Voyage of the Titanic – An Epic RV Adventure

This is my book-length manuscript in progress.  It has been “in progress” for over 15 years, so if you chose to read the first three chapters posted here, it will probably be a long time before you see the next one.  Or maybe not.

Voyage of the Titanic – An Epic RV Adventure

Chapter 1 – Sounded Doable
I remember getting the call, but I don’t remember actually getting it, if you know what I mean. I don’t know if I was at home, work, or on the way to or from work. I know the call came on January 15th, 1997.  Not a day that will live in infamy, necessarily, but a date I remember for some reason.  I might have gotten the call on the cell phone.  We actually had one at the time, the big bulky flip phone with the antennae and the roaming charges.  When you were out of the 2 mile service area that rarely worked, you paid a roaming charge.  If you used your cell phone a lot, it was like taking on the national debt.  Roaming charges were ugly.“Daddy,” the voice said excitedly, “Tracy and I are finally getting married.”  If I was out of the service area when I heard that announcement, it had already cost me $5.50.  They’re right about weddings being expensive.

“Well congratulations,” I said. “When is the wedding?”

“June 6th.  I’m so excited.  We’re going to have it at the canal park, in the gazebo.  It’s really beautiful.  Flowers everywhere.  You have to be there.  I want you to give me away.”  This call was going to cost me a fortune whether it was inside the service area or not.

I had already technically given her away to my ex-wife about 5 years ago when they moved to Buffalo, New York with her new husband.  The second one or third one, I’m not really sure.  Actually it was North Tonawanda, New York.  Kind of rolls off the tongue doesn’t it, ton-a-wan-da?  The new husband was from there originally, I guess, maybe not.  I figure it’s an American Indian word for “Suburb of Buffalo.”  Like Tucson, where I was living at the time, being an Indian word for “The spring at the bottom of Black Mountain.”  But, actually it is.  Indian shorthand of sorts, one word replaces eight. Probably have a hand sign that eliminates the word altogether. Bet it utilizes a middle finger.

“Don’t worry,” I told her, “We’ll be there.”  How in the hell we were going to accomplish that feat, I wasn’t at all sure.

We were barely, and I stress that word, getting by, paycheck to paycheck, living in a 20-year-old double-wide, in a mobile home park that was a few miles east of the “Corridor of Death”.  So named by the local Tucson press to identify the area where the majority of homicides had occurred in the Tucson area in the last few years.  This corridor pretty much ran the length of the main drag in South Tucson, an incorporated city by itself, also known as the barrio.  We had lived in the area for three years now.

 The very day we were moving in there was an incident involving firearms. Police were everywhere, and they kept our U-Haul truck from entering the park for several hours while they cleared up the matter.  We should have known then.  No one was hurt, and they found the suspect hiding under his girlfriend’s trailer we learned later.  No one was hurt except me, who had to pay for an extra day on the U-Haul truck in order to finish moving in.
I had to leave town the next day, and left my wife and daughter to fend for themselves without water, electricity, heat, and facing a possible armed conflict in a high crime area.  I left them for a week.  It was because I had to be in California for training on my new job.  I was staying at the Holiday Inn outside of LA and although I had heat, electricity and water, I also had a hotel full of cheerleaders running through the halls screeching, playing in the elevators, and practicing their routines at the pool, in the lobby and any other open space they could find.  I was slowly going insane.
 My wife and daughter, to this day, have not forgiven me for leaving them without utilities in the drab little double-wide though.  I, to this day, insist I suffered more.  These weren’t Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, or even high school cheerleaders, it was a competition for Pop Warner cheerleaders.  Yep, average age of 8.  
Did I mention the drive-by shooting at the nearby high school?  That changed the face of high schools throughout the city a few years back, and was also one of the homicides chalked up in the “Death Corridor.”  It happened at my daughter’s new high school.  High schools throughout the city now had fences, razor-wire, and guards.  It was said that our prisons looked like schools and our schools like prisons.  They looked at least similar to me.  The difference being one was to keep people in and the other was to keep people out.  Although, once you were on the high school campuses, getting out wasn’t easy either.   I only tell you all this so you understand the conditions we were living under, and why the idea of purchasing a Class A motor home and driving it across country and back, some 5,000 miles, might have been a bit insane, even if we could have afforded it.

