It’s a good thing despite initial impression

As you know, we spent a couple of weeks in New Mexico at the beginning of May on our final shake down trip after picking up The Gump from La Mesa.  We needed fuel and food and so we stopped at a Petro truck stop just over the border in New Mexico.  Dave pumped diesel and I went in search of snacks.  Fuel and food obtained we continued on blissfully unaware that we, well I, had picked up an unwanted passenger for the trip.

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We arrived at Percha Dam State Park mid-afternoon on Saturday and settled in comfortably.  Come Monday morning I was starting to feel a wee bit off but then Tuesday arrived and I spent the day in bed wondering if I’d survive.  Whatever cold/flu virus I picked up was nasty awful and hit me hard.  That first week is a blur, I was miserable and felt like I was drowning.  I finally start to feel better and wham Dave gets hit with it that Monday of the second week. 

We changed campgrounds, for a variety of reasons, on Thursday and go to the KOA in Las Cruces.  We hunker in the bunker so to speak, not doing much of anything.  Sunday morning arrives and we leisurely pack up and head back to the house for the final time.  About four hours into the trip back, I tell Dave he is weaving.  He denies it and I say, hey hon seriously you’re weaving.  He’s congested and coughing up a storm too.  I quickly make reservations at KOA Tucson/Lazy Days and here we are until Memorial Day.

MOM, stop rambling and get to the point!  No one wants to hear about you and Dad’s snotty adventures in New Mexico!!

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Pickles has a small point, but the background information sets the stage.  What driving back to the house on Sunday proved was that we are both capable and ready to adapt to life on the fly without it becoming a huge bone of contention.  We needed to pull off and recover and we quickly found a spot where that could happen.  Sure, it was a mere two hours or so back to the house but it wasn’t worth the risk.  It isn’t just some random life belongings we two behind us but the items we’ve deemed most personal and essential to us.  That ability to adapt and react in a timely manner isn’t surprising to me but it does prove that we are capable of doing so to any remaining family members who doubt our sanity.

Dave is feeling better every day.  We are both enjoying the nightly trips to the hot tub after Pickles goes to bed for the evening.  Wally is getting a haircut Friday morning thanks to a local mobile groomer that could work him in on short notice.  Sangria and Leo happily lay out on the deck during the day while Pickles hangs out in the sun.  Overall, the six of us are quite pleased and content with ourselves. 

We are dreading going back to the house come Monday.  It no longer is home and it is going to be hot with a lot of hard work in front of us.  That being said, we are both motivated to get it accomplished as quickly as possible so we can be free and clear of the house and it’s expenses. 

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It’s a good thing despite initial impression

As you know, we spent a couple of weeks in New Mexico at the beginning of May on our final shake down trip after picking up The Gump from La Mesa.  We needed fuel and food and so we stopped at a Petro truck stop just over the border in New Mexico.  Dave pumped diesel and I went in search of snacks.  Fuel and food obtained we continued on blissfully unaware that we, well I, had picked up an unwanted passenger for the trip.

20160509_074015_001

We arrived at Percha Dam State Park mid-afternoon on Saturday and settled in comfortably.  Come Monday morning I was starting to feel a wee bit off but then Tuesday arrived and I spent the day in bed wondering if I’d survive.  Whatever cold/flu virus I picked up was nasty awful and hit me hard.  That first week is a blur, I was miserable and felt like I was drowning.  I finally start to feel better and wham Dave gets hit with it that Monday of the second week. 

We changed campgrounds, for a variety of reasons, on Thursday and go to the KOA in Las Cruces.  We hunker in the bunker so to speak, not doing much of anything.  Sunday morning arrives and we leisurely pack up and head back to the house for the final time.  About four hours into the trip back, I tell Dave he is weaving.  He denies it and I say, hey hon seriously you’re weaving.  He’s congested and coughing up a storm too.  I quickly make reservations at KOA Tucson/Lazy Days and here we are until Memorial Day.

MOM, stop rambling and get to the point!  No one wants to hear about you and Dad’s snotty adventures in New Mexico!!

20160525_101216

Pickles has a small point, but the background information sets the stage.  What driving back to the house on Sunday proved was that we are both capable and ready to adapt to life on the fly without it becoming a huge bone of contention.  We needed to pull off and recover and we quickly found a spot where that could happen.  Sure, it was a mere two hours or so back to the house but it wasn’t worth the risk.  It isn’t just some random life belongings we two behind us but the items we’ve deemed most personal and essential to us.  That ability to adapt and react in a timely manner isn’t surprising to me but it does prove that we are capable of doing so to any remaining family members who doubt our sanity.

