Friday, July 8, 2016

Festive Living Upgrade 2016

After camping in a Dodge conversion van for 12 years, Festive Living is upgrading our camping accomodations with the addition of a pop up camper that we plan to tow with our 2001 Dodge van.   The nice thing about the van is it serves as a second vehicle,  but is not really a camper.  It's a vehicle you can sleep in.  While more secure and comfortable than a tent, it can be cramped and gets hot with little air flow.  We  considered travel trailers, then found a deal on a 2007 Fleetwood Niagara at a local used car dealer in March.  This camper has all the features of a regular driving RV (including 2 king size beds, a toilet, shower, air conditioner).  When opened up it is more spacious and airy than a travel trailer, and would fit in our driveway better when closed.   It is one of the biggest pop-ups around, with high sides and a slide out dining room .  When we looked at it, was very clean inside, had no moldy smell or signs of leaks, and appeared to have been winterized as it had some pink antifreeze in the shower. There were a lot of others looking at it because it was a relatively low price and we had spring fever, so we pulled the trigger and bought it, "as is".  I figured even if we had to repair or replace some things it still would be worth it.

 Well lesson 1 is don't buy a camping trailer from a used car dealer who didn't actually use the camper, and cannot  guarantee the condition of anything.   (Even though he sells a lot of them!)  Once we started going through it, we discovered that almost everything had to be fixed or repaired in some way.   The hot water heater had a lot of sediment and did not work at first because it had never been cleaned or maintained There were some leaky pipes and the water pump didn't work. The fridge didn't run on gas because the gas line was clogged.    The outdoor shower wouldn't shut off and had to have a valve replaced. The inside sink needed new faucets.  All the fuses were blown and on and on.  My husband Joe went through everything and most of those things were not expensive to repair, but time consuming to troubleshoot.  Thank God for Youtube!

Besides showing how to fix a lot of components,  Youtube was a great resource for learning how to drive and handle the trailer.  We watched a lot of videos on how to tow and back up the trailer, and how to communicate with each other with one of us spotting from behind.   Backing up is the most challenging part and we don't have a huge yard/driveway so we spent a few Sundays practicing that.   One of the videos showed a couple using walkie talkies to communicate and that seemed like a good idea so we ordered some online. The walkie talkies are pretty good if you remember to hold the button down far enough before you start talking! Otherwise it just causes more aggravation. Hand signals are good too but you have to learn and use them.

Meanwhile between practicing, the good deal just kept getting better.  We had to buy new tires because it still had the original ones on.  Because of the weight of the trailer (3500 pounds) we had to get electric brakes installed and learn how to use them.  Then because we are using a van with low ground clearance, we decided to improve the rear suspension which cost $600.  Then there were all the accessories that we'd have to buy even if we had bought a new rig - hoses, cables, battery, gas tank covers, king size sheets, etc.  After spending about $1700  on repairs and accessories, finally we took the trailer out for a longer test run that included highways and hills and Joe felt the trailer swaying and bouncing a lot  - it seemed too risky.  We did some more research and found out about a weight distribution/ stabilizer hitch.  That cost another $600 and took about 4 hours for us newbies to install and adjust, with a few calls to the manufacturer's support line in Utah.

So now we are finally ready to take it out to a couple of festivals... Starting with Green River fest in Greenfield, Ma.  where we'll be camping in a nearby campground for 2-3 nights with hookups, then off to Grey Fox bluegrass festival in the Catskills, where we'll be roughing it in a farmer's field for 5 days and nights.  For what it's cost so far we could have spent 10 nights in the Ritz Carlton!  Or gone on another music cruise...But we hope to get the hang of it and have a few more years of Festive Living in style! We are also planning on  Podunk,  Rhythm and Roots and Fresh Grass and possibly a few others.  Maybe we can get the per night cost more in line with a Holiday Inn.

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