But that is exactly what Plan A became.  We would buy an RV, a used one surely, drive it to Buffalo, NY in four days, go to the wedding, and save all kinds of money by staying in our own “hotel”.  We added the Ford Museum, Hannibal, Missouri (boyhood home of Mark Twain), Canada, Niagara Falls, and would hit Washington DC and Graceland on the way back.  Sounded doable, at least it did at the time.  We immediately began shopping for the motor home.

We had recently owned a “conversion van” of 70s vintage. Those are the Class B motor home classification.  They have a raised roof, or a lowered floor, so you can stand in them, a pull out bed, table, a stove, sink and ice box with some limited cabinet storage.  We had completely remodeled the inside of this one, and then sold it, at a considerable loss, after the transmission went out.  I remember my father, who was visiting when the transmission went out, saying “That’s too bad, it still has good rubber.”  I think that goes back to the war days when rubber was a scare commodity and tires that weren’t bald were just as scarce.  “Good rubber” became a very important element in this greatest of RV adventures to come.

Transmission failure was the monkey on my back.  Every used car I had owned in the last five years had developed transmission problems.  I had had two of them rebuilt on two different vehicles and they amazingly cost the same amount: $1,700.  I chose not to rebuild the van’s transmission, but I’m sure it would have cost $1,700.  I took a road trip with a friend once, and the transmission went out on his car in the middle of the night outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma.  The monkey didn’t care if I owned the car or not.  The nice old mechanic, that worked all day on a Sunday to rebuild the transmission, charged us $1,700!

The Class B was a Chevy van.  Yeah, can’t you almost hear Sammy Johns belting out the chorus about making love in his Chevy Van?  Our Chevy van was known as the “Park N Bark” by our friends, because of a local dog grooming business that used an identical vehicle.  We called him Bernie after my old VW bus that I had once owned.   He had a gas-sucking V8, a foot of extension at the back, and a foot and a half of fiberglass roof cap that ran the length of the conversion.  We put a swamp cooler in it (not able to afford the preferred AC unit) so we could survive the Arizona summers, the dry heat travels even to the highest elevations, and we had gone camping in it on many occasions.  It was the first of a long line of Recreational Vehicles we would own over the years.  The Class A motor home was the dream though.

We actually drove a used one on the same consignment lot where we had purchased Bernie.  It was great sitting in the armchair driver’s seat and maneuvering the coach the few blocks the dealer let me drive it.  It was fully self-contained, had automatic levelers and the coach was in excellent condition with less than 12,000 miles on it.  We didn’t have anywhere near the $28,000 asking price, so I reluctantly gave back the keys and told him that, even though it was, it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for.  That was a year prior to Plan A, but it was where the dream to own a Class A started.

It so happened, that every day on my way to work, I passed a dirt lot with a bunch of motor homes on it that looked every bit like a junk yard.  I had always thought it was a place where motor homes went to die and be parted out. But it had a sign out front, “Desert RV”, and there were a few coaches parked under the sign that appeared to be in one piece, possibly running, and for sale.  I starting thinking this might be a place to get a bargain on a used coach.  They obviously enjoyed a low overhead, and maybe they passed that savings on to the buyer by way of their margins.  Here we might be able to get a Class A that we could possibly afford.  Well, could at least afford the down payment.  I’d seen many an older motor home still running down the road, and I knew that mileage was usually low on these units.  People just didn’t get to use them much after they bought them.  They ended up parked for months at a time in storage yards, beat to death by the elements so the outsides looked grim but the interiors were often in excellent shape.  Even if their past owners were “full-timers”, people that actually lived in them, whether by choice or otherwise, they usually stayed in one place for long periods of time.