Dave is feeling better every day.  We are both enjoying the nightly trips to the hot tub after Pickles goes to bed for the evening.  Wally is getting a haircut Friday morning thanks to a local mobile groomer that could work him in on short notice.  Sangria and Leo happily lay out on the deck during the day while Pickles hangs out in the sun.  Overall, the six of us are quite pleased and content with ourselves. 

We are dreading going back to the house come Monday.  It no longer is home and it is going to be hot with a lot of hard work in front of us.  That being said, we are both motivated to get it accomplished as quickly as possible so we can be free and clear of the house and it’s expenses. 

The Best VALUE AROUND

Let’s face it, unless you are an avid oasis camper who doesn’t routinely need the comforts of air conditioning and electrical power to survive, then we all end up paying something to park our rigs and live.  Be it at a five star resort or a city park, if we want amenities then we have to be willing to open our wallets and fork out the cash.  We have no trouble doing so but like all us, we prefer to get good value for our hard earned money.

New Mexico has the flat out best value to any camper, full-time or not, in the country.  Residents pay $180 and non-residents pay $225 a year for an annual camping pass allowing the holder to camp at one of the more than twenty state parks for a nominal fee per night depending on the type of spot.

Primitive (no hook-ups) are free of charge to annual pass holders.  50 amp electrical plus water sites are $4.00 a night, while adding sewer to the above pushes the nightly fee to $8.00.  No matter how you slice the pie, that is an extremely good value for your money.  Many of the parks also have wifi available for use.  Even if you only use the pass a couple of times a year, it more than pays for itself.  You can spend 14 nights out of 20 in any one state park and reservations can be made up to six months in advance.

I know what you are sitting there thinking to yourself, but it’s HOT in New Mexico!  True it can be, but a quick look and almost every state park is located on a body of water.

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Percha Dam State Park is pictured above.  It is far from barren and hot.  There are mountains in the background, the trees are full of birds, and there are actual trees versus cacti. 

The value of the New Mexico State Park pass cannot be beat, especially when compared to the prices for similar amenities in neighboring states.  We have already booked our summer plans and they involve staying at the various lakes around New Mexico.  The Gump can handle winter camping without issue so we are looking forward to doing some winter camping as well.

Learning Experience and curve

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We thought ourselves smarter than the average bear when we decided to purchase The Gump last December.  After all, we had done a lot of research, looked at a lot of different models and manufacturers, we knew what we wanted and needed for our family, and we walked away from the ultimate choice at least twice before deciding to purchase.  It was a non-emotional and well thought-out purchase.  And yet, as we’ve learned we would have landed in the same spot if we had bought the first time we set foot in The Gump.

Listen folks, Mum is about to admit that she was wrong and that Dad handled the situation much better than she did.  Also, can we get The Gump back already!  I miss travelling and impressing folks with my sparkling personality.

Pickles is right, Dave handled the service issues much, much better than I did.  I come from a background where every decision, choice was treated like the life and death matter it was (aerospace) whereas Dave can navigate murky waters of corporate life with an ease I cannot comprehend.  Guess whose skills are more relevant in the RV world?  Yep, not mine.  I’m ok with that, now.  I’m perfectly content to be the writer of the blog and planner of trips.  Those dark, murky waters of slime can be navigated by Dave, I’ll be content to be the port in the storm from here on out.

Rather than turn this into a rant, I’ve decided to share a couple of lessons we learned in the last nine weeks of extended shake-down service.

Lesson One

The closer to home you get your rig worked on, the better.  Nope seriously, sounds like common sense but we learned this one the hard way.  Two hour drive one way through some of the worst traffic in the nation to check on progress of repairs means you won’t be checking in on a regular basis.  Phone calls and emails are easy but are also easy to ignore and dodge.  It’s much harder to ignore a person who shows up and wants to see the status of repairs. 

Next time, despite the lack of trust in the dealership closer to the house we will be taking it there instead of the dealership we’ve spent months building a working relationship with simply because ten miles is a lot closer than two hours.  Our showing up yesterday did far more than all of my emails and phones in the weeks since we dropped off The Gump for service.

