No. Way… Are you KIDDING me?

Get right out of town!

There’s a Spinnaker 5th Wheel at CampingWorld that Audrey and I have been considering. Last night we were looking at other 5th wheels and we found a very nice 5th wheel that tips the scales at a massive GVWR of 16,100 pounds, and (since neither the MINI Cooper or the Toyota Yaris is rated to tow that much) we got to looking to see ‘which truck do we need? Do we need a 350/3500 series, or would a 250/2500 series pull it? What about a Tundra?’, etc.

Poking around on the internet I found a forum post from 2012 in which someone suggested, “If you’re going to pull a big 5er like that, for the amount of money you’d spend on a newer F350/450 in good condition, you can just buy a TRUCK, instead.”

Wait. Did that guy mean what I think he meant?

Yep. It’s exactly what he meant…

How do the economics play out?

The average price of a 2010-2012 F350 is $37,892
The average price of a 2010-2012 RAM 3500 is $42,498
The average price of a 2010-2012 Chevy/GMC Silverado 3500 is $38,223.

So, for the $39,537 you could buy one of these instead.

2008 VOLVO VNL64T780 CONVENTIONAL - SLEEPER TRUCK in BOLINGBROOK, ILLINOIS
2008 VOLVO VNL64T780 CONVENTIONAL – SLEEPER TRUCK in BOLINGBROOK, ILLINOIS
2009 INTERNATIONAL PROSTAR CONVENTIONAL - SLEEPER TRUCK in BOLINGBROOK, ILLINOIS
2009 INTERNATIONAL PROSTAR CONVENTIONAL – SLEEPER TRUCK in BOLINGBROOK, ILLINOIS

Wait, What?

I was a little shocked.

No. Way.

That can’t possibly be right – you’ve got to have a Commercial Driver’s License for those. RIGHT?

The first place I stopped was the CO DMV website.
No Commercial Driver’s License required – straight from the Colorado.gov website –
Commercial Vehicle includes “Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more.
Commercial Vehicle exceptions includes “Recreation vehicles used for recreational purposes.

OK, so Colorado’s just weird, right?

Nope.

Almost (but not all) states have a similar provision on their books. That’s basically what makes 45′ Class A motorhomes viable.

What about the weird ’16 gear, Hi/Lo’ Truck Transmission thing?

That’s hard, right?

Every example I listed above has an automatic transmission, and only two pedals on the floor – Gas and Brake – and is no more tricky to shift than a giant Class A diesel pusher. Put it in Drive. Step on the long skinny one.

These trucks are designed to haul up to 80,000 pounds. Field reports indicate that when they’re “only” pulling a 16,000 pound 5th wheel, they get better MPG than when they’re loaded to the gills – like any other RV, they seem to get 10 MPG all day long.

We found similar trucks for lower prices – the lowest price truck we could find that still had an automatic was only $12,500.

That’s something we’ll really have to consider.

The Devil’s in the Details…

It looks like you’ll need to register your RV hauler as a non-commercial vehicle. That may or may not be the easiest thing in the world, depending on where you live. Depending on your state’s requirements, you may be able to register them as an RV unto themselves.
It also looks like, while it’s not necessarily required, (again, depending on the jurisdiction) your shiny New-To-You truck should be marked “NOT FOR HIRE” and the paint should be pretty plain – as much as I do like them, I suspect that a State Patrol LEO might start wondering just how “non-commercial” your truck is if you have a giant vinyl logo for your RV blogging website decorating the sides of your sleeper cab…
Finally, it looks like you’ll have to be pretty diligent about ensuring you aren’t using your truck in any way that could be construed as “commercial” – there are apocryphal stories floating around the internet about:

  • A couple who got dinged for not having a CDL when their “commercial enterprise” was the occasional sale of quilts at quilt shows,
  • A man who towed his race cars to races where prizes were offered for winning.
  • A Horse Trailer with living space included being registered as an RV and not a commercial trailer.

There’s clearly a line between Privately Owned Recreational Vehicle (No CDL Required) and Commercial Vehicle (CDL, Logbook, Drug Test, etc. Required), but on the surface this looks like an entirely practical option for someone willing to deal with the occasional hassle of “It looks like a duck, it must be a duck”, “No, officer, it’s actually a goose(neck), and here are the laws that make it a goose, and not a duck.”

Narrowing down the options?

Last Tuesday I attended a ServiceNow User Group meeting at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.  Afterward, I skipped down the road to Camping World of Denver to do some RV comparison on a cool, cloudy day. I found a couple smaller Class A Gas RVs that I wanted to come back and look at with Audrey on Saturday, along with a 5th wheel.