So I told my wife about it, and that following Saturday, sometime in March 1997, we drove up to the sales shack (I’m not kidding) on the lot of Desert RV and parked in front.  Immediately I noticed that I was right about the junk yard.  There were motor home parts and pieces everywhere behind the chain link fence with the razor wire.  This was predominantly a place were moving vehicles no longer could be made to move.  As soon as we got out of the car, the proverbial car salesman emerged from the shack.  He was dressed in yellow plaid pants, a noticeable amount short of the tops of his white, I’m still not kidding, white leather shoes with a matching white leather belt. The wrinkled short-sleeved white shirt clung to his ample frame and looked like he had slept in it for several days, maybe weeks.  Dark circles of sweat were visible under his arms and the way he smelled, I was going with weeks.  A crumpled and stained yellow tie rounded out the ensemble. He reached out his meaty hand and I reluctantly shook it.

“Well, what can I do for you folks today?”

“We’re looking for a motor home,” I said.

“I see”, he said. “ Well we have a few here.  How much are you’all thinking of spending?”  This is the trap question, the one that drags you in to commitment, the question that limits to a great extent what you are going to be shown.  This question has to be answered carefully.

“We’re just looking,” I said.  It clearly didn’t please him, but he kept up the cheerful front.

“Well, what do ya want to look at?”  He put an emphasis on the word “look”

I had my eye on a Class C that was a step up from a conversion van, but still built on a van chassis.  Class Cs have the signature cab-over bed.  He opened up the door and we climbed inside.  I could tell right away that she didn’t like it.  The “she” being my wife.

“What do you think?” I said.  “Pretty nice.  Lots of room.  Looks like it’s in good condition.  Look, it only has 75,000 miles on it.”  I added that last part pointing at the odometer as though we should really believe what the odometer reading was.

“Has brand new rubber on it,” the salesman said.  “Hardly driven a’tall.  Look at how good a condition everythin’ is.  Looks to most like brand new.  And I guarantee everything works, or we’ll make it work ‘fore you take delivery. We stand by what we sell.”

Our salesman’s name was, you’re not going to believe this, Charles Manson.  I swear to god.  He gave me a business card with “Desert RV, “Charles A. Manson”, the address, and a phone number crossed off on the bottom, and a new number penned in.  I wondered if he did it on all the business cards he had or just a few at a time.  I could see him sitting at his desk in the shack passing the time by crossing off the phone number on his business cards and writing in the new one.

“I’ll bet you get a lot of comments about your name,” I snickered.

“Not much, why?” he replied.

I let it go.  I could hardly wait to tell everyone that Charlie Manson was trying to sell me a motor home.

When Barb stepped inside the 1982, 33 1/2 foot Fleetwood Southwind, with the queen bed in the back, there was no turning back.

Chapter 2 – New Rubber All The Way Around
Manson sat in the middle of the faded blue fold-down sofa, his arms outstretched, his legs stretched out across the blue kitchen-type carpet, almost filling up the entire space.  The carpet was not original or new.  He revealed damp pools of sweat in wide circles under both arms.  The top of the sofa was now soaking it up too.  Sweat was running off his forehead like a dripping faucet.  He repeatedly pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at his forehead with it.  It was getting hot already in the desert southwest, and, even in March, it was pushing 90s this late in the afternoon.  It was pushing 200 degrees inside this box with wheels.I sat in the passenger seat of the rig, which was a love-seat of sorts.  It was a blue vinyl two-seater high back that could be turned around to face the sofa and also could be reclined into a bed, “for a tike”, as Charlie put it.  I was watching my wife look and touch.“This baby’ll sleep 10 easy,” he had said earlier.

I only saw beds for maybe four and a small kid, if you counted the love-seat. Maybe he was talking about putting sleeping bags on the floor.  Like those tents they tell you will sleep up to eight.  You have to lay out the sleeping bags and the sleepers according to a precise diagram to even remotely attempt to fit eight people in the tent.  They don’t tell you how to get the eight people into the tent and into the sleeping bags, which will clearly take some sort of plan.  They don’t explain how you would get out of the tent, if you need to take a leak in the middle of the night for example, either.