Lesson Two

Be willing to make repairs yourself even if you aren’t the handyman type.  We heard this but took it with a large grain of salt.  After all, if you could pay to have the work done professionally isn’t that less risky than let’s say  Tammy All Thumbs trying to repair something?  Short answer, undoubtedly yes but should you opt for the professional repair option be prepared to be royally and repeated screwed.

We have a simple, easy to repair safety issue that Dutchmen is refusing to repair.  The details are for another post but the repair is less than $35 in raw materials and some time and labor.  Fair enough, when the quote came in for the repair let’s just say it was far in excess of 100% markup in what I thought was the cost of raw materials.  I told Dave, nope we’ll figure it out.  He’s always engineering stuff and this time the conceptual can be made real.  We’d save a ton of cash and get The Gump back that much sooner.

Lesson Three

Spreadsheet action items are your best friend.  Your rig may be your weekend get away or it may be your home but either way, the spreadsheet is your best friend when it comes to tracking ongoing issues and repairs. 

Our dealership is busy and our service advisor is swamped.  I know this logically but honestly, I’d become lazy and dependent like we all have on just throwing ongoing issues in an email as they came up.  Guess what?  Emails are easy to lose track of and a pain to follow-up on individually when there is long list of problems awaiting resolution.  Spreadsheets on the other hand, attach to an email just as easily and keep everything that is ongoing in one place. 

So, as you can imagine we now have an action item spreadsheet for The Gump.  That same spreadsheet will be used until we no longer own The Gump.

Conclusion

So, would we do it all over again knowing what we know now?  Yes, no hesitation and no regrets.  We would do things differently regarding service and letting Dave handle interactions with Dutchmen and Keystone.  But as for The Gump?  No question we made the right decision for us, even if we haven’t made the right decision every time since.  Life is a learning curve and we’ve learned a lot in the last four months.  But much like the photo at the top, the sun is beginning to break through the clouds and there is light at the end of the road.  I’m off to grab a cup of coffee and plan the next shake-out trip.

Our Overall Review, impressions, & wish list

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While The Gump is in for service, we thought we’d share our overall impressions about the design and things we would change in a perfect world with unlimited finances.  For reference, here is a floorplan of our Voltage 3970 (ours has the stowable table in the garage not the living room).

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Master Bedroom and Bathroom

Not much here either of us would change, this is especially true of the bathroom.  The bathroom is filled with natural light, although Dave would consider this a detriment when he’s trying to sleep late, and plenty of space to take a shower and dry yourself off without feeling cramped.  Dave isn’t overly fond of the placement of the medicine cabinet but small complaint compared to some of the bathrooms we toured.

The master bedroom has a couple of items we would both change.  First one being the cabinetry above the dresser which houses the television.  While the two small cabinets surrounding the television are nice, we would both gladly give up the storage space for a larger bedroom window.  The television could be on a slide-out mechanism tucked into the laundry closet. 

There are two heater vents, one in the bedroom and one in the bath.  These vents are less than three feet apart and if you are the partner sleeping closest to the closet on a cold winter’s night you are going to be grumbling about the absence of a heater vent.  Dave is always hot and so he blocks off the heater vent by three quarters in the bedroom and closes the bathroom door except for a couple of inches for Leo at night.  So basically, the hottest person in the family gets all the heater vents and stubbornly refuses after all these years to switch sides of the bed.  So yes, in a perfect world I would move the heater vents because I know I’ll never get that side of the bed.  (Love you honey)

The other major thing I’d change in the bedroom is the bar in the closet.  The bar itself is good, the holes in the metal keep hangers from flying about during travel  However, on each end of the bar those same holes are unusable because the hangers collide.  So it sits there and waits to smack me in the head if I forget its there as I stand up from using the shelving built into the front cap. Small issue but a headache at least once a week for me.

The last little thing are the accordion fabric blinds in the bedroom instead of  MCD shades.  The fabric blinds don’t come all the way down past the window hardware and so cold air seeps in at night.  These blinds also do a horrible job at blocking light in an east west bedroom like ours.  Dave loves to sleep late, or well I should say he used to love to sleep late on weekends.  Now, the daylight forces him to depart from the land of nod well before ten o’clock on a Saturday morning.  MCD shades would do a much better job in blocking cold or heat depending on the season and keeping the room dark during the day.

