About Me

Wells, BC, Canada
Richard is a working photographer and writer in B.C. His camera focuses on natural history. archeology, travel, and documentary photography. His photography blog may be found at: http://richardtwright.blogspot.com/

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Living on the RV Road

Living in an RV, as we do for several months a year, draws focus on the customer service world of RV manufacturers, dealers and the various repair shops associated with trucks and trailers.

I will come back to the beginning of our experiences but let me begin in the middle, or thereabouts. Then again, as I have been driving an RV for most of my adult life maybe I am beginning closer to the end.

Last winter I had our trailer, a 22-foot Creekside by Outdoor RV, in tow behind my Dodge Ram, 2008, 1-ton, with duallys. I live in northern BC when I am not on the road so I was driving down to Vancouver to pick up my partner Amy who for some reason prefers rain to snow. Go figure.
As I started up a particular hard climb out of Ashcroft I felt a distinct lack of power. I quickly figured my turbo booster was acting up, again, but I kept the pedal to the metal and topped the 5-mile hill at a whopping 20 kph.
A few miles later I stopped to check things out and found that my trailer lights were not working – except with the emergency flashers on, and now it was dark. I kept going with the flashers on and cruised into Vancouver four hours later.
Our normal Vancouver Dodge dealer, Carter, did not have time to look at it for days but agreed to a quick check of the error codes. Sure enough it was a booster issue, but it was working now and the codes were cleared.

Now the trailer lights. I headed Cap-it for an accessory shop I often use but noticed Meridian RV in Coquitlam on the way so wheeled in.
“Could you check my trailer wiring?”  Reluctantly a fellow came out with a tester and found two error codes.
“Can you fix it?”
 I am thinking a fuse or loose wire. Check with the service manager. Nope.
“That is all run by the computer in Dodges and we can’t work on it.”
But there is a Dodge dealer nearby, Coquitlam Chrysler, and they agree to look at it that afternoon!
Two hours later it’s done: a fuse and a broken wire. Thanks Coquitlam Chrysler
No thanks to Meridian. I will be sure to avoid them for a new RV or repair.

A month or so later we were cruising through Arizona, just east of Yuma and stopped for fuel and a burrito, enough to get us to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. As I left the pumps Amy noticed a smell and “something hanging down” near the trailer wheels. It was a broken leaf spring and and the axle had shifted so two tires were touching.
I called AAA. What a disaster that was. I cannot possibly go into all the conversation but they could not get it clear that it was a trailer, that I had RV coverage and that I wanted to get to Yuma tonight, ready for a repair in the morning. They might not cover it, I was told, as coverage differed from BC to Arizona so they would have to get permission from BCAA to make the tow.(The next week we signed up for Good Sam's RV service.)

The tow truck arrived but found the trailer was too long at 22 feet for his flat deck and he did not recommend chaining the rear axle in place and towing it. “I was told it was shorter, “ he said.
So put it on backwards and let the tongue hang off the back.
“Can’t do that – it won’t work.”
He called another truck that could haul 40-foot rigs, but he could not come until morning. We slept in the Chevron yard.

Morning: the tow rig arrives at 10 a.m.
“Why didn’t Scott just put it on backwards or chain the axle back?”
Beats me.
As we unloaded in Yuma the manager of CJ’s RV repairs asked, “why didn’t the first guy just load it on backwards – they do that all the time – or chain the axle in place?”
Beats me.

But CJs were fast and had us on the road for $400 in a couple of hours. Great guys.

Then a few days later south of Tucson Amy noticed a list to one side - another broken spring. She got on the cell phone and called RV campgrounds who recommended a repair place in Tucson. A friend pulled the rear axle back with his pickup, I chained it in place and we limped into Professional Trailer Repair in Tucson at 8 a.m.
“No problem,” the tattooed bikers said, “grab some breakfast around the corner and then check back.”
A great Mexican breakfast and before ten we were on the road, at half the cost of the first repair.

In Durango Colorado I heard a horrible noise as we made a hard turn to catch up to the steam train we were filming for the Bonepicker project (see Bonepicker.ca). "Better get that checked," I said.
Dodge could not look at it for several days but 4 States TNS did repairs and said they would be at it in an hour.
Two hours later we had a clean bill of health. Just a stiff 4-wheel joint. Cost? $32.00! “Just say good things about us and come back.”
They could have repaired anything and we would have gladly agreed and paid.

Also in Durango the Lightner Creek RV campground agreed to open early and let us have a spot where we could stay and then drop our trailer for a couple of days while we filmed. All the others were closed.