Barb is walking around inside the 6’ 8” X 30’ interior box.  She sits on the queen-size mattress that takes up the entire bedroom area in the back, and looks around, pleased, then down the aisle, through the open door, at me way up twenty-some feet in the love seat.  I’m watching her, following her with my eyes.  She steps in and out of the bathroom quickly, not much to see in there, toilet, sink, medicine cabinet.  The medicine cabinet is clearly not one of the original components, and not designed for the RV industry, so it looks out of place.  The bathroom door shuts but she can’t get it to latch, so she gives up.  The tub and shower stand alone on the other side of the aisle, and there is nothing that shuts this bathroom area off from the rest of the living space. Presumably someone could be watching TV….. wait, there’s no TV.  I just notice it.  Not even a place where a TV might have been.  I see there’s a “custom made” plaque of sorts, where TVs go in the newer coaches, in the center of the area above the windshield and the roof, with three circular needle gauges about three inches in diameter, a temperature gauge, a barometer, and a compass.  None of them appear to work.  The temperature needle, I notice, is off the grid, so it might be working.  It feels like its well over its maximum possible reading, in the coach.  She pulls the shower curtain aside and checks out the tub.

Next she looks over the small L-shaped kitchen with the three-burner stove and the little oven.  She pulls the oven door down, looks in.  This obviously reveals a non-appropriate situation by the look on her face.  She does the same to the micro-wave, a forty-nine dollar Target add-on probably bought at a garage sale.  The micro-wave shelf is a hastily built box, stained a color that isn’t even close to the rest of the cabinetry.  The cabinets above and below the sink all have a mismatched assortment of latches and pulls.  She opens each one and looks in.  She tries to open the little slatted window over the sink but the knob appears to be stripped and turns with no effect.  There are broken and missing slats in the mini-blind covering it also.

Next to the tub, on the other side of the aisle, is a built-in wardrobe with two drawers underneath.  She pulls out one of the drawers and has difficulty forcing it back shut.  I make a mental note that the drawer slides are obviously damaged, maybe missing.  She opens the wardrobe doors and looks in.  Next to that is a three-way refrigerator.

“This refrigerator works on propane, 12V battery, or 110 house current depending on the switch you set it on,” is how it was explained by Charlie. Ultimately, I think it worked on 110 only, if at all.

She opens that too though, and I’m sure she almost passes out from the stench, but she tries not to show it.  In my case, I’m not sure if the new stench is coming from the refrigerator she just opened or what’s sitting on the sofa. Both are down-wind of me.  She flips up the shelf at the end of the counter and it falls right back down on its hinge.  This would give her an additional ten inches of counter space if it had stayed up, making a total of two feet of usable counter space, maybe, but very difficult to walk down the aisle without bruising a hip.  The kitchen and bath area are covered with a fake wood floor, also not for the RV industry, and not original.

Finally, the inevitable words come out of her mouth.

“I really like this one.”

That was all she said.  I didn’t really like this one much at all.  It was too big.  It had clearly seen better days, and even worse, I was to find out later.  It had a lot of “extras” that were not, shall we say, engineered correctly.  It did only have 54,000 miles on the odometer though.  Not bad for a 15-year old coach, less than 4,000 miles a year.  I was going to have to succumb to the illusion that the mechanical on this Southwind was maintained better than the interior of the coach.

There were a lot of things on this coach that might not work properly, even though Charlie promised that everything would work when we drove off the lot.  For one big thing, there was a one and a half inch gap above the windshield on the passenger side, and it looked like the glass was ready to fall out of the opening completely.  A good push would have sent the huge piece of glass shattering to the gravel parking lot below.

“Gonna have to fix that,” I said.

‘Of course, no problem, we were going to fix that anyway,” Charlie shot back.

“I don’t know,” I start.  I’m talking to Barb.  “Lot of work here.”

“I know, but we can do it,” she said.  “Mostly just needs to be cleaned up.”

Eternal optimism, if we just clean it up it will be good as new.  This place was going to take a lot more that just a sponge, a mop and a bucket.  A lot more.

I got up and walked outside to check out the exterior. Manson grunted himself up and followed me. You could tell he was happy about getting back outside. Then he said it again.