Living Room

The room with the most changes for both of us, and changes we agree on and differ.  First major change is the entertainment cabinet.  It’s great and awful at the same time.  It’s tall and has a built in bookcase which I adore.  However, those same tall cabinets are wasted space.  So few items are actually tall that most of the cabinet is storing air and not actual items.  If they had just including adjustable shelving for every tall cabinet it would have made much more sense.  Yes, relatively easy fix but matching wood would have made me much happier.  There are also two cabinets that open upward but they failed to install actuators to hold the door open.  So, you are trying to wrangle stuff with one hand and hold open the door with the other.  Not so easy when you are short or when you are tall and you are having to dodge sharp metal corners.  The last thing is that the cabinet would be far more useful if it were an inch or two deeper.  It doesn’t fit a console and we don’t think it will fit the satellite box without leaving the metal door propped open.

The sofa of awesomeness that we loved so much is now not so loved.  Part of that lies squarely with Dutchmen (to be discussed in another blog post) and part of it is personal comfort.  The sofa is comfortable for anything but watching television or playing video games.  The odd angle you have to cock your neck at to see the television makes for an ever growing crick that is painful after a couple of days.  I’d much rather have a wing back chair or Euro-recliner that could be moved to face the television.  We aren’t so concerned with guest seating as everyday life when it’s just the two of us.  Design decision we can rectify in time but so many toy hauler manufacturers make this same odd viewing angle decision in toy haulers and we just don’t understand why.

The L-shaped sofa is a nightmare but if we change it Leo would never forgive us.

That’s right Mom, I love that sofa.  It lets me hang out and watch birds and squirrels and chipmunks.  I’ve had far too many interesting afternoons soaking up sun on the back of that nightmare as you mistakenly call it.

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As you can see, Leo has truly claimed the entire back of that sofa as his own.  We know where to look when we can’t find him.  However, from a human perspective the sofa is a mess.  The recliner (not visible above) completely blocks off access or egress of the non-reclining portion of the sofa.   So, whoever is relaxing in the recliner has to move every time another person wants to sit down or stand up which defeats the concept of relaxing on the sofa.  There’s no easy solution here unfortunately, and for us the sofa has been claimed by the dogs.

Another problem without an easy solution is the fireplace.  We love the blasted thing and it is great for Wally.  But it pumps out a lot of heat that is directly below all of the electronics in the entertainment center.  So every time we turn it one we know we are slowly cooking the electronics to death.  Unfortunately, there is no other place to put the fireplace and neither of us would give it up.

Kitchen

I love my kitchen.  No seriously, I love the layout and the storage.  Everything I need is right there and I have plenty of storage space.  Is it perfect, nope but it far and away the best kitchen in any RV model we walked through.  It has the same problem with metal cabinets opening upward that the entertainment center does.  The design looks pretty but it’s functionality is severely limited by the failure to install actuators.

The oven is worthless.  It was something we both thought we’d need and now I’d give up that item from storage space.  The oven is a propane hog and it’s an odd size.  Cookie sheets don’t fit, whereas a cookie sheet will fit in the convection oven.  I would love to have the oven removed and shelving added to store skillets and sauce pans, or baking dishes that I know fit in the convection. 

I have a huge amount of storage in my floor to ceiling pantry but one again a lot of that is storage for air.  I also store a lot of air in the cabinets above my metal ones in the kitchen.  These are once again too tall to be easily reached by me and seriously how many tall things do you store in the kitchen (besides alcohol bottles)?  Personally, in both of these I’d like to see adjustable shelving that made better use of wasted space.  Sell an after market package that matched the interior wood that let customers design shelving that actually works for them.

I love the center island of the kitchen.  It clearly separates the kitchen from the living room and provides a nice countertop.  I wish it was about two inches deeper however.  Those two inches would make a world of difference for cutting boards or serving dinner.  It isn’t an insurmountable problem, just more of a minor annoyance if I’m in a nitpicky mood.

Garage, Loft, and Outside

The Loft or as it is known here, inaccessible storage.  Seriously, why is this even here?  It’s a huge heat loss.  If you find people willing to climb up there and sleep, you then have the ladder issue to contend with.  We have a frosted glass door separating the garage from the rest of The Gump.  The ladders are steel.  It just takes one minor miscalculation before that frosted glass door is shattered by that steel ladder.  Another problem, assuming we have a full house with at least one other person, but up to four, sleeping in the garage how are they supposed to get the bathroom in the middle of the night if the ladder is blocking the way?  It just a horrible use of space.  We are going to use the space for storage.  We aren’t sure how yet but it makes a great place to store out of season clothing and bedding in vacuum sealed bags.  I’m also going to hide my needlework stash up there since I can’t bring myself to get rid of all of it.  Of course, getting anything back down from the loft is easier said than done.