More research shows that the 5th wheel has a pretty unique layout – I can’t find anything comparable. It has three slides, two in the very back that expand the living space with a couch and a coffee table curbside and a freestanding dinette, refrigerator, and cabinet space streetside. The rest of the kitchen is along the back wall of the trailer.

Click to EmbiggenateClick to Embiggenate
Click to EmbiggenateClick to Embiggenate
Click to EmbiggenateClick to Embiggenate

The third slide is for an east-west queen bed, leaving room for a large closet across the front, and lots and lots of storage curbside.

The upsides:

  • It’s hard to believe how open and apartment-like this plan is.
  • There’s clearly room for a proper gaming table right in the middle.
  • This thing has got SO MUCH STORAGE…look at dem overhead bins!
  • Audrey says that she’ll feel WAY less bad about customising this than she would about buying something newer and painting every wall right off the bat.

The downsides:

  • It’s old. Camping World calls it a MY2000 Forest River Spinnaker 33RKT, but there is no such model – there is a 1999 Spinnaker M-32RKT, however.
  • It’s listed at $17,000. Top Dollar NADA is $12,480.
  • For not a lot more money, we could buy a *new* TT or 5er similar in size, but we haven’t been able to find something with this peculiar layout that gives so much room. Most other “Rear Kitchen” models have this weird attached island thing going on, so the space in the middle is intruded.
  • It needs a fair amount of TLC – the carpet could be replaced, the cabinets are showing their age (a couple of them have clearly been repaired at some point, and the repairs aren’t top-flight.), and everything is dated.
  • There’s no TV, when that was standard at date of sale.
  • No Washer/Dryer, or room or hookups for them.
  • Also, we don’t actually own a truck at this point, so that adds a fairly serious wrinkle to the plan.

It’s tempting. Maybe we’ll go look at it again, make an offer of $12,000 and see if they bite.

RV Interiors

Jason and Nikki Wynn posted a new video today.

One thing I definitely agree with them on – the interior design in many new coaches. It’s a whole lot better than it used to be, but it still features an awful lot of what I’ve heard described as “Camouflage Beige”.

CamouflageBeigeCamouflageBeige2

Versus:
CamouflageBeige3 CamouflageBeige4

(Yes, that’s the same RV. You can find more of this wonderful conversion by HARBORLIZARD at Rate My Space – here, here, and here.)

I think Airstream is really the most on top of providing excellent interior design that still has a broad appeal across the market – though the reason for that is that new Airstreams have interiors that look like they were designed by the IKEA folks – but built from materials suitable for an interior that should last in good shape for 30-40 years, not 3-4.

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The rest of the interiors we’ve looked at? They’re definitely better than they once were, but they’re still not great by any stretch of the imagination. Oh, and if you’re listening, Fleetwood, Winnebago, and  “Euro Recliners” are THE WORST THING EVER. Especially when you design a mid-entry coach, and put one between the navigator’s station and the door. It’s not a chair we’ll ever use (it’s getting chucked out the door and onto Craigslist or straight in the bin right off the bat), but after it’s gone there’s almost nothing we can use that remaining space for! At least Eric and Brittany could put Trogdor there…

I would absolutely recommend that the interior design folks at the coachbuilders point their browsers to Houzz and get their learning on. There is SO MUCH COOL STUFF out there – if you insist on building it for the mythical, mystical “broad appeal”, the least you could do is make it easy to customize, before or after the fact.

Better yet, you could take a page from the MINI playbook and build just a FEW coaches, but have a configurator online with an absolute metric TON of options, and expect that your customer will contact their local dealer with a build list – and you’ll build that coach at that time, and either drive it to the customer, or (like Mercedes, PorscheVolvo, Audi and BMW) offer a factory tour and coach pick-up package.

How often does a customer make an impulse buy of a $200,000 coach, anyway? The least you can do is make the customer feel special.

Getting Our Sea Legs – Audrey’s Tale

So, a while back, Jon found a pretty screaming deal on an RV. CruiseAmerica was offering their used rentals up for sale: decent sized class C’s with a spartan setup (no levellers or other fun sorts of breakable extras) for suuuuuper cheap. Before throwing down the cash for one of these bad boys, we decided to rent one, as CruiseAmerica offers a rebate towards the purchase if you decide to buy one for the full price of your rental. Great! Either it’s awesome and we get the rebate towards one of our own, or it’s terrible and we know not to get one. Well, we rented it for this weekend and learned a truck load about what we did and didn’t want in an RV.

Firstly, and very foremost, we didn’t want one of theirs.