“New rubber all the way around, lotsa miles left in those tires, that’d cost ya a thousand by itself.”

The tires did look new; they at least looked shined up.  They all had air.  Each of the six of them has about 100psi, for future reference.

The outside of the Southwind was clean but had a dingy, un-waxed look.

“You can wax this right up,” Charlie says when I bring it up.  “Just been out in the sun a lot.  You’ll get it to look like new.”

I glance over the huge exterior surface of the coach and think that if I ever get this to look like new, it will kill me for the effort.

Well I figured I better ask, since we seemed to be sidestepping this issue, “does it run?”

“Sure it runs, starts right up.”  Mr. Manson seemed offended.  How dare I question that it would run.

My wife is walking around the coach and is at this very moment on the other side, away from me.

“I’ll just go get a key and be right back.”  He disappears into the sales shack.

My wife comes around from the back of the motor home. “So what do you think?” she says.

In my head, I think we’re crazy, but I say something else.  “It could work.”  Pause.  “We can probably afford the down.  Did he say how much it was?”  Pause.  “I wonder how much the payments will be?”  Long pause.  “It does have new tires.”  My wife doesn’t answer any of these queries.

Manson comes waddling back with a key on what looks like a hotel key ring. Big orange oval with a number on it, Room 237 I think.

He climbs back into the coach with a grunt or two and plops down in the driver’s seat.  The big coach sways.  I follow him in and watch him as he, inserts the key, pushes the shift into park, and turns.  Nothing.  He turns the key back then tries it again.  I could hear a few faint clicks and then nothing.

“Battery’s dead, been sittin’ out here too long.  I’ll get her plugged in and the batteries will charge up just fine.  You should keep it plugged in anyway when you have it parked, just to make sure you have a full charge in the batteries.”  Another lesson on the proper care and operation of the motor home, from Charles Manson, whom I am now convinced has never owned one of these.

He left out the part about motor homes having two, sometimes three DEEP CELL batteries.  “DEEP CELL” translates into “fucking expensive”.  In fact the most expensive batteries you can find, and, at the moment, I just believe that all they need is to be charged.

Charles Manson, sweat pouring from his brow again, yells out into the junkyard.

“Kurt, bring that charger up here and get the Southwind hooked up. Batteries are dead.”

A short, bent over, old man appears from the shadows, through the gate, pulling a large industrial battery charger, the cord unraveling and falling behind him as he goes.  It’s plugged in somewhere back in the abyss of motor home parts and pieces, in a lean-to shed that will, I’m certain, ignite with the smallest of sparks, and has no business having power run to it.  Certainly a Code issue.  He hooks it up and, I assume, sets it to start the engine, because Charlie goes back in and, in a few brief seconds, the beefy V8 roars to life.

 It runs.

Chapter 3 – We Christen Thee Titanic

Charles A. Manson stood in the doorway of the 33 1/2 foot Southwind beaming, his fat belly swelled out with pride, straining the front of his shirt.

“I told ya she’d start right up.  Runs like a top.  Nothing wrong with this baby.”  Why do people always say something runs like a top.  Tops don’t run.  I was guessing he was more excited about the fact that it did start right up, at least in front of me.

He said he would leave the charger on it for a while to make sure the batteries were good.  “We’ll put new ones in if they don’t hold a charge.”

From “new” I assumed “different” and coming from the pile of batteries that was just inside the gate where the man and the battery charger had emerged.

“So, we ready to make a deal?  This one isn’t going to last long, and we’re practically giving it away.”

I would later remember that statement vividly and think that they probably couldn’t have given it away, let alone find a sucker like me that was willing to actually pay money for it.

“I guess,” I replied.  I was figuring that my credit wasn’t good enough to get the loan anyway so I had nothing to lose but the rest of my afternoon going through the motions of buying the Southwind.  Filling out the credit application, waiting for the credit check to come back, talking about the N.A.D.A. suggested retail price for a “pristine” 1982 Fleetwood Southwind, 33 ½ foot with all the options.  Well, there were some options missing.  It did have an awning, a 3-way refrigerator, a driver’s side entrance door, air conditioning on the roof and a dash AC that didn’t work, but we didn’t know it at the time.  You can’t live in Arizona without air conditioning and literally very few did until air conditioning was invented.  After AC it became one of the fastest growing parts of the country.