The garage and deck are pretty close to perfect.  The television cabinet could be improved.  It could run the length of the wall and contain more storage space.  It would also be nice if it were about six inches lower from my perspective.  The garage is one of our favorite places to be honest.  It is flooded with light and stays surprisingly warm even in subzero temperatures with a space heater.

There are things we would change however.  The garage doors leading out to the deck do not open flush.  Thus limiting the size of any potential toy you are considering parking in the garage.  Also, the workmanship on those doors is inconsistent.  There are gaps in the framing that we are going to have to find black caulk to seal.  The Mylar coverings on the screens are also inconsistent in fabrication, some are longer than others and do a better job at covering the screen.  We used felt as a stop gap measure but long term we will need a more permanent solution that isn’t quite so redneck.

The new deck railing is phenomenal.  It is sturdy and we never worry about the dogs being able to push it down.  The steps off the deck are fantastic too, I just wish they were telescoping somehow for those few situations where the steps are too short to secure the deck railing and reach the ground.  We both wanted a Florida porch option for the deck.  We are now in disagreement over the wisdom of such a desire.  Dave is adamant that it would be a potential liability with disastrous consequences should it be in place and we were in a sudden windstorm.  I  agree with his concerns but I still want the option.  I want some type of defense against mosquitos and flying critters.

The outdoor television, the cause of so many of our problems indoors, is in a weird place.  It’s wickedly high off the ground so that anyone sitting outside is going to be craning their neck upwards to watch the game.  It isn’t under an awning so it will have almost constant glare during the day, and the panel opens all the way up so it doesn’t work as a shade device.  The whole placement is just wrong, almost like it was a complete after thought and then someone said “WHOOPS!  We forgot to install an outdoor TV!” 

General Observations

A central vacuum was high on my list of wants when we were looking at rigs and I got my wish.  I hate it.  It is a power hungry, unwieldy, inefficient mess of a vacuum. For the amount of amperage it consumes, it should do a much better job at sucking dirt off my floors and out of my carpet.  Instead, I blew a breaker (usually the house breaker) every time and every time only a fraction of the dirt was removed.  We are investing in a Dyson and putting the central vacuum equipment in the loft.  I would not personally recommend a central vacuum to anyone.

The Gump came with Furrion televisions installed.  We had never heard of them but they are amazing.  They are vibration tested and are designed for RV and marine use.  The picture quality rivals or exceeds our top of the line Samsung television here at the house.  The blacks are deep and the colors are rich.  We highly recommend the television.

Overall, we are happy and pleased with our choice.  Yes there are issues that drive us nuts or that we need to come up with solutions to that fit our needs.  We would both recommend the rig.  In fact, we and the animals miss The Gump and eagerly look forward to his return.

FUNNY Things we miss

Two weeks we’ve been home and I’ve been trapped in this huge house without my evening sunsets!  Seriously, what are Mom and Dad thinking?  They know I’m a solar powered bird, why did we come back to this miserable house with it’s dark interior?

His screaming highness is right, two weeks we’ve been back in the house and I don’t think a single one of us is happy. 

Dave and I haven’t been sleeping well.  Scratch that, we really haven’t slept in two weeks.  We each get a couple of hours of light sleep each night which is little more than glorified dozing.  Restful, restorative, re-cooperative sleep has alluded us both since we’ve been back at the house.  Our formally oh so comfortable bed at the house has not been that comfortable.  And truthfully, it’s huge and I’m constantly waking up searching for Dave because he’s too far away.  A bed we thought we’d hate and replace first thing, is now something we find we are missing.  Odd funny but there you go, we are odd folks.

The house is dark.  It isn’t dark as houses go, it’s just dark in comparison to The Gump.  The hallway isn’t flooded with light, there’s no sky light above the showerhead, and no fabulous views out any of our windows.  Sure we can look at the golfers or look at pavement, but how does that possibly compare with views like this?

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The funniest thing I miss?  The Gump’s kitchen, which just sounds odd even as I type the words.  I have a huge kitchen here at the house with more cabinets and food storage space than a family of two humans could reasonably utilize.  It was a HUGE bonus when we first moved in, and has since become a liability.  The Gump’s kitchen is reasonably sized for two people’s cooking needs.  I have plenty of storage, admittedly most of it is out of my reach but that’s why tall husband’s and step stools exist.  I like having the stove within easy reach of the kitchen sink.  Sure there are things I’d change about the kitchen, which I will be covering in my next post, but overall I miss my small and compact kitchen.

