that we want by the door.

You can also see the side-view of these baskets in the previous photos of the keyhooks.

The tricky thing with finding places to mount mini-shelves and storage areas on the walls is that we didn’t want to bump into them as we moved about and we didn’t want them to obstruct the movement of the slide-out as it went in and out.

The bare walls in the dinette were begging to be useful. Those walls aren’t near the slide-out movement, but we did have to worry about banging our heads on anything we put there if we leaned back in our seats.

Empty wall in RV dinette

This wall could definitely help increase our storage.

Empty wall inside RV truck camper dinette

So could this one!

They turned out to be the perfect places for more spice racks to hold things like our two-way radios, current book we’re reading, iPad, etc

We put one on each wall. Both were mounted high enough so if we threw our heads back they wouldn’t hit the racks.

Spice rack for storage in RV truck camper dinette

The spice rack can hold pocket knives, a book or two, an iPad and other goodes.

Spice rack doubles as a shelf for extra storage in a truck camper

The movement of the slide-out wouldn’t impact this space at all but we did have to place the spice rack high enough so we wouldn’t hit our heads on it if we leaned back in our seats.

We both enjoy reading magazines, especially if we’re camping in a place with no internet (which happened quite a bit this summer!).

There is a big open wall space next to the refrigerator that could definitely hold something. However, the slide-out comes in along this wall, so there is only about an inch of depth, just enough for a magazine or very thin book but not enough for a solid plastic wall filing system.

I found a fabric magazine rack designed to hold manila folders for school teachers, and it works perfectly. I put a manila folder in each pocket to keep the pockets from sagging. Mark used extra screws and washers on either side to hold the whole thing flat against the wall.

Hanging wall magazine storage in RV truck camper

We like to read magazines and this fabric magazine rack is nearly flush to the wall which makes it ideal for avoiding the slide-out wall as it moves in and out. It holds plenty of magazines!

We’ve always had a big struggle with shoe storage. We like to have a variety of shoes — a pair of running shoes, hiking boots, slippers and slip-on shoes/sandals for each of us — so the pile of footwear by the door is huge no matter where we live.

There is a tiny space between the step in front of the dinette and the back wall of the camper where I squeezed in a single tier shoe rack.

This shoe rack comes unassembled as a bunch of rods and shelf supports with holes in them for the rods. The smallest model I could find was a five tier unit, so I took the rods and shelf supports for just one level for the camper and built a separate four tier unit to use in our home.

Shoe rack inside RV truck camper doorway

Our shoe chaos was solved with one tier of a multi-tier shoe rack.

It doesn’t hold absolutely all our footwear, but the thin and flexible slippers and slip-ons can be shoved behind the dinette seat. The main thing was to get the clunky boots and shoes out of the way so we aren’t tripping over them each time we go in and out of the camper.

Shoe rack inside truck camper RV

Now the big clunky shoes and boots are out of the way.

There is just one drawer in the whole camper, right next to the range, and it is so narrow it has just a single divider inside. I use it for silverware on one side and cooking utensils on the other. I hadn’t really thought about how to get more drawers into the camper, but our friend Ann showed us an absolutely fabulous product that she is using in her Class C to hold her silverware. It is an “Under desk drawer.”

Under desk drawer storage in a truck camper

The Under desk drawer (or “add-a-drawer”) is a single unit that gets hung under the desk or table with double-sticky tape, Alien Tape or screws.

The whole sliding mechanism of the drawer is built into one unit, and you mount the drawer under the table using either the stick-on tabs they provide or Alien Tape (or screws if you wish). I bought two drawers that fit perfectly on either side of our dinette table — his and hers again! Surprisingly, they are shallow enough that our knees don’t hit when we slide on and off the settees getting in and out of the dinette.

Under desk drawer storage in a truck camper

Two fit side by side just right and our knees don’t hit them!

Each drawer comes with a small sliding compartment so you can separate smaller and larger items if you wish (or you can remove it). These drawers are great for small tools and hardware as well as pads, pens, scissors and other office goodies.

Under desk drawer storage in a truck camper

These can be used for paper, pens and other office items or for small tools and hardware or even for silverware or cooking utensils.

Under desk drawer storage in a truck camper

I just love these — thank you, Annie, for your wonderful tip!

Well, that’s it for now. If you’ve got a small RV like ours, I hope these tips help you make the most of your space, and if you’ve got other cool space saving ideas please share them in the comments below!

Oh goodness, there’s Buddy under the covers. He took a nap throughout this whole post!

Puppy sleeps happily in truck camper RV bed

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After I took this pic, he opened one eye and said, “If you aren’t going to talk about Lizard Hunting or Rabbit Chasing then I’ll just keep snoozing under the covers.”

Happy campers

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More tips and anecdotes from our Life On The Road and At Sea:

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper – Grand Tour!

After 13 years of living on the road, first in a 2007 27′ Fleetwood Lynx travel trailer and then in a 2007 36′ Hitchhiker 34.5 RLTG fifth wheel, we switched gears and moved back into a sticks-and-bricks home.

But we didn’t want to give up the thrill of the open road completely! Since we still owned our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually pickup truck, we decided a truck camper would do the trick for shorter duration adventures.

A 2005 Arctic Fox truck camper turned up on Craigslist in excellent condition, garage kept and barely used. Counting our lucky stars, we took the plunge, bought it, and have been having fun setting it up and taking it on a few short trips.

Here’s a quickie tour of the camper that will be our new little home on wheels.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper

Our new little buggy!

The Arctic Fox 860 has one slideout on the passenger side and is on the smaller size for a long bed truck camper. It is designed to be carried by a single rear wheel pickup truck so it is an easy load for our dually.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper

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One of our goals was to be able to travel with our Polaris RZR in tow. We had triple towed the RZR on a small flat bed trailer behind our fifth wheel for two years. That worked, but it was cumbersome.

Having the RZR right behind the truck now rather than 40′ behind us makes it a lot easier to bring the RZR along on our travels. One thing that Mark has found, though, is that because our utility trailer is only 5′ wide, he can’t see it in the rear view mirrors when he’s driving unless he makes a very sharp turn. This makes it a bit tricky to back up!

Also, because our utility trailer is only 10′ long, it holds our Polaris 900 series UTV but can’t carry our bikes at the same time. I have a secret wish for a larger utility trailer which might solve both problems… we’ll see!

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper

We can tow the RZR easily with this new rig.

The Arctic Fox 860 does not extend beyond the back of the truck. Many larger truck campers hang out a foot or two beyond the back bumper of the truck. With those campers you need a hitch extension to tow anything behind. With this model, the RZR trailer hitches directly to the hitch receiver on the truck without an extension.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper towing Polaris RZR 900 XC

The camper doesn’t hang far off the back of the truck, so the RZR can be hitched directly to the ball mount in the truck’s hitch receiver.

FLOOR PLAN

Arctic Fox 860 truck camper Floor Plan

Arctic Fox 860 truck camper floor plan

CAPACITIES

Here are the tank and HVAC capacities for the Arctic Fox 860:

Fresh Water: 46 gallons, including 6 gal. hot water heater
Gray Water: 25 gallons
Black Water: 25 gallons
Propane: 14 gallons (60 lbs.)

Furnace: 20k BTU
Air Conditioner: 11k BTU

INTERIOR

Oh look, there’s Mark at the door. Let’s head inside!

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper

Come on in!

The interior is open and bright.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

The slideout (right side of the pic) gives the interior an open feeling.

The dinette is on the passenger side as you walk in and it’s very comfortable for two. Since there are no recliners or sofa, we both like to turn sideways on the benches, lean against a cushion behind us and stretch out our legs!

The louvered window makes it possible to keep the window open even when it drizzles.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

The dinette is comfortable and the window brings in lots of light.

The three-way 6 cubic foot refrigerator can run on 12 volt DC electricity, 110 volt AC or propane. The fridge is the same size as the one in our Lynx travel trailer that we lived in during our first year on the road. Our fifth wheel had an 8 cubic foot refrigerator.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

The 6 cubic foot refrigerator is a 3-way (12v DC, 110v AC, or LP) .

The bathroom is on your left as you enter, behind a sliding door, and the kitchen is beyond that.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

The bathroom and kitchen are on the left (the driver’s side) as you enter.

This camper has two showers, one in the bathroom and one outside. Back in our days of camping in our little popup tent trailer, we made good use of our outdoor shower and got a kick out of bathing in the fresh air (in remote places, of course!). Mark used to love showering on the back of the boat too!

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

Wet bath (ie., the toilet is your shower companion)

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

Wet bath

The kitchen is small but very workable and I’ve found it easy to make good meals in it.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

Sliding pantry rack

The cupboards and drawer space are sufficient.

Years ago, for the boat, I bought a stainless steel Magma nesting pots and pans set which has several sizes of pots, pans and tops that all stack into each other along with two removable handles. I’ve always said this high quality, handy dandy compact kit would be ideal for a truck camper, and it is! (I just noticed that Camco and Stansport make similar smaller sets that are much less expensive).

I’ve never used the plastic cutting board sink covers in our previous RVs, but I find I tend to cover one side of the double sink all the time in the camper to get a little more working area when cooking.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

Small but functional kitchen

When we took the camper out for our first overnight, we quickly realized we needed a little trash can. Mark improvised and converted a Deschuttes Pale Ale 12-pack box. Ya gotta have a little whimsy in life, so we’re keeping it for now!

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

Mark’s Deschuttes Pale Ale trash can is working out well!

The bed is in the cabover part of the camper and is a queen size 60″ x 80″ mattress.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

The bedroom 🙂

On either side of the bed there are two shirt length hanging closets with mirrored cabinet doors. There’s also an alcove with a window on each side. This makes the bed feel wider than a queen.

Each alcove has lift-up tops to access a deep storage area underneath. We can easily fit two week’s worth of summer clothing with plenty of room to spare.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

Each of the window alcoves has a deep storage area beneath cabinet doors that lift up.

At the foot of the bed on the driver’s side there is a TV cabinet with a slide-out tray for the TV.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

There is a large cabinet for a TV at the foot of the bed on the driver’s side (kitchen side).

On the opposite side at the foot of the bed a small door opens to reveal a full-length hanging closet that goes deep below the level of the bed.

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

Behind this door is a full length hanging locker.

And that’s the tour!

I’m heading out — I think there’s a hammock under the trees waiting for me out there!!

2005 Arctic Fox 860 Truck Camper interior

A sweet little home that fits right into the bed of our truck!

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RV Refrigerator Management Tip – Winning the Turf Wars!

June 2019 – One of the biggest surprises for us when we began our search for a new fifth wheel RV to be our full-time home was the gargantuan sizes of modern day RV refrigerators. When we last searched for a full-time fifth wheel in 2007-08, most upscale rigs had a modest 10 cubic foot refrigerator in the base model.

In those days, many of the manufacturers of higher quality rigs offered an upgrade to a 12 or 14 cubic foot fridge. Also, a lot of the entry level units being built back then by those same (now non-existent) manufacturers had an 8 cubic foot fridge with an upgrade to a 10 footer available.

Our Hitchhiker was a “budget” model that we bought right off the back lot at the factory, so we ended up with the smaller 8 cubic foot fridge.

Fifth wheel RV kitchen with 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator

Our 2007 Hitchhiker fifth wheel has an 8 cubic foot refrigerator. This now “tiny” fridge has served us well since we moved into our trailer in 2008.

This was an upgrade for us anyway. Our first year of full-timing in 2007 was spent in a 27′ travel trailer that had a 6 cubic foot fridge. So, moving to a bigger fridge in 2008 was terrific.

The 8 cubic foot model has been fine for us ever since then, although our ears do sometimes perk up when we hear the turf wars breaking out between the veggies and the beer.

Neither the beer nor the veggies has emerged a consistent winner over the years, but we have found a way to keep the battles from spreading onto every shelf in the fridge.

Even though most owners of late model higher end RVs have either a residential 110 volt a/c refrigerator or an 18 cubic foot two-way “RV refrigerator” that runs on either propane or household 110v electricity, modest sized RV fridges still appear in many smaller RVs and truck campers. So, I thought I’d share our tactic for keeping those big unwieldy bags of vegetables under control.

RV refrigerator 8 cubic foot size-min

RV two-way propane/electric refrigerators do best when stuffed full.
There’s actually lots of room for goodies even in this small model.
This isn’t even full!