Anyway, that was the list of options, and the N.A.D.A. book said it was worth $12,000 in its current excellent condition, low mileage and new rubber all around.  Charlie looked it up himself, but declined to show me the book page where he got the information.  One epic RV adventure later, I checked the N.A.D.A. book myself for that big box on wheels and it clearly showed an average retail of $3,065.73.  Pretty close, and with a slight profit, to the amount that Mr. Manson was telling me would be required for the down payment.  But then, I was just expecting to be told that the loan didn’t go through, and so I told him I had the $4,000 and I did.

“Okay,” he said.  “How do you want to give me that four thousand, check, cash, credit card?”

“I’ll be writing a check,” I said, “but you’ll have to give me a couple of days to move the funds from my savings account.”

He didn’t think that would be a problem, just that we wouldn’t be able to pick up the coach until it cleared, and he had to check out all the systems anyway before he could, in good conscience, let us drive her cross-country.  Then he wanted to know when we wanted to pick her up.

“Don’t I have to fill out a credit application,” I asked a bit confused?

Charles A. Manson, turned around and pointed to the sign above his head behind his desk that screamed out, “Good Credit, Bad Credit, No Credit, We’ll Give You Credit.”  Funny how I hadn’t noticed that before.

“Don’t need that,” he said, “just sign this retail contract right here.  We’ll finance the balance at 15.3%.  It’s all detailed right here.”  And he pointed to the barely legible standard contract entries detailing the total cost, down payment, financed amount, total interest, total financed amount, monthly payment and late fee.  I didn’t remember Charlie making all those calculations, but there they were.

I turned to my wife, hoping she would put a stop to this insanity.  “Well, hon, what do you think?”

She didn’t even pause.  “I think we should we do it,” she said.  And Charles Manson smiled what looked to me like a very wicked smile.

So we wrote the check.  I made my wife do it because I have a real problem writing checks with one zero, let alone three.  We signed the contract and told Charlie we would pick up the coach the first week in April.  I’d like to think it was April 1st, because it would fit the story real good, but it was probably that Saturday, the 5th,1997.  That day may live in infamy.  I reminded Charlie again that I wanted the windshield fixed and he said he would.  I didn’t however have a “Due Bill”, that list of things the dealer promises to do before delivery, but I didn’t think about that then, just took Charles Manson’s word for it.  I did have a contract that said I was buying this “As Is” and without that due bill, you have no proof that anything other than that was agreed upon.

Early on Saturday, that first week in April, we went down to Desert RV and picked up the 33 ½ foot Class A motor home that we had been wanting for years.  Charlie went through all the systems with us, showed us the repaired windshield, went through the engine compartment, and showed me where to put in the coolant, where to check the oil and the transmission fluid.  He just walked us all over that Southwind and we were feeling pretty confident after a while that we knew how everything worked.  An hour or so later we were tooling down Benson Highway on the way home, trying to keep the monster between the white lines and wondering how the hell I was going to park it at the house.  We had been on the road about 10 minutes.

All of a sudden an incredibly loud rushing sound started up and built into a louder and louder roar, like the sound of a jet engine when an airplane takes off.  Almost as loud too and I couldn’t hear or talk to my wife sitting in the seat next to me across the engine cowling where the noise was coming from.

“What the fuck is that?”  I screamed in her direction.

“I don’t know,” I heard her yell back, faintly.

Just as quickly as it started it wound down and stopped.

“What the hell do you think that was?” I said it in a normal speaking voice.

“I don’t know,” she said again, “but it’s stopped.”

Well, I guess that made it all right, because it didn’t do it again as we maneuvered the coach down the narrow streets of the mobile home park and pulled up in front of our house.  There was barely enough room to pull around us on the street and the front of the coach was up in the small grass patch we had in the front of the double wide, the rest on the driveway, half over the curb.  Within seconds our neighbor’s across the street, Mel and Mary, came running out of their house.  Their two girls followed.