Greatest thing we all miss?  Our back deck!  Wally, Sangria, and Leo miss basking in the heat and sunlight on the deck in the afternoons.  Pickles misses the sunlight and wild birds chattering at him from afar.  I miss being buzzed by hummingbirds as they fly close to inspect Pickles.  Dave misses the fresh air and sunlight pouring into his office, especially on mornings when I’m cold and he’s not.  We have a huge yard for suburbia and it isn’t the same.  There is far too much ambient noise, car fumes, and golf course activity to make spending any length of time outside a pleasurable experience.

Overall, it’s safe to say that we are eagerly looking forward to The Gump’s return from being serviced.  Not only do we miss “Gumping”, as time in The Gump has come to be known, but we miss close proximity to one another and the sunlight and fresh air.  Still deciding on our first trip once we get him back, but I’m thinking The Gump will be experiencing a lake in New Mexico next (right after I decide on which one).

AT&T Unlimited Data: What does it Actually Mean?

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Pickles was going to write this post but as you can see, he’s decided that napping on the job is priority one.  Guess it falls on my shoulders to share what we learned about what AT&T unlimited truly means.  Sometimes it helps having a family member who works in mobility.

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AT&T does truly have unlimited data without ever incurring an additional fee no matter how many times you exceed the 22GB “cap”.

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s always, Unlimited Data Plan smartphone customers will still have the comfort of knowing that, no matter how much data they use in a billing cycle, they will continue to pay a single monthly flat rate. That is the essential promise of the Unlimited Data Plan, and we are pleased to continue honoring that promise.

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What AT&T unlimited data plan means is that when a customer reaches 22GB of data per billing cycle, network access is throttled back only under certain conditions.

Because the amount of congestion at a cell site can vary significantly, the performance impact for affected unlimited data plan customers may also vary significantly. Standard speeds and latency will resume once the cell cite is no longer congested, or the customer’s data session moves to an uncongested cell site. In addition, speeds and latency will return to normal at the start of the customer’s next billing cycle.

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What does this mean for the RV  Community?

Quite simply, if you are in a less congested area and have exceeded your 22GB cap, your data will NOT be throttled down for the remainder of your billing cycle so long as you remain in an uncongested area or use most of your data during non-peak hours.

If you are in a highly populated area, then expect your data to be throttled once you reach your cap.  But let’s be blunt, aren’t most RV’ERS looking to escape heavily populated areas in the first place?  

Don’t have an AT&T unlimited plan?  They are still available if you sign up for the DIRECTV package available here.

The Sofas and Recliners of AWESOMENESS

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We first sat in the recliners of awesomeness at the RV Show in a Heartland Oakmont 390MBL, although the ones pictured above are from the photos of the Oakmont 400FL.  These amazing recliners and sofas not only hold your beverage but offer massage and heat to the lucky sitter.  As soon as we sat down and turned on the recliner we were both in heaven. 

 

We are now ecstatic every time we find one in a coach we tour.  Never thought having a particular recliner could be a selling point of a coach but man oh man, these recliners are comfortable and go a long way in replacing the iJoy we will be giving up.   Yesterday, digging around for information and opinions on iRv2 about Dutchmen toy haulers, I poked my nose into the discussion about replacing the sofas in a toy hauler.  Imagine my utter delight when I found the brand name of the recliner and sofa of awesomeness!

 

They are made by Clay Madison and are the Jaleco product line.  We are both thrilled that I’ve managed to source the recliner we both fell in love with at a RV show.  My only complaint is the only leather choices are so dark in color.  Seriously, offer lighter options like the only pictured above or even better in cream or light dove gray.  If I’m going to spend time, money, and effort to replace my RV furniture then it isn’t going to be in dark, drab, light sucking colors no matter how comfortable and awesome the recliner is.

 

The recliners are available on Amazon for much less than direct from the manufacturer, unsurprisingly.  I completely admit my joy when Dave spotted them the moment he stepped into the Dutchmen Voltage 3970 on a whim last weekend.  Apparently, the little things bring me great joy in life!

Heartland Big Country 3900FLP Impressions

 

Saturday morning arrived and I was all set for a day of football and family time but much to my displeasure Mom and Dad disappeared again for the vast majority of the day. When they finally stumbled in the door some seven hour after they departed, they were tired and out of sorts. I’ve decided to take a back seat in this post because I know my parents moods and they are bummed.