I like to buy all the veggies we’ll be eating for the next week or so at once and then cut them up and store them in a single container all together. I cut them in large chunks and then layer them into the container so they are nicely mixed rather than segregated.

I’ve found about six to nine veggies will fill a half-gallon size plastic tub. I have a taller thinner size container with a snap-on top that disappears inconspicuously into a corner of the fridge. I mix up the types of vegetables I put in it with each supermarket run.

Fresh veegetables ready to be cut and stored in an RV refrigerator-min

All these colorful fresh veggies used to take up a lot of room in the fridge. Their plastic bags were everywhere!

Sure, this method means that we eat the same basic veggie mix until it’s all gone, but I love being able to grab the veggie bin and whip up something without having to take each individual vegetable out of the fridge, get it out of its plastic bag, and chop off what I need for that meal.

If I want the veggies diced smaller, I just grab the chunks I want from the bin and cut them into smaller pieces.

Vegetables cut and stored for RV refrigerator-min

All those veggies fit in this small half-gallon snap-top container!

The veggies seem to last quite well in this snap-top tub, usually a week to ten days. Starting with super fresh veggies helps.

We have our own favorite vegetables, but depending on what is popular in your RV, any or all of these work well:

  • Bell peppers (pretty colors)
  • Zucchini and/or summer squash
  • Broccoli and/or cauliflower
  • Green beans
  • Snap peas
  • Baby carrots
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Red onion
Veggie storage in 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator-min

The veggie container is tucked away in a corner!

Things we do with them (sometimes diced smaller) have included:

  • Served raw with a veggie dip made from plain yogurt and a ranch style powdered dressing mix
  • Served on a bed of spinach and/or romaine lettuce as a salad
  • Stir-fried in olive oil in a skillet
  • Cooked in a covered, salted skillet on medium heat with a splash of water thrown in one minute before serving for quick steaming
  • Steamed/boiled in a pot
  • Lined up on a skewer and grilled on our BBQ grill (best if segregated due to different cooking times)
  • Tossed into an omelet with meat and cheese
  • Rolled into a tortilla and microwaved with leftover steak/burgers/chicken topped with a little cheese
Vegetable stir-fry in an RV-min

There are lots of ways to make veggies yummy.

I’ve managed quite a few small refrigerators over the years as I’ve lived on various sailboats and in RVs.

For sailors who come across this article, the best way I found to deal with the big, deep, dark refrigerators on older boats that require a veritable deep dive — feet in the air — to be able to reach the bottom is to put everything in large tupperware containers, segregating the meat, veggies, cheeses and even the condiments. This way, it’s easy to find the items you want because you are handling only a few big containers that are well labeled rather than digging around for that small jar of mustard you know is buried at the bottom in the wet mess somewhere.

Likewise with the tiny 3.5 cubic foot under-counter RV fridge that we had on our sailboat in Mexico. The plastic tubs were smaller and didn’t have covers (so the contents could mound up above the sides a bit as necessary), but the important items were grouped together into two or three bins, and when mealtime prep began, all the bins were taken out of the fridge at once and laid out so it was easy to locate the individual bits and pieces.

One of the unfortunate side effects of RV manufacturers moving towards ever larger refrigerators is that they cost a lot in terms of usable space in the kitchen. An 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator is 36″ wide while an 8 or 10 cubic foot RV refrigerator is only 24″ wide.

I measured out the 12″ we would have lost if our Hitchhiker fifth wheel had been built to accommodate an 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator the way all modern larger fifth wheels are built nowadays. We would have lost an important section of counter space, an upper cabinet that houses three shelves and a lower cabinet that contains a drawer and two shelves underneath. That is a lot of nicely partitioned storage to give up!

RV refrigerator 8 cubic foot size

Modern higher end RVs have 18 cubic foot propane/electric refrigerators that eat up other kitchen counter and cabinet space.

RV refrigerators don’t get the Energy Star rating that many residential refrigerators do. They are inefficient and they operate best when they are packed to the gills with lots of cold stuff inside.

After we do a big shopping spree, we usually have two levels of goodies on every shelf and all the cold stuff is squeezed in pretty tight. As the days go on it loosens up a bit.

Given the RV propane refrigerator quirk of needing a very full fridge to operate well, I can’t imagine having enough cold food to keep an 18 cubic foot refrigerator continuously stuffed in a household with just two people. We would have to chill 24-packs of beer and multiple gallons of fresh water. Frankly, I think I’d be chilling our canned goods too!

That is all fine and dandy, but where space is at a premium — especially in the tiny living quarters of a toy hauler — it seems silly to give up precious cabinets and counter space to have a fridge that is difficult for two people to keep properly stocked (to overflowing) all the time.

Not only does it take a lot of propane to run an RV fridge when shorepower isn’t available, but RV refrigerators are expected to fail after about 8 years. We replaced our RV fridge under warranty right at the 8 year mark when it died unexpectedly.

An 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator costs somewhere around $4,000 whereas our little 8 cubic footer was just $1,500 or so in 2015. We didn’t have to pay out of pocket for it because we had an excellent RV extended warranty.

However, built into the cost of any extended RV warranty is the cost of replacing the major appliances, including the RV refrigerator. So, the price of an extended warranty for an RV with an 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator is going to be a whole lot more than the price of an extended warranty for an RV with an 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator.

The bottom line that isn’t so obvious on the RV showroom floor is that RVers get hit with the exorbitant cost of replacing a huge two-way propane/electric RV fridge either way. Wouldn’t it be awesome if RVers were given a choice on a $100k (or more) RV to have a more modest sized RV fridge?

Of course, an 18 cubic foot residential 110 volt refrigerator is a fraction of the cost of an equivalent propane/electric RV refrigerator, along the lines of $2,000 versus $4,000, but powering such a beast without shorepower is a big ol’ can of worms unto itself. This is likely the reason why the National Sales Director at one of the major mass market RV manufacturers told us “The industry is getting away from residential refrigerators and going with the new 18 cubic foot RV refrigerators instead.”

Ironically, requesting a 10 cubic foot RV refrigerator from the custom manufacturers was met with the head scratching concern that their units are built to a certain very high standard and a modest RV refrigerator is not really up to that standard. In the end, they would prefer not to have their name on a fifth wheel roaming around the country sporting a smaller RV fridge. Undoubtedly, that issue could be pressed, but our initial request was not met with the expected enthusiasm of, “Oh, of course we can do that. We’d be glad to!”

Now, these are all very personal preferences, and there’s no right or wrong way to live the RV lifestyle. Our RV search has been an interesting journey through the maze of the modern day fifth wheel market, and this crazy refrigerator issue has been just one odd stumbling block in the whole process.

I just finished writing a detailed article for Trailer Life magazine about what we’ve learned and seen in our search. The article will be appearing in the September 2019 issue. If you subscribe to Trailer Life, keep an eye out for it!

In the meantime, give the veggie pre-prep idea a try. I like handling our veggies this way so much that I’d probably do it no matter how big a fridge we had, whether in a rolling home or in a stick-built house!

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Finding a Fifth Wheel Trailer or Toy Hauler to be a Full-time Home!

May 2019 – We’ve been on the hunt for a new fifth wheel trailer to replace our current one as our full-time home for a few years now, and in the last week or so we’ve been closing in on what we want.

Search for a new fifth wheel trailer RV-min

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It’s been a long and wild ride, but I know a lot of our readers have been going through the same roller coaster of emotions — from elation to frustration — in the search for an RV, so I thought I’d share a little about what we’ve seen and been thinking about in our own quest.

Banana bread served in an RV-min

An RV home can be very warm and inviting and cozy.
Warm banana bread in on a cold morning…what could be better?

We love our life on the road and we have a cozy home, but our zippy and fun RZR out back has sent us on a wild goose chase for a way to bring it along and still enjoy all the comforts of home. Triple towing is a tricky business, so buying a toyhauler seemed like the obvious solution at first and our search began there.

Luxe Fifth wheel toyhauler from The RV Factory-min

The Luxe toyhauler is very high end.

We started our search without a budget in mind. We wanted to see what was available regardless of price, so we visited The RV Factory where the semi-custom Luxe trailers are built.

These trailers have 3.25″ wide walls with graphite infused styrofoam insulation, and they feature 8k lb. Dexter axles with 17.5″ wheels and disc brakes along with gorgeous cabinetry and top of the line everything.

Luxe RV fifth wheel toy hauler frame with disc brakes-min

Disc brakes are standard on the Luxe

These are such high end trailers that all the drawers have dovetail joints.

Dovetaile joints on drawers in Luxe Fifth wheel toy hauler RV-min

Dovetail joints on the drawers…sweet!

The interior of the finished toy hauler they had on display at the factory was bright white and sumptuous. During our visit, we ended up chatting with a Luxe owner at the factory who was getting a few minor repairs taken care of. He’d owned his trailer for six months and was very happy with it. We just weren’t sure we wanted to tow a trailer this heavy.

We submitted our ideal toy hauler floorplan to both New Horizons and Space Craft (we also submitted it to Featherlite which we discovered is no longer building toy haulers). Both companies expressed concern that our truck, even with its dual rear wheels and 4.10 rear end, might not be able to tow one of their trailers if it exceeded 40 or 41 feet in length.

Our design was likely in the 42 to 43 foot range, but despite several phone calls and one two hour long in-person meeting, we never got far enough in our discussion with either manufacturer for them to put the design in their CAD software and draw it out.

This made us look more closely at the mass market toy haulers which are all in the 42 to 45 range. They are a bit lighter than the high end rigs, if less durable, of course.

White interior Luxe fifth wheel toy hauler RV-min (1)

Clean and crisp white Luxe toy hauler interior

Luxe fifth wheel toy hauler RV White interior-min (1)

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By far, the most ruggedly built trailer for its weight that we saw was the Aluminum Toyhauler Company fifth wheel trailer. These folks come to the toyhauler market from the stackable race car end of the trailer world. The ATC fifth wheel toy hauler has a truly massive cargo carrying capacity, but it lacks some of the other toy hauler features most RVers take for granted. When we visited the factory in September 2018, the ramp door didn’t convert to a patio. It may now.

ATC Toyhauler fifth wheel trailer-min

Aluminum Toyhauler Company (ATC) makes a rugged but lightweight rig

The ATC is purpose built for outdoor enthusiasts who expect their equipment to hold up under harsh conditions. All the interior cabinetry is aluminum and custom made in-house, and the whole trailer can be power washed inside and out. There are no slideouts but future models may include them. They have a basic open box model that you can modify to your own needs, and they’ll install a garage wall if you’d prefer an enclosed garage.

ATC Toyhauler fifth wheel trailer interior-min

ATC prides itself on having no wood in the rig — that way nothing can rot, no matter how wet ‘n wild it gets!

Another interesting tour was the Sundowner factory tour at their plant in Oklahoma.

These aluminum trailers are also really well built although they are using Lippert axles in the current builds (they used Dexter until a few years ago). Coming to the toyhauler industry from the horse trailer world, they are designed around a gooseneck hitch. The beauty of the gooseneck hitch is that the bed of your truck doesn’t have a big ol’ fifth wheel hitch hogging up all the space when you’re driving around unhitched.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV-min

Sundowner makes beautiful gooseneck hitch toy haulers

Sundowner builds its own entry doors and ramp door, and like ATC, their ramp door didn’t convert to a patio at the time of our visit. But it may at a later date.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Garage-min

Looking into the garage of a Sundowner toy hauler

When a trailer is designed to use a gooseneck hitch, the height of the trailer is kept quite low. The Sundowners are around 11′ tall as compared to 13′ 6″ for most conventional mass market toyhaulers. This makes them more aerodynamic but also means the bedrooms are not standing height. They are more like the bedrooms in a truck camper.

Gooseneck trailers are designed this way because the arm of the gooseneck hitch is quite long, and the higher the trailer roof is, the longer this lever arm becomes and the more the roofline will sway from side to side as the trailer goes down the road, putting all kinds of lateral stresses on the frame.

Sundowner does a lot of custom and semi-custom work, and they will happily design a trailer that is 13′ 6″ tall and has standing height in the bedroom, but that is not typical of their designs.