“Weeeuw,” Mel whistled, “What the hell did you do? That thing is big, ain’t it?”  I was looking out at him through the sliding glass window on the driver’s access door.

“Easy to drive though, like driving a Cadillac,” I said, acting like I was an expert.

I wonder why everything big you drive is described like driving a Cadillac?  I’ve never driven a Cadillac.  I was in one once, and I remember it feeling like driving down the highway sitting on your living room sofa.  This was like that, only you were on a recliner chair instead of a couch and you could even cross your legs under the bus-like steering wheel.

“Reminds me of the Titanic from that TV show, ‘Trapper John MD’,” Mary says.

Dr. “Trapper” John McIntyre of MASH fame worked with a Dr. George Alonzo “Gonzo” Gates.  Gonzo was a resident surgeon at San Francisco Memorial and he lived in a rusted but, by all appearances, functioning Winnebago that he lived in out in the hospital parking lot.  He called it the “Titanic”.  He often spent time on the roof drinking and relaxing in a folding lawn chair.  I immediately envisioned myself doing that on the trip.  It was never determined during the run of the show whether the Winnebago could move, and where he was getting his utilities for that matter, if any.

My wife jumps right in.  “Yeah, that’s it, we’ll name it the Titanic. Perfect.”

If you haven’t already figured it out, we name all our vehicles.  Our current vehicles, a 2008 Toyota FJ is Burgie because of her burgandy color, and the 1999 Ford F-350 Dually we just traded in was The Hulk because it was big and green.  The new 2008 Tundra Limited is now called “Blue Thunder.”

“Okay,” I said, “I’d break a bottle of “Coors Light” over her bumper and say, ‘We Christen Thee Titanic’, but the bumper would probably fall off and it would be a waste of beer.”

A few minutes later, while we were giving the “tour”, I caught a glimpse of the park manager out the front windshield, leaving what appeared to be my front porch, and walking off quickly, trying not to be seen.  I walked over to the porch later and retrieved the letter which was stuck between the jamb and the screen door.  The gist of it was that we could not park the Titanic in front of our house and we would have to move it immediately.  It was against the park rules.  We figured that, hell we knew that it was against the rules to park a motor home on the street.  We fought with the managers every day about something that was against the “rules”, but geeeez, the Titanic had only been docked for 15 minutes.  He must have seen us drive in and typed our name on the letter as we were driving to our space.  Maybe it had leaked out that we were bringing a motor home on the property and he had the letter already prepared.  I started to wonder who the leak was, Mel, no he would never tell.  Someone Mel told?  I would never find out but I knew they weren’t that efficient in posting notices of violations.  At any rate we would discuss with them the need to have the motor home parked there for short periods so we could load it, we had already arranged a place to store it.

After the initial tours for the neighbors, we started to pack up our new home on wheels with necessary stuff, like dishes and silverware, cooking utensils, towels, sheets and comforters, and…toilet paper.  You can’t use just any ol’ toilet paper in an RV.  It has to be single-ply toilet paper that can easily break up in a holding tank on board the unit.  This is known as the black tank.  Now you can buy RV toilet paper at RV supply stores, or you can pay a tenth of the price and just look for one-ply toilet paper on the shelf at the grocery store.  It’s there.  Of course, we didn’t learn that cost saving tip until much later in our RV adventures.  Maintaining a black tank also calls for a …we’ll get into that later in more detail.

The Titanic was, after a few days, loaded and ready for a trip.  But where?

Chapter 4 – There Are Signs Everywhere

My oldest daughter lived in Albuquerque, NM, a short test drive of 450 miles from Tucson.  It sounded like a decent test of the mechanical integrity of the Titanic, so we planned to take her on the maiden voyage the following weekend.  We spent all week packing her up with essentials and left it plugged into a land line to be sure the batteries were fully charged for an easy start.  Early Saturday morning, we got on board, I assumed the captain’s chair and we started her up.

Yes, she started, but we forgot to unplug the 50’ extension cord before we pulled from the yard.  My wife noticed it at the last second.

“The plug is still in,” she screamed. 