 

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Friday, of last week, I called La Mesa RV in Tucson and verified that the Big Country 3900FLP (the only one in the state) was still on lot and would be available on Saturday.  I then asked that the unit be turned on and the lights on Saturday morning and the patio extended so that we could get a more realistic view of the unit.  They agreed and sure enough come Saturday morning the unit was there and waiting for us just like I had requested.  So far, this was a VASTLY different experience than with their counterparts in Phoenix.  The very nice salesmen even left us alone to talk and discuss things without interference.

 

Overall our first impression was fabulous, the light from the sliding glass door and the patio combined to make a great fifth wheel experience.  There is plenty of internal storage for just about everything I could reasonably think of bringing.  There is room for Pickles to hang out in the kitchen, in the living room, and on the patio.  The patio is perfection.  Not only could Pickles be easily rolled out there in his cage but both dogs could lay on the deck on sun themselves and there would still be plenty of room for me to curl up and read.  Dave could see everyone from his desk at the kitchen table and thus wouldn’t be too far from the action so to speak.

 

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The double slide out in the bedroom makes it feel huge.  The ability to walk around the king size bed without tripping over your feet, or someday Wally’s sprawled sleeping self in the middle of the night, is huge.  The large window in the bedroom lets in a ton of light which also helps add to the feeling of spacious living.  The under bed storage was also extremely nice.

 

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The bathroom was probably the least favorite thing.  There was plenty of headroom in the shower for Dave, who at 6’2 doesn’t always fit in RV showers.  I was surprised at how cramped the bath was.  Everything you need was there but it felt super tiny and you definitely would not be drying off comfortably in the shower.  Note to self: shower with the coach blinds down to prevent scaring any potential neighbors!

 

The patio is the huge selling point for this model and it doesn’t disappoint.  The awning on the coach completely covers the patio which is perfect.  It is large enough for dining al fresco, reading, bird sunning, dog lounging and avoiding the creepy crawlies that roam on the ground.  It is truly the selling point.  We both love the patio.

 

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Now for the problems, which were made all the more evident when we once again went to the RV Show on Sunday and walked through various other fifth wheels from Heartland and the competition.  We are hoping that the issues noted below are isolated incidents with this particular unit and not representative of the 3900FLP build quality overall.

 

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This the the kitchen corner desk/table countertop corner facing the kitchen.  On a brand new, built in August 2015, the countertop is lifting away from the wall.  It is a visible gap and the slightest pressure from above makes the gap more apparent while some slight pressure from below stabilizes the structure (as Dave learned below).  Now, Dave already devised a potential solution if we should experience this issue but overall,  it was unexpectedly poor build quality.

 

Same area, this time on the wall next to the sliding glass door.

 

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There are also issues with the wood lamination in the bedroom.

 

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And the furniture in the living was not up to the level of comfort we’ve come to expect from Heartland, this was made even more apparent after Sunday afternoon.  It’s decent to look at but there would be no curling up in the sofas and losing yourself in a good book.  The recliners weren’t all that comfortable as well.  We realize that everyone’s definition of comfort varies but this particular coach appears to have gotten the least comfortable furniture ever.

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The entertainment center and fireplace were extremely nice.  Roomy cabinets that will easily accommodate the XboxOne with plenty of room for books and games.  But why is the stereo front and center?  It is an eyesore, all blue and glowy.  If it had been recessed or behind a glass cabinet I would be much happier.  Yes, I can live with it but it is an eyesore that isn’t present on the Big Country 3800 which is the almost exact same floor plan without the patio.

 

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Overall, we love the 3900FLP in concept and design but we have a lot of questions to get answered from the factory about build quality and design.    We have conflicting answers from the factory and dealer on axles.  We have generator issues to be resolved.   Needless to say, we won’t be purchasing the one sitting on the lot in Tucson.  The price is good but there are too many issues that were noticed by us on a general viewing walk through to be comfortable purchasing that particular model.  We know things jar loose or break with time, travel and use.  

 

Conversation with Heartland and Ourselves

After we viewed the coach and spent Sunday looking at other coaches at the RV Show, we had questions and concerns which we raised directly with Heartland.  Marie Pennington is our customer service point of contact and Joel Eberlein is the General Manager for the Big Country model line.  Marie and Joel were both extremely helpful in addressing our concerns and tracking down answers for us.  Customer service has been excellent and deserves public praise in an industry that often overlooks customer satisfaction.