One interesting thing with both the ATC and Sundowner trailers is that because they are coming from the stackable car trailer and horse trailer markets, their trailers sit quite low to the ground and the ramp doors have a shallow angle. This is great if you are driving your muscle car or sports car into the garage because the back end of the car won’t drag as you drive in. But it is less important for the folks with a rock climbing RZR that can drive up onto anything.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Interior-min

The cabinetry and finish work in the Sundowner is top notch and many different woods and fabric are available.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Bedroom-min

The gooseneck hitch means the ceiling is low in the bedroom, but that
doesn’t mean it can’t be romantic!

We also visited several mass market trailer factories in Indiana. At the time we were most interested in the Keystone Raptor and KZ Venom. We saw a beautiful Keystone Raptor 421CK at a dealership in Wyoming prior to going to Indiana. It was the first toy hauler we had ever walked into and said, “Wow. We could live in this!” However, the garage was only 11′ long and we’d decided we needed at least 12′ to fit our RZR and bicycles.

KZ RV Fifth wheel frame with flooring installed-min

A KZ fifth wheel gets its flooring

The thing about toyhauler garages is that the patio doors and railings take up anywhere from 8″ to 16″ at the back of the garage when they are folded up against the closed ramp door. Also, there is a slope at the back of the garage floor that is about a foot long. It is there to extend the ramp angle of the ramp door so the ramp angle isn’t too steep. These two things combined can eat into the garage length by quite a bit. The 13′ garage might may have only 10′ 8″ of flat floor space, and that was typically what I saw with my tape measure in the various garages we looked at.

KZ RV Fifth wheel trailer under construction-min

KZ fifth wheel walls and front cap get started

Also, if there is a side patio and some of it is built onto the garage sidewall, the garage will lose about 8″ of width where the side patio folds into the trailer.

Likewise, if there is a 2nd bath or half bath in the garage or living area, some of the garage floor space or living area floor space will be lost to the bathroom.

It makes a big difference in the livability and usability of both the garage and living space if the door to that half bath opens into the living area or into the garage. Whichever way it is, you don’t want to block the bathroom when you’re parked!

Some Heartland Road Warriors now have a moveable partition around the half bath that becomes a wall when you’re parked but folds out of the way when you need the extra inches for your toys.

KZ Durango. You don’t realize how huge the openings are for the slideouts til you see it like this!

Most toy haulers have a loft area above the garage that runs the full width of the trailer along the wall that separates the garage from the living area. It’s worth some thought to decide if you’d prefer the loft area to open into the garage or into the living space. It may also be possible to modify the loft wall on one side or the other post-purchase so you have access from both sides.

KZ RV Fifth wheel trailer being built at the factory-min

The sidewalls of the main part of the trailer are quite minimal!

We also visited the Highlander RV plant which is the Open Range toy hauler brand.

Highlander Open Range fifth wheel toyhauler RV-min

The Highlander toy hauler from Open Range

Open Range is owned by Jayco which is owned by Thor. The Highlander toy haulers come in at a lower price point than most. Jayco is known for employing Amish people on the assembly lilnes, and they really do. We saw their buggies in the parking lot and driving around the area.

Highlander Open Range Toyhaulers with Amish buggy in Indiana-min

Lots of Amish people work on the RV assembly lines

Amish buggy in Shipshewana Indiana-min

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From what we saw, all fifth wheel trailers and toy haulers are in a very similar way that aims towards a specific price point. I don’t know that there is much quality difference from one mass market brand to the next since it seems the same overall manufacturing methods and materials are used in all the brands. Certain features are given different names in the marketing literature to distinguish each brand, but it often boils down to the same basic things.

I was astonished when our guide pulled out an 8′ wide roll of a material that looked like aluminum foil and said it gave their trailer an extra R-14 of insulation throughout. All I could think is that there are aspects of RV manufacturing that are pure smoke and mirrors, and to me this was one of them.

This metal foil has been used to produce great insulating R factors in certain scenarios, but it has to have at least two inches of air on either side of it, among other things, for the insulating properties to work. When it is installed in such a way that is is flush up against the other layers of material in the wall or ceiling, that big R-factor vanishes.

Hydraulic lilnes for auto-leveling and slide-out mechanisms on fifth wheel trailer-min

“So, which hydraulic line goes to the curbside slideout? ’cause I think it’s leaking!”
Not all of what we saw inspired confidence.

Some of what we saw made it obvious why customers often have so many problems with their RVs, but our visit to the MORryde plant was an immersion in quality, much like our factory tours at Trojan Battery and B&W Hitches in the past. They had a cool toy hauler out front with their logo on it that was used for trade shows.

MORryde trade show toy hauler-min

The MORryde tradeshow toyhauler

On the Independent Suspension assembly line, MORryde’s signature RV product, we saw axles marked “NH” and “DRV” for New Horizons and DRV. Those trailer brands offer the Independent Suspension as an option. How cool is that?!

fifrh wheel ready for MORryde IS upgrade at the factory-min

An unpainted DRV waits for a MORryde Independent Suspension upgrade.

We had been visiting dealerships on a regular basis for several years prior to our Elkhart visit, and we continued to look at toy haulers after we finished our factory tours in Indiana. Road Warrior (Thor/Heartland) was a brand we looked into, and the 427, which is now the 4275, was a possibility in part because of the side patio and MORryde ramp door.

Unfortunately, my favorite floorplans were the older Road Warrior 427s that had a big sliding glass door going out to the side patio and a tiny fireplace/entertainment system that didn’t block the door. As the model years went by for the 427, the door with the big view onto the patio got smaller and the fireplace and TV got bigger.

Grand Design Momentum 399TH Toyhauler slide patio-min

The Grand Design Momentum 399TH has a nice big sliding glass door heading out to the side patio.

One thing that is very enticing about a toy hauler is the ability to put a workbench in the garage. Most bigger toy haulers nowadays have a 2nd bathroom with the door going into the garage, which limits the wall space for putting in a workbench if you are toting a big RZR.

Fuzion Toy Hauler Fifth wheel garage-min

Will a small 30″ workbench fit between the two doors in this Fuzion 429?

At first, the idea of two bathrooms didn’t excite us because it is a mammoth waste of space for a couple. But then we realized that with a 2nd bathroom you get double the black tank capacity because most designers place a black tank below each toilet to let gravity do its magic of filling the tank as the toilet is used. Some of them drain the little half-bath vanity sink into the rear black tank too.

It is my understanding that the DRV Fullhouse uses a macerator on the toilets to pump the fluids from both toilets to a single black tank, so adding a 2nd bathroom doesn’t double the black tank capacity in those trailers.

The more we did our own soul searching about what we really wanted in our new trailer, the more we realized that we couldn’t go backwards when it came to tank capacities. Our current Hitchhiker has 70 gallons of fresh water, 78 gallons of gray split between two tanks (50 for the shower and vanity and 28 for the kitchen sink) and 50 gallons of black.

Reducing any of these numbers would impact the way we live since we rarely get water or sewer hookups. Unfortunately, although most toy haulers offer over 100 gallons of fresh water, which is awesome, many have a bit less than 50 for the black tank unless they have a 2nd bathroom.

So the decision for us became a trade-off between living space (giving up part of the living area and/or garage to accommodate a second bathroom) and black tank capacity. Argh! Big black tanks do exist. The Arctic Fox 35-5Z has 65 gallons of black tank capacity with just one toilet.

The Keystone Raptor 421CK floorplan that we loved (except for the 11′ garage) was replaced with the Raptor 423 which has a 13′ garage. But it has just a 44 gallon black tank which contributed to taking it out of the running. Also, the designers took 2′ out of the bedroom to increase the garage length from 11 to 13 feet, and they turned the bed so it was “north/south” or parallel to the driving direction instead of being perpendicular to it.

Trailer designers are constrained in overall square footage for their designs by the RVIA (RV Industry Association). This group increases the maximum allowable square footage a little bit now and then, but for right now the limit is 430 square feet.

This seems to be a bit of an arbitrary number, but it is an important one. When you see very long trailers with very shallow and short slide-outs, it may be due to this maximum square footage. Turning a perpendicular bed that’s partly in a slide-out into a “north/south” bed that’s parallel to the curb with no slideout eliminates a few square feet. The designer can then use those square feet somewhere else in the trailer, like lengthening the garage.

We spent a lot of time lying on these “north/south” beds and opening and closing the small wardrobes in the driver’s side slideouts. This type of bedroom was not as appealing as the perpendicular bed with the big closet in the front cap, but it is the predominant design these days, probably due to the square footage constraint.

Grand Design Momentum Toyhauler Bedroom-min

Many toy haulers have a “north/south” bedroom where the bed runs parallel to the road rather than perpendicular. You can walk around a queen but a king goes almost to the curbside wall.

The biggest challenge in our search is that most dealers stock only a few toy haulers of whatever brands they carry. So there were several floorplans we wanted to see that we still haven’t seen, even after two years of traveling around and a visit to the factories in Elkhart Indiana. The KZ Venom 4012TK is an open floorplan U-kitchen design much like the Raptor 421CK/423 that I’d love to see. Maybe someday!

I’d also like to see a DRV Fullhouse, specifically the LX450. Until we began our search, I didn’t realize that even though DRV is not an independent company any more, they still allow some customizations to be made to their trailers. Working with a good dealer — we heard that Rolling Retreats in Oklahoma was outstanding — you can ask for all kinds of customized things and some might be granted.

I was very surprised when I found out that the factory would be willing to remove the 2nd bathroom and the dinette cabinetry in the Fullhouse LX450. I had other ideas for those spaces that would work better for us. But I have yet to see a Fullhouse toy hauler in person — they always seem to be at least 400 miles away and never in the direction we’re headed. And ordering any trailer without seeing something pretty similar in person first makes me uneasy.

The other thing that made the search particular frustrating is that all the folks selling toyhaulers also had regular fivers on their lots. So, although we couldn’t see the KZ Venom toy hauler we wanted to see, the dealer had the KZ Durango Gold 380FL available. We walked inside and instantly fell in love with the huge rear bedroom with its 2nd entry door on the driver’s side. This didn’t help our search for a toy hauler!

Where Raptors were sold we often saw Montanas, which are also Keystone products, and Mark fell in love wih the storage space in the massive pullout shelf under the raised living room in the Montana 3790/91. This was yet another reminder that If you don’t have a 13′ dedicated garage and you’re willing to go up to 40′ or longer in a trailer, you can get a really spacious rig!

And where Momentums were sold, Grand Design Solitudes were also on display. We both fell totally in love with the massive bedroom and walkin closet of the Grand Design Solitude 373FB. The twin vanity sinks and gargantuan closet were wonderful, and the big bright windows opposite the bed along and the window over the bed’s headboard were fabulous.

I’d never been in a fifth wheel where I felt I could spend happy daytime hours in the bedroom, but in that rig I surely could.

Grand Design Solitude 373FB Fifth wheel trailer RV bedroom-min

The Grand Design Solitude 373FB has a gorgeous bedroom suite with an enormous bathroom and walk-in closet

Grand Design Solitude 373FB Bedroom-min

Good morning sunshine — the Grand Design Solitude 373FB bedroom has a wall of windows!

So, the toy hauler idea went out the window because we began to think we’d triple tow with something like this beautiful Grand Design Solitude 373FB. The only problem is that it is 41′ 4″ long and that would put us over the limit for triple towing in every state except for South Dakota where the limit is 75 feet!

Back to the drawing board we went where we revamped our search to be for smaller trailers. Suddenly, at long last, we were able to see an Arctic Fox 35-5Z after wanting to see one for a long time. This is a really well made trailer built on Northwood Manufacturing’s own in-house constructed frame with a traditional floorplan.

The great thing about Northwood Manufacturing / Arctic Fox is that they are the only trailer manufacturer left that offers a long list of options. All the others pump out identical trailers one after another except for a very few items the customer can choose such as dual pane windows, an onboard generator and exterior paint.

Arctic Fox 35-SZ fifth wheel trailer RV living room-min

The Arctic Fox 35-SZ is built on a custom in-house frame and offers lots of choices for options

At Arctic Fox you can choose to have either one air conditioner or two. You can get an electric fireplace under the TV or you can have wooden cabinets in that space instead. You can opt for a 10 cubic foot propane/electric RV fridge, which gives you an extra foot of counter space and upper and lower cabinetry to boot, or a 12 cubic foot RV fridge or an enormous 18 cubic foot RV fridge. You can also get a residential 110v AC electric fridge.

This is awesome because there are some RVers, like ourselves, who would prefer to have more cabinet and counter space and let the veggies and beer fight it out for themselves in a smaller 10 cubic foot fridge.