I slammed on the brakes, jumped out of the driver’s access door and stowed the cord in one of the basement bins.  There were several of these around the perimeter of the coach; all stuffed to capacity with things we knew we needed, including, thank God, a tool chest.  From this point forward, my wife became the double check for all things attached to the Titanic; cords, sewer lines, water hoses, roof antennas and the like.

The first ten minutes of the journey went without a hitch.  We made it to Interstate 10, which was just a few miles from our mobile home park and headed east to Las Cruces.  It’s a pretty flat, boring, stretch of highway and we had the Titanic maxed out at about 60 miles an hour.  A few minutes into the drive the roaring sound commenced.  It was deafening.  And then it stopped.  Wagons hoe!  And then it started again, building from a low roar to a crescendo and then stopping again.  Since the engine didn’t seem to be overheating, and I was using the gauge on the dashboard to determine this, we continued on.  I was getting more and more concerned and decided to pull in to the first rest stop and check things out.

The first thing I noticed when I pulled up the sliver of a hood on the engine compartment was that the coolant overflow was empty.  Full engine access is made by pulling a cover off the engine inside the coach between the seats.  The front hood is used to check the engine oil, coolant, power steering fluid and other maintenance items.  I pulled the cap off the overflow tank and steam came out so I let it cool a few minutes before I added the anti-freeze we had wisely brought along.  We had only been on the road for about a half an hour, and although the temperature was already in the 90s, it didn’t seem like that much coolant should be gone already, but I can’t say that I checked it before we left, and I should have.

The more disturbing discovery was the pool of transmission fluid that was clearly forming under the coach.  That I didn’t like, but I figured we should be able to make it as far as Albuquerque as long as I kept an eye on the transmission fluid.  I had some of that, and interestingly it was in the coach when I bought it.  The signs are everywhere.

We cooled off the engine for another 30 minutes or so and headed on east.  We noticed the roaring sound was predictable.  It would start up, go full on for five minutes, and then shut off.  I decided it was a cooling fan, and indeed, I learned later, that is exactly what it was.  I’ll tell you more about that later.

When we got just outside of Deming, NM, the engine abruptly lost power, started chugging erratically and I took the exit.  We chugged through the main street and pulled the Titanic into a vacant lot next to a McDonald’s.  I had noticed a Napa parts store about 6 blocks back, and headed off in that direction while the girls went in to McDonald’s for some nourishment.

It was hot by that time, and I was sweating profusely when I arrived at the Napa Auto Parts store.  I filled in the guy at the counter and he suggested new plug wires and a gas line filter.  I purchased these items which, as you can imagine, cut drastically into our travel budget and headed back to the Titanic, clearly visible on the side of the road.  I secretly wished it would catch fire.  It wouldn’t be the last time.

Replacing the plug wires was relatively easy.  I snapped each one off separately, matched it with the replacement, and snapped the new one on.  Clearly the condition of the existing wires indicated replacing them was long overdue.  The next step was to locate the filter in the gas line and replace it.

Two things I discovered quickly:  Gas flows freely out of the line when the filter is removed from the line.  Gasoline dissolves Styrofoam cups.

The only mental image you need is me lying under the coach on the passenger side by the front tire, gas flowing all over the ground and me, and I scream out for something to catch the fuel.  I am handed a Styrofoam cup.  It stems the flow of gasoline for a few seconds before the bottom of the cup disintegrates discharging the full cup of gas on my face.  I manage to fit the filter into both sides of the line and roll out screaming for water.  I got a face full of watered down Coke.  I went back under and finished securing the filter.

I climbed up into the driver’s seat and turned the key.  Damned if she didn’t start right up and purr like a kitten.  Although I did notice the engine sounded louder, considerably louder, like when you get a hole in the muffler.  The signs are everywhere.  We headed off and made it to Albuquerque without any further incident.

When we pulled up in front of my daughter’s house that evening, she was sitting in her living room with her back to the front window.  She thought a cloud had blocked out the sun.  She didn’t know we had bought the Titanic.  

Chapter 5 –  We Better Get This Checked Out 

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