 

The 3900FLP received a design update this fall and the above living room picture is no longer representative of what the new models look like for the 2016 product line.  With Heartland’s permission, we are sharing the new living room which directly addresses our concerns.  The stereo is no longer an eyesore and the color scheme is much improved.  The sofas also look like the ones we sat in on the Big Country 3800 over the weekend which are a significant improvement over the ones on the FLP we walked through.

 

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Heartland is confident that the lamination and cabinet issues we found on our walkthrough could be addressed and solved during the PDI by the dealer.  Dave and I are both of the same mind, if they exist when we order and do our PDI those are both reasons for which we would refuse to accept delivery of the coach.  One is cosmetic which will drive me bonkers once I notice it and one is structural.  We both understand that the countertop issue may reoccur with wear and tear but new from the factory, it should not be present.

 

Our other big concerns, were the axles and whether or not our current mattress would fit.  The FLP comes standard with 7,000 pound axles and our dealer told us that 8,000 pound axles were an option.  This has been confirmed by Joel and has eliminated our weight concerns for cargo carrying capacity entirely.  Marie has also confirmed this morning that our mattress will fit the clearance needed for the double slides in the bedroom.  I cannot begin to tell you how thrilled that made us both.

 

Barring a radical change of circumstances, we have made up our minds.  Come early first quarter we will be placing our custom order for the Big Country 3900FLP.  It is the best fit for our needs.  If gives us so much extra space with the attached patio.  Pickles, Wally, and Sangria can all sun themselves without worrying about creepy crawlers.  Dave has space to work and we all have space to relax, cook, read comfortably, and game.  So, after the holidays are over the decluttering and downsizing will begin in earnest as we prepare to transition to fulltime this summer when our lease ends.

Another Sunday, Another RV Show

Sunday dawned and we decided to go to the RV show at the stadium to see if there were any models we liked in comparison to the Heartland Big Country 3900FLP*.  We ignored the toy haulers knowing their layouts didn’t suit our needs.

Heartland Landmark Key West

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This is the top of the line Heartland fifth wheeler and it is the only Landmark at the show.  It is nearly perfect in that it has the double slides in the bedroom which make the space feel amazing.  There’s plenty of room for Pickles  (who is quietly napping after dinner as I write this) and Wally and Sangria to stretch out and snooze. 

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The Newport floor plan suits our needs better with the option to make the half bath a pantry/office for Dave.  I just wish the bedroom had double slides.  Also, it’s hard to decide on a coach you’ve never stepped in because there aren’t any in your local area.  Maybe if we go to the Tucson RV Show on Saturday we will get lucky.

Heartland Oakmont 390MBL

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Dave loves this coach, the extra bedroom would make a fantastic office and gaming room.  It would also give us somewhere to roll Pickles out of the way and shut the door when he’s cranky.

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The construction insulation value of all the walls, and there being no upgrade or winterization option, make this coach an interesting but difficult choice for fulltimers.  That being said, the recliners on the coach are divine and we both didn’t want to move from the heated massage.

Lifestyle

There were two models at the show and both would work, the LS38RS and LS39RE.

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I preferred the FB model and I don’t think Dave really had a strong opinion either way.  The fit and finish was good but nothing was so spectacular that our jaws dropped.  And to be blunt, the asymmetrical lines throughout were driving his engineer mind bonkers.

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Augusta Luxe

To be honest, I don’t know which model we walked through but I do remember the entryway and steps were atrocious  (I wrenched my back exiting).  Also, and I wish I had thought to take a picture if this, the whole LUXE inscribed in the wood door frame at the door made it a commercial vehicle and not a home.  For the price, it was utter crap.

Closing Thoughts

We don’t live in a small town, admittedly Phoenix isn’t the largest city in the nation but it isn’t tiny, and yet trying to look at a good representation of manufacturers and models is blooming frustrating.  Hours of driving, high pressure sales, exclusive dealerships that do not carry all or even most of a model line, and brochures about as scarce as an wrapped gift on Christmas morning.  We’ve had some really awful experiences and some good ones.  We haven’t made a decision yet but I think we are getting closer.  Tomorrow we are going to the show at PIR to look at the Redwoods and hopeful a Rushmore model.  Fingers crossed that something meets every need and we both love the same coach.

*Blog post about our drive to Tucson will be up later this week.