Also, since we dry camp all the time, we power our 8 cubic foot fridge with propane 24/7. When we’re not using propane for heat and are just using propane to power the refrigerator, the hot water heater and the stove, we go through a 30 lb. (7 gallon) tank of propane every three weeks. In our experience, it is not always so easy to find places to fill our propane tanks, especially in certain parts of the country.

If we were to go from our current 8 cubic foot refrigerator to an 18 cubic foot fridge, we would more than double the amount of propane our fridge uses. We would probably go through that same 7 gallon tank of propane in about 9-12 days instead of 21 days. If the trailer’s LP tank compartment allows 5″ of extra height, then we might be able to switch to using the taller 40 lb. (10 gallon) tanks instead and we might make the propane last a little longer. But those big tanks are unwieldy to carry around.

Lastly, RV propane refrigerators are expected to last only about 8 to 10 years. A replacement 8 cubic foot fridge is around $1,400. A replacement 18 cubic foot fridge is $3,700. That’s a huge difference!

Even if you have an extended RV warranty (which is an excellent idea – here’s why), the warranty contract will cost a lot more to purchase if your rig has a big expensive refrigerator in it than it would if the fridge were a smaller cheaper model. After all, the warranty company has to calculate their potential costs if things in your rig (like the refrigerator) fail.

KZ allowed buyers to order trailers with smaller RV fridges and opt out of the electric fireplace until last fall, and that is one of the reasons we were so interested in the KZ trailers.

Grand Design Solitude 373FB fifth wheel trailer-min

Many Grand Design Solitude trailers have a TV that lowers into a cabinet revealing a nice big window behind (on the right in this pic). This is fantastic for folks who don’t watch TV during the daytime.

Perhaps the biggest thing for us, though, is the tank capacities. Small tank capacities certainly rule out a lot of brands! The Grand Design trailers have excellent tank capacities, especially the toy haulers with a 2nd bathroom where you can get as much as 157 gallons of fresh, 106 of gray and 106 of black. Wow!!

Double vanity sink in bathroom of fifth wheel trailer RV-min

No more lines for brushing teeth!

So, last week we were back to looking at toy haulers. We went to a dealership where we saw a Fuzion 429 which had a very cool walk-through kitchen layout with the sink set on an outside corner with long counters running along either side. There was tons of cabinet space and it had and an interesting country style decorative motif.

But the slide-outs were so shallow we would be challenged to replace the furniture if we ever wanted to because the fronts of the theater seats and sofa were all set on rollers to roll in and out with the slide room. The fronts of replacement furniture could be set on casters, perhaps, but it might look a little funny.

I’m not keen on being married to an RVs furniture just because it is on rollers.

One thing I’ve noticed with most of the Thomas Payne theater seats is that if I sit with my back touching the backrest, my feet can’t reach the ground. They’re about 2″ short. This is really uncomfortable! I’m 5’4″ but have fairly long legs for my height, so I imagine that most women would be in the same position. So, for me, replacing the furniture at some point is a likely scenario.

We prowled around other toy haulers, and as I stood in the kitchen of one and thought about where I’d put my dishware (I’d already resigned myself to storing pantry goods in the 18 cubic foot fridge because that’s where the bulk of the kitchen shelving was), I realized there was no cabinet in the kitchen for plates or glassware. Those would have to go in a drawer in the kitchen island or in a cabinet outside of the kitchen area.

A similar thing had happened when I stood in the kitchen of another toy hauler a few months earlier and opened the slim upper cabinet door above the sink. The shelf in there was big enough for just one coffee mug — as long as it didn’t have a handle — and no more.

Space is at such a premium in a toy hauler that the designers have to be super creative to make a living area that has both comfortable seating and sufficient usable storage.

Ironcially, Mark had skimmed through Craigslist before this last dealership trip, and he found a 2011 36′ Hitchhiker Discover America for sale. We walked inside it and knew we’d found our rig. It was just like the one we’d lived in for the last 12 years but with some important differences!

Woo Hoo!!

This Hitchhiker had factory installed 8k lb. Dexter axles with 17.5 inch wheels and disc brakes. This was huge!

Every new trailer we’d looked at so far, including most of the toy haulers, would require an upgrade to disc brakes and in many cases an upgrade to bigger axles too, and none but the highest end manufacturers offered those things as a factory installed option. Almost all the trailers had tandem or triple 7k lb. axles and 16″ wheels. Many were Dexter brand, which is terrific, but the cargo carrying capacities were really skimpy almost across the board.

One lovely 38′ fifth wheel had a mere 1,800 lbs of cargo carrying capacity. This would have to include fresh water, solar and battery add-ons and all of our belongings. Several toy haulers had just over 3,000 lbs. of cargo carrying capacity which leaves little room for food, clothes, lilnens, appliances and kitchenware once the 1,200 lb. toy is loaded and the 850 lbs. of fresh water and 450 lbs of fuel are put in the tanks (water is 8.3 lbs per gallon).

Hitchhiker Discover America 349RSB fifth wheel trailer RV Living Room-min

Hitchhiker Discover America – Looks familiar!

Besides the big axles, this old Hitchhiker’s 17.5″ wheels were a massive plus too. Bigger tires on fifth wheels are much less prone to problems caused by grinding the tread into the ground when making tight turns. Blow-outs are all too common with fifth wheel trailers, and although bad tires are often to blame, it’s also possible that the steel belts eventually fall apart under the twisting lateral loads induced by tight turns.

How funny this was, though. We’d come full circle and were right back where we’d started trailer-wise, more or less.

It was only after we began making calls to line up folks to replace the stained carpets and do a detailed cleaning so we could get our soon-to-be new-to-us home back on its wheels as soon as possible after the closing that we realized the handyman projects on an 8 year old trailer were feeling more like work than like fun!

That wasn’t what we wanted!

Totally stressed out, we walked away from the deal at the last minute. We felt better immediately.

Hitchhiker Discover America 349RSB fifth wheel trailer RV-min

There are some incredible deals to be found on the used market for highly regarded brands of yesteryear.
But buying used has its challenges too.

This whole process can be both exhilarating and depressing. Just like buying a sailboat or a house.

Our offer for our cruising sailboat Groovy was the 5th offer we put in on a boat over the course of a year. One deal went so far south we had to get the California Boating and Waterways agency involved. On another deal we paid $1,300 to get the boat surveyed (like a house inspection), and backed out when we got it hauled out of the water and saw the forest of seaweed growing on the hull.

But our persistence and careful approach paid off. In the end, Groovy was a much newer, cleaner and far cheaper boat than any of the others we’d made offers on!

In the RV industry there are very few structurally well built and cleverly designed new trailers out there, and going with a used one that was well built and beautifully crafted in its day years ago opens a whole new can of worms. For those who love renovating, it’s a great way to go. But not everyone does.

On our way home we decided to take one more look at some new fifth wheels just to change our mindset, so we pulled into a dealership and asked to see a line of trailers we hadn’t seen before.

Lo and behold, the first rig we walked into was fantastic. Holy cow! It had almost everything we wanted and the few things it didn’t have were upgrades that would be fun and exciting to do. Who woulda thunk?!

Home sweet home

Home sweet home.

Is our search over? We don’t know, but we’ve got a hunch it is. We’re giving this latest idea a few weeks to simmer and we’ll let you know.

In the meantime, have faith that your ship — or RV — will come in. It’s out there somewhere. It just takes a ton of online research, dozens of walks through dealership lots and, more than anything, some heartfelt soul searching to find it.

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Americas Mailbox – Mail Forwarding & So Much More in South Dakota!

Full-time RVers and other long term travelers enjoy incredible freedom in a wonderfully independent lifestyle, but we still need to get our mail every once in a while! Fortunately, there are mail forwarding services of all kinds in several states.

Surprisingly, each mail forwarding service is a little different in what they offer their customers. Some simply collect your mail and then send it to wherever you are when you ask them to while others offer additional services from assisting with vehicle registration to offering a place to stay while you establish residency in the state.

If you’re researching the many mail forwarding options out there, here are some of the things we’ve learned about mail forwarding during our dozen years of full-time RVing. Looking back over those twelve years of travel adventures, we estimate that we’ve received around 120 shipments of snail mail containing about 3,500 pieces of mail. Yikes!

Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding for Full-time RVers and RV travelers

Americas Mailbox provides mail forwarding, vehicle registration and domicile assistance for full-time travelers

Even though most modern communication is done online or over the phone, when you become a full-time RVer or full-time traveler you’ll probably still want to have a way to receive your mail, whether it’s financial documents, old fashioned birthday cards or magazines.

Selecting a domicile state can be quite easy, and the requirements for establishing residency can be quite minimal. However, it is worth noting that if at some point in time you are called upon to prove in court that your chosen state is your true domicile rather than a different state where you might have more ties, you may face an uphill battle if you own large assets like real estate and/or spend a lot of time in a state that isn’t your chosen domicile state.

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America by license plate — on the wall at Americas Mailbox!

There are lots of resources to help with your domicile state decision, including our blog post on the subject here which is the third article in our three part series on full-time RVing here, here and here.

Choosing a state to be your legal domicile is just the first part of the process, however. The second part is selecting a company that will assist you with establishing residency in the state and forward your snail mail to you on the road.

Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

Americas Mailbox is right off of Exit 41 on I-90 – Easy!

The three most popular domicile states for full-time travelers are South Dakota, Florida and Texas, and each state is home to several mail forwarding service companies:

We joined the mail forwarding service Americas Mailbox, located in Box Elder, a suburb of Rapid City, South Dakota, last year, and we have been very pleased with their service. During this past year we have relied on Americas Mailbox to deliver our mail in eleven different states, and we’ve also received their assistance in registering and paying South Dakota sales tax on two new vehicles, our street legal Polaris RZR and the utility trailer it rides on (we triple tow).

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A sweet reminder on the wall at Americas Mailbox.

Some mail forwarding services do all their work over the phone and online, and it is possible to become a resident of South Dakota without physically meeting the people who run the mail forwarding service you choose.

However, Americas Mailbox is very serious about their role in assisting customers with establishing their residency and other things that require staying in South Dakota for a while, and they have not only built an RV park on their property, providing both full hookup, electric only and dry camping campsites, but they have also built several hotel rooms in their main building for customers who don’t arrive in an RV.

We spent several days in the Americas Mailbox RV park on two separate occasions last spring and summer, and we set up camp alongside lots of other Americas Mailbox customers in the dry camping area.

Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Box Elder South Dakota-min

We joined the group lined up in the dry camping part of the Americas Mailbox RV Park.

It was a lot of fun because most of the customers were brand new full-timers who were just getting their wheels rolling, and their enthusiasm and excitement about their new lifestyle was palpable.

Some RVers were doing their mandatory single overnight stay to establish South Dakota residency, and others were staying for 30 days to comply with the concealed carry requirements in South Dakota. In addition, many folks were establishing relationships with professionals in the Rapid City area, from estate planning attorneys and accountants to doctors and dentists and insurance agents.

RV Park Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

We had fun chatting with other full-timers who were staying at the RV park. Many were just starting their adventures!

When we first walked in the Americas Mailbox headquarters building, we were taken aback when we heard a voice say, “Welcome home!” Wow! We were soon shaking hands with the General Manager and being introduced to members of the staff.

Welcome Home to Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

What a surprise to hear “Welcome Home!” as we walked in!
“Travel” is the theme and there’s even a compass rose on the floor!

It really did feel like coming home. All the customers in the room were living the same crazy full-time RV lifestyle as we are, and most were setting up new Americas Mailbox accounts.

There was a flurry of activity all around us. An inviting living room-like waiting area was on one side and a long service counter for staff to work with customers was in front of us. We quickly felt ourselves swept up in a surprising sense of community and homey warmth.

Americas Mailbox was founded by Don and Barbara Humes after they had traveled full-time in their RV for a few years in the early 2000s.

Prior to opening Americas Mailbox, Don and Barbara studied the entire country to determine which state and which county within that state would be the most favorable for full-time travelers to use as a legal domicile.

Welcome Home Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding for Full-time RVers and RV travelers-min

Americas Mailbox founder, Don Humes (right), is a full-time RVer who understands the needs of folks living a footloose and fancy free life on the road.

They settled on Pennington County in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota near the fabulous tourist destinations of Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, Sturgis, the town of Custer and Custer State Park, all places that RVers love to visit.