Now we are on the Stewart Cassiar highway in northern BC and it is mid October. Just a week ago as we cruised Highway 16 on the way to Haida Gwaii Islands when we noticed that warning messages on our new 2015 Dodge 2500 6.7 Hemi with single axle was indicating a problem with the brake wiring – and I was feeling the brakes were not working to capacity.

This was odd as just two weeks ago I paid $400 for a wheel bearing repack and the technician said the brakes were okay but would need replacing soon. But, he did not think he could get parts so suggested replacing the whole axle assembly, which I thought was a bit radical. Oh, and the bearings would need replacing soon. What? So why not replace them during the $400 repair? Cost for new brakes? I asked if $1000 would cover it.

“No, it would be way more than that,” he said

We got great help from Outdoor RV in LaGrande Oregon who emailed us all the part numbers and pertinent information, which we gathered as we searched for a repair facility.

We cruised into Nor-burd RV in Terrace and service manager Wade agreed to have a quick look. Fuses were okay and the electric brakes were operating, but not grabbing. We made an appointment for a week later when we returned from Haida Gwaii.
         It turns out we had been driving with no brakes they were so worn. The wheel bearings were fine – though we replaced them anyway as at $17 each it seemed the prudent thing to do. They replaced the brake hubs with a larger size, rebuilt everything including shoes and magnets (they did not replace the axles!) did some minor work on our hitch and in about 4 hours we were on our way with brakes that worked. I was expecting $2000 given the previous estimate. The bill came in at $1000.

There are so many stories out here on the road. But customer service or lack of the same, are some of the best.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Leaving Haida Gwaii

A wrecked boat resting beneath a pier in Masset. Richard Wright photo. Nikon D800.

It is raining. A grey drizzling rain beading on windows, pouring out of the clouds that hang in the mountain forests pierced by cedar snags and hemlock spears. We are hunkered down beside the Skeena River is a town called Terrace, forced to catch up on email, Facebook, blogs, image editing etc. while we wait for our Creekside 22-foot trailer's brakes to be repaired.

It has been some time since I blogged - life just got in the way - but this forced down-time out of the office and off the road seems like a good opportunity.

We have been on Haida Gwaii, the remarkable islands off the west coast of B.C., for most of a week, and it was a remarkable week: Remarkable weather, that is five days of sun, remarkable scenery and remarkable people. For example we stayed in a B&B run by, and had dinner with, a poet and a bank robber - twice convicted, three times escaped, only recently paroled. The irony that one of my sons is a banker and the other has a degree in criminology did not escape me. We talked of many things, but little about banks.

Our reason for visiting was to send the ashes of our friend Finbar McMillian to sea. He had a small cabin here, deep in the forest where it was his intention to retire, but life does not always turn out as we expect. 

Finbar's moss - at least that's how I remember it. Deep in his forest. Richard Wright photo.

In between visiting there was time for photography. And time for eating seafood - lots of seafood.
This is an expensive place to visit. The ferry is the first barrier. It was $335 for two of us (with a 50% discount) and a vehicle. The 22-foot trailer would have been another $800 so we opted for a B&B the standard price of which is $120 a night for two. A motel in Queen Charlotte City was $110. Internet is iffy and discouraged as usage fees are high. Fuel is 40¢ a litre more than at home. Meals are expensive - like $18 for a good hamburger. Coffee to go at a pub was $3.15.
But here's the thing. Finding a restaurant is also a challenge, at least in September. Folks are tired. Tourists are gone. So eateries are often closed. And those that are open like to challenge visitors by limiting the signage, or having confusing signage.
On Friday night we hit a cafe at 7:40 p.m. We would be rushed out at 8 but we could go upstairs to the bar to eat. "Go to the Gas Bar Grill," tomorrow we were told. "They will be open tomorrow night." So away we went on Saturday night out to old Masset. Sure enough the lights were on and a window sign said "Open". But the other window read, "Closed." Contradiction or dyslexia? They were closed. So back to Masset and The Mile Zero, which was also closed this Saturday night. The "Golden Pam" was open though for the quintessential Chinese and Canadian food. I began to feel paranoid, as if the locals were the only ones who were supposed to know where to eat.

The Blowhole on North Beach on an incoming tide. Richard Wright photo.
Five days of sun and now the islands are shut down, the ferry unlikely to run because of heavy seas. We escaped, but now are stalled with our own delays. We have our own food and stove though so we are good.

Now, repairs and then on the north. Stay tuned.