For vacationing, briefly, they’re fine. However, full timing in this thing would have been….uncomfortable to say the least. Space, aside from wardrobe space, was fine. I actually didn’t feel all that cramped at all. It was 28ft, and frankly, it wasn’t overly tight or cramped with two people and two cats. There was definitely a lack of wardrobe space, and as someone with not a whole lot of clothes I feel like if there wasn’t enough for me for two days, there would definitely not be enough for any extended period of time.

I liked the convenience. It was small enough to get anywhere. The controls for everything were easy to pick out because there was nothing fancy to muck it up. And I mean nothing. No levellers, no awning, no backup camera, no TV, nooooothing. Dumping the black and gray water was easy. It was very very simple.  I really enjoyed the peace in it though. The first night was cold cause we were boondocking at a friend’s place and didn’t want to run the generator all night to run the heat, so we kept it low, but that’s largely in part to the fee associated with it through the rental company. In our own, we’d have run it, as needed.

It was very quiet in our second location, at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Golden, CO. The folks who checked us in were wildly helpful, nice people who had been fulltiming for 3 years. We got the last pull through spot with a hookup, and it was absolutely lovely. Due to the lack of levellers, we were at a jaunty angle, but it was excellent to be able to run the heat and leave the windows open. It was quiet, our neighbors on each side being a dream. We had the moon shining in through our skylight. I slept better the second night, than the first. Our cats  adjusted fairly quickly, and by the end of the second day were exploring and peering and doing cat things all over the RV.  I was actually pleased that there wasn’t any carpet.

I hated the fact that the bed was nearly boob high. The mattress was a plastic covered monstrosity (because, again, rental) that was really, VERY uncomfortable and reminded me of very old hospital beds. If we were to buy one of these (and that’s a mightly large if), that’d be the first replacement. And the toilet…well it was an adventure in acrobatics. Cramped I don’t mind, but having to climb up what feels like three feet to pee in the middle of the night is disorienting at best. Since there were no levellers, I didn’t partake in the shower, because I could see face planting out the 18 inch drop out of the shower because we weren’t level. It rattled, it shook, it occasionally felt like it was going to fall apart on the interstate. I can appreciate a heavily used RV (especially a rental) will have it’s creaks and it’s moans, but at 158000 miles, this one was uh…disconcerting.  We prepaid for 300 miles, and kept our travels just over 100 and I am grateful for it.

We didn’t partake in any of the kitchen stuff aside from the sink to wash our hair (the sink was very deep which was nice).

So what do I want in an RV? A reasonable bed, shower, and toilet for starters. I don’t mind a bit of a lip but I don’t want to have to climb a 14er to sleep/bathe/pee. More storage space on the inside. I’m actually surprisingly OK with class C. I thought we’d be climbing over each other all the time, but even in an RV without slides, sub 30 ft, we were okay. Ultimately, I’d like slides (at least one in the bedroom, so that I can have that wardrobe space). I liked the over the cabin bed. It was a great place for our cats to lurk, and if we ever did have company stay over, it’d be nice to have a place that isn’t a fold out for them to crash on.

 

Overall, it was an educational experience and I have solidified my desire to full time…just not in one of these.

Getting our Sea Legs – Jon’s Tale

This weekend, Audrey and I rented a Four Winds Majestic 28A from CruiseAmerica to give living in an RV a try – to see how we like it, to see how living in 212 square feet worked out for us, and to see how our two cats adapted to living in that space. We did reach some conclusions, which I’ll get to toward the end of the article.

Rewinding a little bit – Thursday night I was trolling on RV Trader, when I found a 1984 Airstream Class A motorhome for just a tick under $30,000. It was (and looks like) it was originally owned by Larry Hagman – the actor that played JR Ewing on Dallas. It’s so retro, and very, very cool.

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Completely on a lark, I clicked the “Get Financing” button on RV Trader, and I submitted an application. It’s hilarious to think that there would be financing available for a 30 year old motorhome, but I submitted the app and figured I’d get a rejection letter a few days later.

Friday afternoon, I left work at 12:30 so I could get to CruiseAmerica on Federal Boulevard by 2 – however, I got a call just before I left work from Dana at Southeast Financial. I called her back when I got home, and we had a nice long, informative chat about where I am credit wise, and that no, they can’t approve the loan right now, but that the dings that I have on my credit (that an awful lot of people have, actually – thank you, 2008) will be falling off pretty soon, at which point my credit should go from merely ‘average’ to ‘fantastic’, and that, why, yes, a 40′ Diesel Pusher just might be in your future… *blinks* That was not an answer I was expecting to get.

Anyway, after the call, I was running late (but sort of floating on clouds), and drove over to CruiseAmerica, where I did the walkaround and checkout on our home for the weekend. Then I got back in the car, came home, and took a Lyft back to CruiseAmerica to pick up the RV.