Rapid City is the county seat of Pennington County, and Americas Mailbox purchased a fantastic piece of property in Box Elder just outside of Rapid City, located right off of Exit 41 on I-90, an easy place to find and a convenient place to stay for a while to get your legal and financial affairs in order in your new home state.

Waiting room Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

The waiting area is like a living room — very inviting.

Americas Mailbox now has a big staff not only up front serving customers who walk in and call in, but also in the offices behind the reception counter where the envelope scanning and vehicle registration work happens and also in the mail sorting room out back where truckloads of mail arrive and are sorted into thousands of customer mail boxes each day.

In addition to providing step-by-step paperwork for changing your legal address to be an Americas Mailbox address, there are step-by-step instructions for registering out of state licensed vehicles, registering new vehicles, obtaining a driver’s license, registering to vote, and obtaining a concealed carry permit. Americas Mailbox also provides a reference list for professionals of all kinds in the area.

Waiting area Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

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Out behind the main building with its hustle and bustle of mail sorting, vehicle registrations and assorted paperwork going on in the Americas Mailbox offices, the on-site RV park had lovely views of farm fields and was very peaceful. Additional long pull-through campsites were nearing completion during our stay and could easily accommodate our rig. At the far end foundations for future cabins had been poured as well.

Pull-through campsite at Americas Mailbox RV Park Box Elder South Dakota-min

The campsites out back are very nice!

One thing we loved is that Don and Barbara live in their motorhome on-site. Not only do they talk the talk about full-time RVing, but they walk the walk too!

Also, they are so committed to keeping in close touch with their customers and helping them with any issues they might have that Don gives out his personal cell phone number.

The hotel rooms Americas Mailbox were full during our visit, so Don showed us their beautiful hotel suite that just happened to be vacant. It was an elegantly furnished one bedroom condo with a beautiful kitchen. Nice!

Hotel room kitchen Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

The hotel suite would be a comfy place to stay while doing business in Rapid City!

Hotel room Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

Want to get it all done without driving your RV to South Dakota? Stay in a beautifully appointed suite on-site!

Hotel room Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

A nice and homey place to relax — but there are more basic hotel rooms available too

One of the reasons Americas Mailbox was so incredibly busy during our visit was because another mail forwarding company in South Dakota had just gone out of business without giving any advance notice to its customers. People were flocking to Americas Mailbox and other South Dakota mail forwarding companies to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives. Chaos ensued at all the South Dakota mail forwarding facilities for several months!

This unfortunate scenario brings me to some of the things we think are worth considering before choosing a mail forwarding service:

Long Term Stability of the Company

Your life will quickly turn upside down if your mail forwarding company goes out of business unexpectedly. It seems like it should be easy to switch to a new company. All you have to do is let everyone know your new address. However, there’s a bit more to it.

Most companies require you to keep a balance of cash in their possession to cover future postage expenses they incur on your behalf, and that money may not be refunded to you if they go out of business unexpectedly. They may also never send you the mail they’re keeping in their possession on the day they shutter the business. In addition, any monthly or annual dues you may have paid up front may not be refunded.

This may not sound like much but could add up to a loss of a few hundred dollars on top of the frantic search for a new mail forwarding servicing and letting all your contacts know about your address change.

Most aggravating is that you may not be able to forward your mail to a new mailing address using the US Postal Service change of address form (PS Form 3575).

When you move from one home to another you can fill out the US Postal Service Form 3575 to forward you mail from your old address to your new one. However, your PMB (Personal Mail Box) at your mail forwarding company’s street address is not distinguished by the US Postal Service as unique from all the other PMBs at that address. Obviously, you can fill out and submit the form and hope for the best, but the Postal Service may not acknowledge the address change and may be inconsistent about forwarding your mail to your new address if they even do it at all.

I Love USA train decoration-min

The offices and waiting area at Americas Mailbox are trimmed with all kinds of fun travel themed decorations.

It is impossible to know for sure if a company will last a long time, and I remember vividly how shocked the engineering community in Massachusetts was when Digital Equipment Corporation went from being a major employer with campuses all over the state to vanishing into thin air over the course of two very short years.

Some mail forwarding companies have seen several changes of ownership and management in recent years, and with each change there are staff, policy and procedural changes that affect the customers, whether they are explicitly notified about what’s going on or not.

In general, though, if the mail forwarding company has been around a long time, has a lot of customers, and treats those customers well, it is likely it will survive. Don and Barbara have many long term plans for Americas Mailbox and theirs is a family operation with plans in place for the company to outlast them.

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How Fast Will They Ship Your Mail?

Every mail forwarding company has a different policy for how quickly they commit to packaging up your mail and sending it to you after you make your request for them to do so.

Some companies require that you notify them by 5:00 p.m. the night before it is shipped out. If you are in an earlier time zone or don’t think to make the call before 5:00 pm their time, your mail won’t be packaged up until the day after that! That is, a mail shipment request made at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday won’t be packaged up and sent until Thursday. This means your mail probably won’t arrive until the following Monday because of the intervening weekend unless you are in a neighboring state.

If they receive your request after 5:00 p.m. on Friday, then your mail will not be shipped until the following Tuesday, four days later! If you are in a distant state, it may not reach you until the following Friday, a week after you requested it! This is very frustrating and very inconvenient.

Americas Mailbox has a really rapid response time and will get your mail off to you first thing in the morning as long as you request it by midnight the night before and it is a weekday. Requests made at any time during the weekend up until midnight Sunday night will go out Monday morning.

For us, that is a huge advantage. Lots of full-time RVers plan their travels in advance, so that kind of instantaneous response isn’t important, but we regularly extend or cut short our stays depending on whims like changes in the weather. So, if we suddenly decide early one morning that we want to take off in a few days, it is critically important that we be able to get our mail packaged up and sent out as quickly as possible.

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Some America’s Mailbox customers are international travelers.

Virtual Mail – What Do You See and Not See on the Envelope?

Many companies offer a “virtual mail service” where they scan every envelope you receive and either post the images online or email them to you for you to view. You can then instruct them to open the envelope and scan the contents or shred it or just hang onto it until you request your next shipment of mail.

We have found this to be very useful, but the quality of the scanned images can vary a lot, and poorly scanned envelopes are useless. The most important piece of information for us is the return address, of course, so we can see who the piece of mail is from! You’d be surprised, but sometimes scanned envelopes show only YOUR name and address.

It sounds silly, but you need to be able to read the full name and full address of whoever sent the piece of mail or you’ll be left scratching your head. Obviously, if the image is blurry or cuts off the company name (you’d be amazed how often that can happen) or if the image is of your own name and address instead of the return address of the sender, then the image is useless.

We chatted with the gal doing the scanning at Americas Mailbox and watched the meticulous care she takes with each envelope to make sure the scanned image is not only readable but is of the correct address — the return address (not OUR address).

Americas Mailbox outsources the software that manages the scanned envelope images and we’ve found it works very well.

One thing that is especially helpful with their software is that they clear out all the images of the scanned envelopes once they are sent to us. That way we can distinguish between the mail that is waiting for us in South Dakota and the mail that we have received. You see, if all the images are left in the database and you receive regular mail from certain entities, it can be very confusing to look at a scanned envelope and determine whether it has already been forwarded to you or not, especially if it was scanned right around the time you ordered a mail shipment.

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Ins and Outs of General Delivery

When mail is sent to an RV park it is a pretty straight forward process if the park regularly receives mail on behalf of its customers. But sending mail to General Delivery at a post office can be tricky. For starters, it must be addressed very simply (no street address is included), and the software has to make sure no street address is inadvertently inserted (bad software can do that!).

General Delivery mail is addressed as follows (USPS explanation/example is here):

Your Name
GENERAL DELIVERY
City, State Zip-9999

If a street address is included, all hell breaks loose. Literally. It can cost days in delivery time.

We prefer to use small town post offices instead of big city post offices for general delivery because they have less volume and fewer employees.

We like to call the small town post office directly ahead of time to find out if they accept General Delivery. The USPS website lists whether each post office accepts General Delivery mail, but in a few cases we’ve found that the website says they do when they actually don’t. Disastrous!

We also like talking to the folks at the post office because we can let them know our package is coming and approximately when we’ll be in to pick it up. Post offices are supposed to keep General Delivery mail on hand for 30 days, but we had one post office return it to the sender after 24 hours. Of course, the contents of that package were very important time sensitive financial documents, and at the time we were total full-timing newbies who had been out on the road for all of a week!

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Despite being on the outer edge of Rapid City, the area right around Americas Mailbox is wonderfully rural.

Addressing Mishaps Caused by Auto-Fill !

Another thing to watch for is the “Bill To” versus the “Ship To” addresses when you order something online.

Lots of websites have Auto-Fill, and they’ll very helpfully fill in all kinds of info for you. Unfortunately, the next thing you know, you’ve sent a huge package to your mail forwarding address that you wanted to go to the address of the friend you’re currently visiting. Not only will your receipt of the item be delayed by a bunch of days but you’ll have to pay to ship that heavy package twice, once to your mail forwarding company and then again to your friend or some other destination you’re headed to!

Don told us a hilarious story along those lines. Americas Mailbox goes out of its way to accommodate any and all packages that are sent to them, even when they are a bit unwieldy. One day they received several mammoth crates from Harley Davidson that turned out to be all the pieces for a big beautiful motorcycle.

Curious what they were supposed to do with it, they called the customer the crates were addressed to and asked if he’d just ordered a motorcycle from Harley Davidson. “Yeah, I did. How did you know?” the confused customer asked. “Well, we’ve got all the crates right here at Americas Mailbox!”

Of course, the customer meant to have those boxes shipped directly to wherever he was in the world at the time, but he had mistakenly given his Americas Mailbox address as the “Ship To” address.

Shipping crates is outside the norm for Americas Mailbox, but they hired a qualified shipping company to pick up the crates and get them to the address where their customer was staying.

As a side note, many companies charge a small fee for oversized packages they receive because they require extra time and space to handle. Americas Mailbox charges a dollar or more for oversized packages depending on the size.

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We had some wonderful stormy days during our stay at Americas Mailbox.

What Happens to Improperly Addressed Mail?

Despite your best efforts, some entities won’t address your mail correctly no matter how often and how nicely you tell them what it is.

Most addresses in this country don’t include a PMB number, and some folks just leave it off. The correct address must include your PMB number, preferably on the same line as the street address, and it may be written as “123 Main Street PMB 789” or “123 Main Street #789.”

In our experience, an awful lot of entities leave off the PMB number all together. By leaving off the PMB number, the address they send our mail to is simply the street address of the mail forwarding company itself, leaving your piece of mail lost in a sea of thousands of people who share the same address.

When this incorrectly addressed piece of mail arrives at the mail forwarding company, the mail sorters have to figure out who it’s for and what the PMB number is so they can put it in the right box. The bigger mail forwarding companies use super fast mail sorting machines as well as people reading the addresses, and an incomplete address gums up the production in a massive way.

Some companies have a policy in place to set the piece of mail aside and then later look up the name of the person to find out which PMB they have, write it on the envelope and then carry all the mis-addressed envelopes to the appropriate PMB files.

However, some companies simply mark the envelope “RTS” (“Return to Sender”) and put it in their outgoing mail for USPS to pick up because it is too time consuming for them to go through all the wrongly addressed mail and look up all the PMB numbers.

Americas Mailbox has a tiered strategy. First, they look up the customer name (hopefully your name is unique!) and hand-write the PMB number on the envelope and put it in your box. They’ll call you if they have questions (i.e., “Are you the John Smith that is expecting a package from Amazon?”). Last of all, they’ll write “RTS” on it and put it back in the mail for USPS to return it to the sender.

Be sure to find out from your prospective mail forwarding company exactly what their policy is for mail that arrives without your PMB number, because it is guaranteed that at least one piece of mail for you will arrive that way someday.

Also, take the time to triple check with anyone sending you either important documents, a check, or a time sensitive piece of mail that the address they put on the envelope for you is 100% correct.

Yellow sunflowers South Dakota-min

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Vehicle Registration and Sales Tax

Americas Mailbox dots every “i” and crosses every “t” when it comes to registering your vehicles and paying any sales tax that is due.

We were floored by the degree of detail and the number of documents necessary to get our RZR and our utility trailer registered, licensed and on the road: Power of Attorney for Americas Mailbox to do the legwork registering the vehicles, images of front and back of our licenses, fronts and backs of the titles, bills of sale, money orders for the sales tax, and a few other goodies.

Americas Mailbox provides a detailed checklist of the documents you must gather, and of course some might have to be notarized. If you don’t have a scanner, you can just take a good quality photo of each document and attach all the photos to your email correspondence with Americas Mailbox to verify you have all the right pieces in place before you mail the package of documents to them.

Another thing to watch for when you buy a vehicle is whether the community you are making your purchase in will impose a local tax on the purchase. Maricopa County in Arizona (Phoenix area) is notorious for dealerships charging tax on all vehicle purchases made by out of state buyers.

So, while you may think you will be paying only the South Dakota sales tax on your purchase, you may find yourself staring at a document at the dealership that requires you to pay a tax to Arizona too. I’m not sure if there are other places in America where this happens, but double check with the person who will be writing up the final sales receipts and taking your check before you finalize your purchase.

Owner-Americas-Mailbox-Mail-Forwarding-Service-for-full-time-RV-travelers-Rapid-City-South-Dakota

On Mother’s Day Don brought roses to all the women on his staff. Now that’s class!

Final Thoughts

There are all kinds of mail forwarding services available, and they range from bare bones to full service. You may need just mail forwarding, or you may want to have someone handle the vehicle registration and lines at the DMV, and/or you may want to have a sense of “home” with an RV park where you can stay each time you return home to take care of life’s legal and financial technicalities.

We’ve found that Americas Mailbox is a wonderful full service operation, and what’s more, we love the Black Hills and being “residents” of this part of South Dakota.

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Triple Tow or Toy Hauler? How to RV Full-time with a RZR?

We have spent the last two years going back and forth about whether to move into a new fifth wheel trailer or a new toy hauler as we look forward to our second dozen years of non-stop travel and full-time RV living. We’ve been to tons of dealerships and did a bunch of toy hauler factory tours in the Elkhart area of Indiana as well as in Missouri and Oklahoma (there’s more about those tours is in the 2nd half of this article).

Triple tow Dodge Ram 3500 dually 36' fifth wheel and Polaris RZR on utility trailer-min

The Train

Right now we are in the testing phase of toting our Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition on a 5′ x 10′ utility trailer in a triple-tow configuration (sometimes called a double-tow) behind our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck and 2007 36′ Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer.

Triple-tow fifth wheel RV with Polaris RZR side-by-side UTV-min

Another view of The Train

As I’ve mentioned a few times over the past few months since we started this experiment, triple towing is working out a whole lot better that we expected!

This may be in large part because the utility trailer is only 5′ wide compared to the 8′ width of our fifth wheel trailer, so even on a tight U-turn, the wheels on the fifth wheel carve a tighter turn than the wheels on the utility trailer. So, if there’s something we don’t want to roll over or hit, the vehicle at risk is the fifth wheel, just as it has always been!

The utility trailer just cruises along behind. It’s a little caboose!

When we’re triple towing we notice a lot more chucking action than when we don’t have out caboose connected. This is due to the accordion and jerking action of the three vehicles moving apart and back together as they rumble down the road. It’s not a violent sensation, but we can definitely feel it.

Gas station with RV dump station with triple tow Polaris RZR behind fifth wheel trailer-min

We’ve been to a few gas stations… yikes!

We have been to several gas stations fully hooked up as The Train. Even though The Train is quite long and winds up curved far behind us as we turn in to the pump, as long as the gas station is large enough and there aren’t too many customers, it all works out.

Gas station with RV dump station with triple tow Polaris RZR behind fifth wheel trailer-min

That RZR sure is a long ways from the pump!

We have also been to several RV dump stations with The Train, and again, as long as the approach and exit to the dump station aren’t too narrow or laid out in a tight turn, we can align the fifth wheel sewer hose and other goodies with the RV dump station while the truck and utility trailer sit in a curve ahead of and behind the dump station sewer.

RV dump station with triple tow Polaris RZR behind fifth wheel trailer-min

We’ve been to a few RV dump stations.

RV dump station with triple tow Polaris RZR behind fifth wheel trailer-min

We’re okay dumping our tanks as long as it’s fairly long!

We set up the utility trailer with a spare tire and tire cover just in case that trailer gets a blowout. At this point we don’t have a backup camera to watch the utility trailer while we’re towing. That may come in the future but will take some research as we figure out which model and where to place the monitor in the already full cockpit of the truck.

Unfortunately the utility trailer is too small to carry our bikes as well. A 12′ long trailer would be long enough, but our RZR came with this trailer so it’s a natural starting point. So, for the moment, we have left the bikes behind at a friend’s house.

Triple tow Polaris RZR 900 behind fifth wheel trailer-min

We’re leaving the bikes out of the equation for the moment.

When loading the RZR onto the utility trailer, Mark drives the RZR’s front wheels flush up against the front of the trailer which leaves enough room behind it for two 5 gallon gas tanks lashed down on the utility trailer.

Triple tow Polaris RZR 900 behind fifth wheel trailer-min

With the wheels flush against the front railing there’s room for two 5 gallon gas tanks in back.

Before hitching up The Train the very first time, we had to sort out the different heights between the tongue of the utility trailer and the hitch receiver on the back end of the fifth wheel.

Our fifth wheel trailer now sits some 6 to 8 inches higher than it did when we first bought it. After our fifth wheel got a desperately needed suspension overhaul when the suspension failed (blog post here), the fifth wheel sat higher than it had originally. Then, when we installed the MORryde SRE4000 equalizers, it sat even higher.

This is awesome for those pesky gas station ramps and other sharp dips in the road that are so steep they cause the back end of the fifth wheel trailer to drag on the asphalt. It’s also great for bumping over washes and other things on gnarly dirt roads.

However, all that good drag-avoidance stuff got thrown out the window with the decision to triple tow!

The utility trailer has 15″ tires and sits quite low, and in order to keep that trailer relatively flat instead of nose-up while towing, we had to put a 10″ drop hitch mount on the fifth wheel trailer’s hitch receiver to reach down to the utility trailer’s level.

Fifth wheel trailer triple tow 10 drop to bumper trailer-min

We needed a 10″ drop hitch mount to reach down to the utility trailer

We use a receiver hitch tightener to eliminate any possible rattling in the connection between the receiver hitch and the hitch mount, and an electric plug ensures the lights on the utility trailer are powered and light up at night as well as when Mark hits the brakes.

Trailer light connection and hitch receiver tightener for triple tow fifth wheel and bumper pull trailer-min

The hitch tightener keeps things from rattling and the electric plug lights up the lights on the utility trailer

If you stand behind The Train at night and have someone tap the brakes in the truck, it’s quite a light show because not only do the lights on the fifth wheel light up, but the ones on the utility trailer do too. We almost never tow at night but it’s good to know The Train is so visible on dark and stormy travel days.

RV in rainbow stormy skies Glacier National Park Montana

It was a dark and stormy morning…

We’re really glad we decided to jump in with both feet and buy a RZR before we figured out how to transport it because there is nothing like hands-on experience to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

This is also why we always encourage new would-be full-time RVers who haven’t owned an RV before to get a cheap and small RV and go have some fun before investing big bucks in a full-time rolling home.

The biggest surprise we’d never thought of before is that it is super handy to have a utility trailer to tote the RZR behind our truck when we’re going to a trailhead that is a long distance from our campsite.

Dually truck Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition and utility trailer-min

There’s an advantage to being able to tow the RZR to a distant trailhead.

Although our RZR can go 70 mph and is licensed for the road, driving it on the highway is not what we got it for. We’d rather drive 25 or 50 miles to a trailhead in the comfort of our truck and then arrive with the RZR gas tank full of gas so we can enjoy our off-road adventures without worrying about carrying spare gas.

The RZR has a 10 gallon fuel tank and gets about 15 mpg. So far, none of our adventures has been more than about 40 miles, so we don’t foresee a need to carry gas with us on the RZR any time soon.

At the end of a day of off-road adventure, after the sun has set, we find it’s much safer to drive our truck on the highway than to be out there in a little open air buggy that sits a lot lower on the road than most cars and trucks.

Utility trailer ramp down to load Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

The RZR rolls on and off the trailer ramp.

Lastly, we’ve wanted to ensure that Buddy loves the RZR. For us and our lifestyle there’s no reason to own a RZR if our puppy doesn’t want to come along. We’ve integrated him into our lives so he doesn’t spend any time in our fifth wheel by himself. If we’re going to have RZR adventures, he’s going to be a part of them.

When we’re in the RZR, Buddy sits on my lap. I don’t want to go more than about 35 mph with him sitting in there. He’s not too keen on the loud noise of the RZR engine on the highway and of vehicles passing us, and I have to say, neither am I.

His favorite thing riding in the RZR is to sniff the air when we’re off-road, watch for rabbits, and to stare down at the dirt road going by just below RZR door. All that is lots of fun at 10-15 mph, our typical dirt road speed.

Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition on utility trailer-min

Mark has mastered driving the 56″ wide RZR onto the 60″ wide trailer!

We have a B&W Stow & Go hitch on the back of our truck, and the utility trailer hitches up to the truck very easily. After one or two tries loading the RZR, Mark has figured out how to align it so it drives in without rubbing the wheels on the railings at all even though the railings are 60″ apart and the RZR is about 56″ wide.

Ready to tow Polaris RZR 900 on utility trailer behind Dodge dually Ram truck-min

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When we arrive at a trailhead, Mark drops the ramp door of the utility trailer, hops in the RZR, and backs it down the ramp. The driver’s door on the RZR swings out above the railing on the utility trailer, so he can get in and out of the RZR easily when it’s on its trailer.

Preparing to tow Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS edition towed on utility trailer behind dually truck-min

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Dodge Ram dually tows Polaris RZR on trailer-min

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Unloading Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS edition off of trailer-min

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The RZR came with a windshield, roof and a fancy stereo that the previous owner had installed, and this XC EPS edition of the RZR 900 includes upgraded wheels, wider fender flares, a hitch receiver and the Polaris Ride Command navigation system.

However, the trunk is just a shallow open area at the back, not the best place to store stuff if you don’t want it to get dirty.

We tossed around ideas and finally bought a Lifetime 55 quart cooler that sits very nicely on an old welcome mat in the back of the RZR. It is lashed down to keep it in place.

Lifetime cooler used as trunk for Polaris RZR 900-min

We use a Lifetime 55 quart cooler for easy flip-top trunk system.

What we love about this cooler is that we can keep all the little essentials we always want with us — emergency water, toolbag, flat repair & spare air kit, first aid kit — in the bottom of it at all times, and we can throw things like jackets, hats, cameras and snacks on top as we need them for each ride.

The flip top lid makes it super easy to access everything in the cooler, and it has an excellent seal when it is closed which keeps everything inside dust free. We’ve also put a long shank padlock on the cooler to keep the less determined thieves out. Of course, anyone that really wanted that cooler and its contents could simply carry it away.

Another great feature of the cooler is that the things in the bottom of it don’t get overly hot. The engine sits right below the RZR’s trunk area, but since this little “portable trunk” is actually a cooler, there’s lots of insulation between the contents of the cooler and the engine below.

You can see a hilarious video of a grizzly bear trying to get into one of these coolers here.

We’ve found that the multi-use trails that allow motorized vehicles are not only lots of fun for riding but are also great for running and hiking too. Sometimes Buddy and I hop out to run while Mark drives.

Unlike yours truly, Buddy can easily keep up with the RZR and loves chasing it at top speed. But after he’s done a 5 minute mile with some surges to 3 minute mile pace thrown in, he’s usually ready to ride again, and he happily jumps back in.

Dog and Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

Need a ride?

Dog approaches Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

Come on in!

Dog jumps in Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

Easy!

We’ve experimented with quite a few scenarios for arriving at a campsite and unhitching the bits and pieces of The Train.

The utility trailer has to be hitched up to something — either the truck or the fifth wheel trailer — in order to drive the RZR on or off of it. Otherwise, once the RZR wheels roll on or off the ramp the tongue of the utility trailer will fly up in the air.

So, at campsites where we want to use the utility trailer with the truck to take the RZR somewhere, we have to move the utility trailer from its caboose position at the end of The Train to a place where it can be hitched to the truck, and then we reverse its location before we leave.

We can move the utility trailer around small distances by pushing or pulling it ourselves. However, if the RZR is on the trailer, neither is going anywhere until the utility trailer gets hitched to either the truck or fifth wheel.