My first impression? MAN THIS THING IS LONG. I misjudged how long it was, and had to back and fill once just to get out of the parking lot. The drive back to the apartment was full of adventure, too, since there was construction along 92nd avenue, and each side was down to one narrow lane in each direction. After some finagling and figuring out which direction I needed to go to get the RV faced the right direction, I got the RV parked in front of our garage for the afternoon while I did some laundry and waited for Audrey to get home.

She got home about 6pm, and we had the RV loaded with clothes, sundries, and cats about 7:15. Once we got underway, Figaro and Little One made it clear (with a chorus) that they were having none of this moving business! That said, they both *really* like the overhead space that’s available in a Class C. That much became apparent by the end of the weekend.

We stopped at Wal-Mart for linen – we didn’t want to use ours on a rental mattress that (potentially) had bedbugs (it didn’t) – and some other sundries. We found some grape purple sheets and a grey and red plaid comforter that we liked that were well within ‘disposable’ budget. After that, we headed over to our friend Ann’s house to pick her up for our weekly evening of karaoke at Ogden Street South. We cheated a little bit – we’ve been talking about going without a tow-behind vehicle, but it became apparent right out the gate that it isn’t going to be feasible – taking the RV to karaoke would be hilarious and bad. We wound up taking Audrey’s Yaris. I do have to say that it was very nice to get back to Ann’s, and just crawl into bed right there, curbside. Friday night was pretty cold – I didn’t turn the heater up quite enough. By morning, the (single) house battery was just about dead, as well.

DECISION: We need an RV and a Car – at least for now. Someday we might be able to downsize again to perhaps a pair of motorcycles and bicycles, but for now, if we’re fulltiming and location independent, a car is a must.
DECISION: We need more than one piddly house battery.

Saturday, we helped Ann put together her new computer – she’s building it from scratch – and we helped her do some troubleshooting to get it going. About 1pm, we drove 38 miles across town to Audrey’s parents’ house in Ken Caryl, Colorado, to see them. The cats, again and predictably, did not like rumbling down the road one bit – but they dealt with it better than they did at first. Audrey’s dad really liked the DJI Phantom quadcopter we got recently, despite the preview that YouTube picked for the video. =)

We had dinner with them at Rubios, then we had our first – “Well, where in the hell are we going to stay tonight?” moment. On Friday, Audrey was ALL ABOUT having a plan. For the entire weekend. I was really super proud of her when, coming into Saturday Night, it got to be a little late to go with our original plan (drive up into the Pike National Forest along Rampart Range Road), and we needed to improvise.

Chatfield State Park was full.

Bear Creek Lake Park was full.

Cherry Creek State Park was full.

Jefferson County Fairgrounds, however, had space, and was reasonably priced at $30 for a 30 amp hookup. We were there in 20 minutes, and had probably another 20 minutes of chatting with the camp hosts while we signed in. The camp hosts (Melissa and her husband) have been fulltiming in Colorado for 3 years now in a variety of vehicles from a travel trailer to a 5th wheel and now they’re in a 31′ Class C. They were wonderfully friendly, and just full of advice. The spot we wound up in was hilariously not-level, however, and so…

DECISION: We MUST have leveling jacks.

We were up until around midnight talking about our experiences (we went to bed at 10pm, believe it or not) We were warm enough Saturday night (I was roasting, Audrey was freezing – weird.) and the cats were really starting to settle in. This is a good sign, I think.

Sunday morning, we decided that we’d had a long enough test run. We stopped at Village Inn for lunch, then brought the RV home and decamped. We’ll return it in the morning after getting gas and propane.

DECISION: We are going to buy an RV before our lease is up – even if it’s a $3000 Craigslist special. I’m not 100% sold on paying cash for a craptastic RV and starting from there – I am sold on not going $100,000 into debt buying our third RV first. I think we’ll be somewhere between buying a $3000 RV and something in the $10-20k range.

DECISION: Starting out fulltiming in an RV at the end of our lease will kind of SUUUCK because it’ll be Winter – but the hard cold winter in Denver is really from January 1 to the beginning of April. It’s just 90 nights. We can find a place with electric hookups and buy some fantastic ‘enclosed space’ heaters, and suck it up, buttercup.

DECISION: A 28′ Class C is large enough for what we want to do. It’s still a little cramped at times. 28′ is nice enough if we can have LR and BR slides for just a little extra space.

DECISION: 2015 will be 12 months to work on ‘non-job’ income. 

All in all, we had a great time, we learned some valuable lessons that we wouldn’t have learned without actually going out there and doing it, and we’re looking forward to the next step along the path to truly becoming digital nomads!