The RZR has a hitch receiver on it, and we purchased a ball mount for it, so the RZR can tow the utility trailer around if needed. This is handy in small campsites since the big long bed dually truck isn’t very maneuverable in tight spaces.

Tow Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition on utility trailer-min

Luckily the RZR can also do the job of towing the utility trailer, if needed.

Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition towed on utility trailer-min

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Again, we learned a few things that we hadn’t thought of before.

First, although it seemed daunting to back the fifth wheel to the utility trailer to hitch it on when it’s already got the RZR loaded on it, it’s not all that bad. Using our two-way radios as Mark backs up the fifth wheel and I stand at the tongue of the utility trailer, and then using our feet to shove the tongue of the utility trailer the final inch or two, we can get it done quite easily.

Second, if the utility trailer is already hitched to the fifth wheel but is at an angle to the fiver and not aligned straight behind it, there is a lot of lateral force on the fifth wheel’s stabilizing jacks and the front landing legs when the RZR drives onto the trailer.

If the utility trailer is aligned with the fifth wheel, the fiver takes the impact much better (I’ve stood inside the fifth wheel and felt it both ways!).

Strap down Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition on uility trailer-min

Mark has sorted out how best to tie down the RZR on the utility trailer.

Close trailer ramp door for Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

The ramp door folds up.

We are liking this triple towing thing and may stick with it. We’ll see. If we do, then our new home search will be focused on conventional fifth wheel trailers rather than fifth wheel toy haulers.

There are pros and cons to both conventional fifth wheels and toy hauler fifth wheels. Here are a few we’ve come up with:

Conventional 5th Wheel Toy Hauler 5th Wheel
More Living Space Less Living Space
More Closet Space Less Closet Space
More Cabinets Fewer Cabinets
Bigger Kitchen Smaller Kitchen
Recliners + Sofa + Dining Table Pick any two
Generally, bed in slide w/ windows each side Generally, bed not in slide & window on one side & small wardrobe on other
Modest fresh water (60-90 gal) Huge fresh water (100-150 gal)
No gas tanks (onboard generator propane) Two gas tanks for toy & onboard generator
Outside RZR Storage Enclosed RZR Storage
Outside Bikes Enclosed Bikes
Porta-bote or inflatable kayak possible Porta-bote AND tandem inflatable kayak possible
Workbench on truck tailgate Workbench/toolbox in the Garage
No Porch/deck (except KZ 382MBQ) Back Deck AND Possible Side Patio (always includes 2nd bath)
Tow RZR to trailhead behind truck Drive RZR on highways to trailhead
Triple tow not legal in some states Always a legal beagle
Can travel w/o caboose Full length toy hauler is always with you (47′ in some cases!)

TRAILER LIFE ARTICLE – SHORTCUT to TOY LAND!

The March issue of Trailer Life Magazine features an article I wrote surveying some of the 2019 offerings in the toy hauler market. I chose four different toy haulers to highlight in that article and included another dozen models in the lineup.

Our personal favorites for sheer innovation and cleverness and/or ruggedness are the Aluminum Toy Hauler fifth wheel and the Keystone Raptor 427.

Aluminum Toyhauler Company (ATC) has been making stackable car haulers for the high end racing car set for ages. They build an incredibly strong and durable toy hauler. Unfortunately, they don’t have any models with slide-outs yet, but their toy haulers are built like tanks and can haul 9,700 lbs. of stuff in a trailer that has a GVWR of 21,000 lbs. Unbelievable!

The Keystone Raptor 427 is a fabulous new entry into the garage-under-the-master-bed style of toy hauler. Montana and Grand Design have these floor plans too: the Montana High Country 380TH and Grand Design Momentum 376TH (and formerly the Grand Design Solitude 374TH which was discontinued a few months ago).

I included the Montana 380TH in my full-time fifth wheel article in Trailer Life Magazine that appeared in the October 2017 issue.

All of these manufacturers place the bedroom in the rear of the trailer and put a small garage big enough for bikes or a motorcycle under the bed itself. A workbench could fit in this garage. The bed above the garage raises and lowers if you need full standing height in the garage.

Montana and Grand Design place the kitchen in the middle of the rig. Montana has a beautiful open L-shaped kitchen with counters along two walls, a style that I like, and Grand Design has an island kitchen that is very popular. Both put the living room in the fifth wheel overhang.

The clever idea in the Raptor 427 is that the kitchen, which doesn’t need vaulted ceilings, is smartly placed in the part of the trailer where high ceilings can’t exist: the fifth wheel overhang. I don’t know what the headroom is there, probably around 6′ 4″ or higher, but it was more than sufficient for cooking, dining and even entertaining a cocktail party or buffet crowd! And there’s a window in the front cap so you can see out in all directions.

The kitchen is truly vast, and there is a side-by-side dinette for two that overlooks the living room. We just loved the design. For us, though, it’s too long a trailer since we’d have to tow our RZR behind (it’s 44′ long), and we’d prefer hydraulic slides to cable slides in the bigger slide-outs. Our two hydraulic slide mechanisms and single worm-gear electric slide mechanism on our current trailer have pushed our slides in or out an estimated 2,000 times so far.

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel front kitchen 3-min

The Keystone Raptor 427 has an immense kitchen in the front of the trailer.

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel front kitchen 6-min

The counter space is incredible (although I could do without the purple lights)

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel view into Living Room from Kitchen-min

Seating for two overlooking the rest of the trailer – very cool!

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel front kitchen 7-min

Opposing loveseats in the slides plus dual recliners facing the TV (not seen in this pic).

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel front kitchen 4-min

Looking back up into the kitchen above the recliners

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel ramp door-min

The bike or motorcycle sized garage is under the bed. The ceiling raises and lowers.

You can read my article discussing the various toy haulers on the Trailer Life website here: Shortcut to Toyland with 16 Great Fivers

The March issue of Trailer Life happens to include two other articles of mine with photos by both of us: a feature article about RVing in the Canadian Rockies and my back page column about lovely Maroon Bells in Colorado!

If you are new to RVing, Trailer Life is a good magazine to subscribe to. If you are a motorhome person, the sister publication Motorhome Magazine (which also features our work from time to time), is another excellent magazine.

Another outstanding RV magazine and RV advocacy group and discount camping membership club and mail forwarding service, among many other things, is Escapees RV Club which we highly recommend joining.

IMPRESSIONS from VISITING the TOY HAULER FACTORIES

When were in Elkhart, Indiana, last fall (2018), we visited several RV manufacturing plants. We hadn’t done a factory tour in Elkhart since the spring of 2009 when the industry was in the midst of collapse.

The consolidation in the RV industry since the beginning of the recession of 2008 has been staggering and has whittled the list of RV manufacturers down to three conglomerates: Thor, Forest River and Winnebago. It has also reduced the list of major component suppliers down to two, Lippert Components and Furrion. Mom-and-pop shops making fifth wheel trailers independently of these conglomerates like Aluminum Toy Hauler, New Horizons and Space Craft and smaller component suppliers like MORryde are exceedingly rare.

The fraternity of talent at the top of the RV industry is very close knit and goes back many decades. If you follow the mergers and acquisitions back to the 1960s and 70s, the same names appear over and over in the executive suites of each company. The brothers who founded Keystone together with another executive who oversaw its huge growth sold it to Thor which itself was the result of the acquisition of failing Airstream from Beatrice Foods. After the three held top executive positions at Thor, these three men went on to found Grand Design and oversee its growth and sale to Winnebago. One of the partners sat on the Board of Directors over at Lippert Components, and after the sale to Winnebago another of the partners left the RV industry to start a pontoon boat company in partnership with Lippert Components.

The advantage to the rise of the conglomerates is wonderful economies of scale, but the flip side for the brands under these corporate umbrellas is the loss of the wild frontier style innovation that made early RVs so fun and funky as well as the forced adoption of quality standards that may not match the standards these brands had back when they were independent companies.

A Dishwasher = “That True Residential Feel”

Perhaps the most shocking thing for us was to discover how few people in the RV industry actually own and use RVs. I asked the general manager of one brand and a national sales rep of another what kind of RVs they owned, and the answers were, “I’m too busy to vacation in an RV” and “My wife likes hotels.”

This lack of personal RV experience has caused a disconnect between the manufacturers and their customers’ needs.

A perfect example was when a top executive at one brand told me that full-timers want a true residential feel to their fifth wheels, so every unit in his line of full-timer fifth wheels would be shipped with a dishwasher in it starting in 2019.

Now, of course, lots of full-timers want a dishwasher in their RV, but a lot of full-timers don’t want one.

Another executive at a different company told me, “Well, the dishwasher is a great place to store your dishes in an RV.”

It is? I’m not keen on mixing my clean and dirty dishes in the same storage place!

A National Sales Rep proudly showed me the outdoor kitchen on his toy hauler. He was so excited about it when he pulled it out, “Emily, you’re going to love this!” But when he pulled it out, it came to shoulder level on me. I’m 5′ 4″. I raised my arm and made a stirring motion with my hand in front of my chin and said, “I can’t cook like this.” He was crestfallen.

I began asking the executives we were meeting how they get their feedback from customers, and it seemed that they rely on a combination of the orders placed by the dealership buyers and by talking to people at trade shows.

So, it turned out that because 95% of the units of the one brand had been ordered with dishwashers in 2018, it was obvious there was a massive demand for dishwashers. So that’s why all units will have dishwashers going forward.

Similarly, since the sales rep with the outdoor kitchen had seen only grins and enthusiasm when he showed it to folks dropping by the booth at trade shows, he thought his outdoor kitchen was something his customers loved.

Ironically, doesn’t it make sense for dealers to put predominantly fully decked out units on their lots to show customers what can be ordered? And when you’re gallivanting around at an RV trade show and having a ball dancing in and out of tons of brand new units, are you really going to tell that smiling and friendly sales guy that his outdoor kitchen would never work for you?

The takeaway we got from all this is not to be shy and to find out who the buyer is at your local dealership and to tell them what you like and don’t like about the units on their lot. It seems that the closest the residents of the RV manufacturers’ executive suites come to their customers is the contact they have with the folks ordering their units in their dealer network.

ESCAPEES RV CLUB and WINNEBAGO

Fortunately and fabulously, Escapees RV Club and Winnebago have begun working together to get real feedback from real RVers into the design process. This project is in its earliest phase right now, but the emails I’ve received from Escapees about it are very encouraging. It is because of this kind of innovative and forward thinking at Escapees that we keep recommending our readers join Escapees. (They give us a tip if you mention “Roads Less Traveled” when you sign up, but we’d recommend them anyway!).

Founded by Kay and Joe Peterson, Escapees RV Club has been led by three generations of family members who have spent years on the road living in their RVs. They are the real deal when it comes to understanding the RV lifestyle.

TRAILERS BUILT by the AMISH

On a completely different note, some folks feel that a trailer built by Amish hands is of better quality than one made by other hands. It certainly makes for great marketing, especially for the companies that are in the heart of Amish country and employ lots of Amish people. We saw Amish workers in some of the plants, both men and women, but we didn’t see how their work could be substantially different than the work done by anyone else on the same assembly line.

Amish buggy at Open Range RV factory-min

The Amish really do work at the RV factories. They do the same jobs as other assembly line workers.

The factory workers are given jobs to do and are told how to do them. The quality standards and aseembly techniques are determined by corporate goals in areas like profitability, target market share, and unit build time to completion.

While a conscientious individual might put tremendous thought and care into a backyard project at their own home, the work they do on the assembly line at their job for an employer will be done the way management demands and not necessarily in a way that they would choose for their own personal project at home.

Before I tell you, take a quick guess at how long it takes to build a 44′ toy hauler fifth wheel. A month? A week?

At the Raptor plant we were told it takes 3 days. At the KZ plant it is 2.5 days. They have a ton of hands working simultaneously, and they all get the job done as quickly as possible.

INDEPENDENT MANUFACTURERS – ATC, Sundowner, Luxe, Space Craft, New Horizons

Independent RV manufacturing plants like ATC and Sundowner (another new entrant into the toy hauler market coming frome the horse trailer industry) take a few days longer to build their units than the bigger mass market brands. This partly because fewer people work on each trailer at a time, and partly because they start from scratch and build their own frames, doors and ramps rather than buying a ready-made frame, door and ramp.

Both ATC and Sundowner looked appealing to us, and we toured each plant. ATC is near Elkhart in Nappannee and Sundowner is in Oklahoma.

Unfortunately, without any slideouts we couldn’t fit our lives and belongings into an ATC fifth wheel toy hauler, and although the Sundowner toy haulers are an aerodynamic two feet shorter than standard fifth wheel toy haulers and are built with a fifth wheel gooseneck hitch which makes a fabulouos connection to the truck and completely frees up the truck bed when you’re not towing, they are also built with a very small bedroom because of the short gooseneck overhang.

However, for folks who have other lifestyle needs than ours, both the ATC and Sundowner deserve a good long look as they are sturdy, well built and rugged trailers that can be modestly customized on order and that have an intermediate price point between the mass market trailers and the high end custom units (New Horizons, Luxe and Space Craft). We visited Luxe and went to Space Craft a second time but will get into that in another post.

ALTERNATE SUPPLIERS – MORryde, Dexter

I mentioned the RV parts manufacturer MORryde, and as we studied toy haulers it seemed to us that there are two components in toy haulers these days where the MORryde version is superior to the competition: the ramp door and the stairs. Likewise, the Dexter brand of axles is considered to be superior to the competition (although the axle brand is a moot point if you plan to upgrade to the MORryde IS suspension which replaces the axles completely).

When our second factory-installed axle failed on our current trailer after our first axle failed and was replaced under our extended warranty, we replaced both axles with Dexter brand at our own expense (not under warranty) and have been very pleased.

So, in our evaluation of toy haulers during our own personal search for ourselves, the brands we focused on came with these MORryde and Dexter components. Generally, if a brand doesn’t specify in its marketing literature that it has a MORryde or Dexer branded component, then it doesn’t have it. There is marketing value in advertising that your trailer includes these brands, and the RV manufacturers call it out in their literature.

One of the side benefits (or disadvantages, depending on your point of view) of massive industry consolidation is that a hugely dominant parts supplier can strong arm its customers into buying its products by bundling them or offering other perks as part of the deal, something like: “If you buy our doors and windows we’ll throw in our stairs for free,” or “If you buy our stairs and ramp door we’ll warranty the frame for three years.”

MORryde Zero-G Ramp Door

Check out this video comparing the deployment of the MORryde Zero-G ramp door and the Lippert ramp door:

MORryde StepAbove

We like the old fashioned flip down front stairs on our fifth wheel, but that design is antiquated these days. The MORryde stairs called the “StepAbove” deploy easily.

FINAL TID-BITS

One of the interesting fallouts from the wholesale decimation of the RV industry that began in 2008 and went on until 2013 or so is that the smaller companies that survived the downturn did so because they engaged in some true soul searching and revised their self-image.

The folks at B&W Trailer Hitches began making farm fencing, and they had enough cash flow to pay their employees to work for the town where they are headquartered, providing groundskeeping and other municipal services. This not only kept everyone employed but it heightened their pride in their town and their loyalty to their company. Amazing and very smart. The folks at MORryde also branched out into non-RVing related products in a similar way.

The management at ATC took a long hard look at how to motivate their assembly line workers to make the best product possible. Rather than providing incentives based on the number of units produced, which is a common metric, they offered incentives that focused on quality control and reducing mistakes and system failures. ATC has the longest and deepest warranty of all the fifth wheel toy hauler manufacturers.

PHEW — THAT WAS LONG!

We’ve got more thoughts to share as we ponder this fork in our less traveled road. At the moment we’re leaning towards a new traditional fifth wheel trailer because the triple-towing seems okay, but who knows what the coming months will bring as we travel further afield and encounter a wider variety of situations with our rig.

Stay tuned!!

Triple tow Dodge Ram 3500 dually 36' fifth wheel and Polaris RZR on utility trailer-min

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— Published March 2019

Coffee Kiosks of the West

February 2019 – One of our favorite sightings in our RV travels is the cute little coffee kiosks and coffee huts we find tucked into parking lots and standing on street corners all around the West. As America’s quest for the perfect cuppa joe has become more refined and exotic over the years, these adorable little coffee pit stops have been sprouting all over the place.

Coffee Kiosks of the West-min

Drive-up (and walk-up) coffee kiosks can be found all over the American West!

When we got to Oregon a few years back they were everywhere. And no wonder. Starbucks is headquartered in Washington, and it seems that America’s demand for fancy, fluffy coffee spreads out from there!

de la Bean Coffee Shack Bend Oregon-min

De La Bean Coffee in Bend, Oregon

Some of the little coffee kiosks serve more than just coffee too.

Hot shots and smoothies coffee kiosk Oregon-min

Hot Shots and Smoothies in Oregon

As we’ve taken our RV from one small town to another we’fve found that many of these cute coffee joints are marked by a big “Espresso” flag flying out front.

Java Rock coffee shop Terrebonne Oregon-min

Java Rock Coffee Shop, Terrebonne Oregon

Along with bearing whimsical names, many of these coffee kiosks have all kinds of amusing displays and props too.

Blue Banana Coffee Shop Lostine Oregon-min

Blue Banana Coffee Shop in Lostine, Oregon

These coffee shacks are usually simple little buildings, just big enough for a barista or two inside, and they often have an inviting porch or patio area decorated with flowers out front.

Coffee Corral Baker City Oregon-min

Coffee Corral in Baker City Oregon

Java Rock coffee shack Terrebonne Oregon-min

Java Rock in Terrebonne, Oregon

Besides being cute and serving great coffee, what I love about these little coffee kiosks is that they are all mom-and-pop shops.

Rather than being part of an impersonal international corporate behemoth, they are locally run and the owners have often put everything they own on the line to try to make their venture a success.

Bare Naked Beans now Cricket Flat Coffee Elgin Oregon-min

Bare Naked Beans (now called Cricket Flat Coffee) in Elgin, Oregon

When I visited one coffee kiosk a very little girl appeared at the window to take my order. Her mom was busy with another customer, and she was helping out.

I hung around a while afterwards to enjoy my coffee, and the mom told me this was the perfect enterprise for her. She could walk to work, she was with her two small children all day long, and she was building a business at the same time.

Longhorn Espresso coffee shack Enterprise Oregon-min

Longhorn Espresso in Enterprise, Oregon

Coffee Depot Redmond Oregon-min

Coffee Depot in Redmond, Oregon

One of the first coffee kiosks we ever encountered was Wicked Brew in Moab, Utah. We discovered it before we began RVing, and it was so neat to see it was still going strong years later when we returned to visit the area with our fifth wheel.

This classy little coffee hut serves each cup with a chocolate covered coffee bean perched on the lid!

Wicked Brew Espresso Moab Utah-min

Wicked Brew Espresso in Moab, Utah

This past summer we came across a lot of little coffee kiosks in Montana. From the Beartooth Highway to the Bitterroot Valley to the towns near Glacier National Park, we tasted lots of delicious brews from these fun little drive-up coffee shacks.

Beartooth Beanery Coffee Shop Columbus Montana-min

Beartooth Beanery in Columbus, Montana

Hungry Horse Espresso Columbia Falls Montana-min

Hungry Horse Espresso in Columbia Falls Montana

Espresso kiosk Bitterroot Valley Montana-min

Espresso kiosk in the Bitterroot Valley, Montana

Usually, these coffee kiosks are drive-thru shacks with windows on both sides of the building.

Coffee Kiosk in Douglas Wyoming-min

Drivers pulled up at both sides in Douglas, Wyoming

However, we often walk up to them instead. It only took two or three walk-ups for Buddy to realize that the smell of coffee, the sound of the milk being steamed, and a patient wait at a window might add up to a doggie treat!

Now he sits expectantly looking up at the window and licking his lips.

City Brew Coffee Red Lodge Montana-min

City Brew Coffee in Red Lodge Montana

Although the frequency of coffee kiosks diminishes as you go east and south from the Pacific Northwest, they are still plentiful in Wyoming.

Dry Bean Coffee Shed Ranchester Wyoming-min

Dry Bean Coffee Shed in Ranchester, Wyoming

The lively town of Cody, Wyoming, sports several!

Rocky Mountain Mudd Espresso Cody Wyoming coffee shop-min

Rocky Mountain Mudd Espresso in Cody, Wyoming

At Rawhide Coffee in Cody, Wyoming, Buddy decided to do the ordering for us.

Rawhide Coffee Cody Wyoming-min

Rawhide Coffee in Cody, Wyoming

He’s a smart little guy, and he knew this clever stunt could win him two doggie treats instead of just one!

Puppy orders coffee at Rawhide Coffee in Cody Wyoming-min

Buddy puts in his order.

On our first trip through Newcastle, Wyoming, we visited the Kaffee Klatsch several times, so we were looking forward to a return trip the next year. But the Kaffee Klatsch wasn’t there any more! After a brief hunt around town we found it in a new location.

The owner explained that they owned the building but leased the land it sat on. Happily, the new location has made their business grow exponentially. How cool is that?!

We don’t have a photo of that shop, but we do have a few others from South Dakota.

Pony Expresso Belle Fourche South Dakota-min

Pony Expresso in Belle Fourche, South Dakota

Coffee Kiosk Hot Springs South Dakota-min

Hot Springs Coffee Kiosk in Hot Springs, South Dakota

Of course some of our favorite coffee shops are in ordinary buildings. One is the Calamity Jane Coffee Shop in Custer, South Dakota, where we’ve spent many mornings sipping a latte, munching a muffin and chatting with the owners, Jim and Deb.

This enterprising couple had a camera shop in this location for many years. Deb is a photographer, and Custer is located in a popular tourist area surrounded by tons of gorgeous scenery and almost-tame wild animals to photograph.

Calamity Jane Coffee Shop Custer South Dakota-min

Mark and owner Jim ham it up at Calamity Jane Coffee Shop & Winery in Custer, South Dakota

But the rise of the internet and digital photography n eput and to film sales and retail camera sales at their shop. Rather than throw in the towel, they thought about what modern day tourists are looking for when they come to a small historic town, and they realized gourmet coffee would be the perfect thing.

The addition of a wine tasting room out back and a huge wine selection was another clever idea, and their store is as busy as can be.

Calamity Jane Coffee Shop Custer South Dakota-min

This former camera shop is now thriving as a coffee shop and winery in downtown Custer, South Dakota.

East of the Dakotas the little coffee huts disappear for the most part, but that doesn’t mean great coffee can’t be found. In the small town of St. Ignace in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula of Michigan we came across Harbor Hope Coffee.

Calamity Jane Coffee Shop Custer South Dakota-min

Harbor Hope Coffee Shop in St. Ignace, Michigan.

This unusual coffee shop is home to a church group that gathers to worship in the back of the shop each week, and the profits from the coffee sales go to charitable causes. We were astonished to hear the volunteer barista tell us the story behind this unique coffee shop, but what made Buddy’s ears really perk up was when she ased, “Does your puppy want a puppaccino?”

A what?

She grabbed a whipped cream dispenser from the fridge, filled a small bowl with homemade whipped cream and put it on the floor in front of Buddy.

He went crazy!! I have never seen him lap up a bowl of anything so quickly. He got it on his whiskers and all over his muzzle.

The next day, the moment we parked in front of Harbor Hope Coffee Buddy just about jumped through the window to get inside. I knew I was addicted to hazlenut lattes, but Buddy was absolutely bonkers over puppaccinos!

Puppy eats a puppaccino at Harbor Hope Coffee St. Ignace Michigan-min

Buddy tastes his first puppaccino. Yum!

Unfortunately, although dogs are warmly welcomed at most coffee kiosks and they are usually offered a treat to boot, some coffee shops with inside seating have strict rules for dogs relating to food service and unexpected visits from the Health Inspector.

So, Buddy has learned that not every “Open” sign at a coffee shop is actually an invitation for his four paws to head in.

Puppy waits outside coffee shop in Alamagordo New Mexico-min

Sometimes our four-legged friend has to wait outside.

In Wisconsin he had to wait outside several coffee shops. Fortunately, he is a patient pup.

Puppy waits for coffee Bayfield Wisconsin Lake Superior-min

Buddy watches my every move through a crack in the front door.

At one coffee shop there was a bucket of chalk outside, so we marked his special waiting spot.

Puppy waits outside coffee shop Bayfield Wisconsin-min

This time he got a specially marked spot to wait on outside.

In Hot Springs, South Dakota, before Buddy joined us, we found another shop with a bucket of chalk outside, so we added a bit of sidewalk art there too!

Happy RV Travels-min

Have fun in your travels and thanks for reading!

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