Our New RV, Serenity

So, as you read with no doubt growing sympathetic despair, our mechanical follies continued even after leaving Wilmington, resulting in another break down and the assessed need of yet another transmission rebuild.  And as a result of the absurd frequency, severity, and costs of our continuing mechanical problems, we have decided that we can no longer full time RV in The Big Kahuna.   The transmission rebuild is in progress, i.e. the tranny was pulled and shipped to Pioneer Transmission Services in Illinois.  Once rebuilt, shipped back to Charleston, reinstalled and op-tested, the bus will be up for sale.

We made that decision a couple of days into our extended stay in Charleston as the severity of the problems became clear.  There followed an aggressive internet search for a modern, lightly used motorhome somewhere in the southeast coastal region, ideally in South Carolina or Florida.  I looked at a hundred or more listings before finding something that looked close to ideal right in Charleston at a small used motorhome specialist, Best Pre-Owned RVs, run by brothers Josh and Chris.

We looked at the prime candidate along with the rest of their inventory, honestly liking the one that brought us in better than even the more expensive options they had.  We made the deal that day for our 2007 Four Winds Hurricane 34S with only 12,000 miles on it.  90 pictures available at that last link.  She is 35 feet long, has three slide outs, a bullet proof Ford V-10 Triton engine, automatic leveling, and all the modern comforts of a home that we never got around to installing, fixing, or upgrading on The Big Kahuna.  02

Josh has carved out a nitch in the highly competitive used RV market by focusing on complete refurbishment and readiness of his used inventor. Thus, even if we had handed him the check that day he would not let us take the RV until he had completed his full system checks and associated repairs, something that usually takes him two weeks.  We bargained it down to six days, and he turned it over to us in five.03

We bolted south, stopping for one night in Golden Isles RV Resort in south Georgia on the Passport America 50% discount rate before crossing the border into Florida and turning somewhat inland towards Mount Dora and the hidden jewel of Trimble County Park for a four day stay.


Don’t call Josh about this one, we already bought it.  Check the rest of his inventory and get your own.

It was a relief to drive a motorhome that started when we tuned the key and went forward when we put it in gear, plowing up hills and bridges without difficulty even with Loki dragging behind.  She will hold 70 mph up steep hills, merely dropping out of overdrive to maintain speed.  Kahuna would have been down in low gear struggling up the incline at 25 mph.  13

The biggest drawback to the new RV, Serenity, vs The Big Kahuna is how much less rugged it is.  All fiberglass and plastic panels, we have to be much more careful backing it in or making tight turns, having to pay much closer attention to branches and posts and rocks that Kahuna would have knocked out of the way with nothing more than a snicker and scracthed paint.  The new RV will crunch body panels if subjected to some of the things we did to Kahuna.  34

OK, that might not actually be the biggest drawback.  Perhaps bigger is the lack of any cool factor: no one is gonna come over to tell us how awesome our RV is, no one still stop us at gas stations to ask questions or give us the thumbs up as we drive through town.  Serenity is typical, not cool, but you can’t live in cool; we tried for a year.  31

Now, instead of cool, a bigger living space, modern conveniences, the ability to climb hills without worry, and the calm sense of serenity that comes from reliability.

A Final Straw: yet another breakdown, and time for a change.

Though Kahuna had made it 180 miles to Charleston without incident, he broke down hard within 15 miles of our departure from James Island County Park.  We were on a back road coming to an intersection when once again the bus would not downshift and subsequently stalled.  I pulled over to the side as far as possible but still blocked most of the lane.

Walking the cat, waiting to hear an update on the bus.

Walking the cat, waiting to hear an update on the bus.

I stepped outside to direct traffic around us, and within a minute a family in a large pick up pulled in front of me and offered to tow me into the gas station directly across the street.  He didn’t bat an eye at the weight of the bus, simply directed his teenage son to get the rope out of the bed, and connected me up.  I started Kahuna in the hopes of that his forward pull would prevent me from stalling, and perhaps even allow me to get it out of gear.  It worked for the former but not the latter, and within a minute I was out of the traffic flow and parked in the side lot of the gas station.IMG_3863

I set up the generator and worked with the transmission as best I could, but it seemed clear that another tow was in the works.  I called Progressive, they took all the information and worked on finding a tow that could handle us while I researched and called around for a big truck mechanic shop willing to take us on.  I stumbled across W.W. Williams almost immediately, the official Allison shop in the area.  They agreed to have us come in, and fortunately also recommended a tow company which was able to pick us up within an hour, far faster than the five hour estimate that Progressive’s initial choice could promise.

Cat loose in the lobby of one of our mechanic's shops.

Cat loose in the lobby of one of our mechanic’s shops.

SO once again we found ourselves sitting in the back parking lot of a major truck repair shop, waiting to here the verdict, holding our breathes in the hope that it would be something minor, or at least something that this shop could fix.  They weren’t able to get to us on day one, but by the middle of our second day they had checked transmission levels and researched our tranny model, coming to the conclusion that the problem, whatever it might be, was beyond their knowledge.  It was a big frustrating to have the official Allison shop turn down repairs on our Allison transmission, but they didn’t charge us for the limited work they did, and let us stay in their lot for the two nights.  So once again we were on the hunt for a mechanic.

Our partially hidden stealth camping site just outside of General Diesel's property.

Our partially hidden stealth camping site just outside of General Diesel’s property.

After a few calls I stumbled across General Diesel, just a couple of miles down the road, and they promised a more aggressive attempt at getting us fixed.  During our overnight stay at W.W. Williams, the pressure had drained off of the transmission control and I was able to start the bus and idle it in turbine.  With General Diesel only a couple of miles away, I was able to drive there in low gear, keeping our speed below 25 on the mostly back roads.

Kitty not happy when a tow truck put a broken school bus right beside us for the night.

Kitty not happy when a tow truck put a broken school bus right beside us for the night.

And there began a five day odyssey of tests and research, with the young mechanic, Robbie, giving it his best, and me finding him technical assistance from recommendations I received on the Bus Nut forum.   Dropping the pan he found what he thought to be significant clutch material.  Flushing all that out, he ran pressure tests in accordance with the process Brandon from The Ghost Bus blog recommended.  We looked at upgrading the transmission entirely to the next model, and received significant multiple phone tech assists from Gary out at Pioneer Transmission Services in Illinois.FullSizeRender

My hope of getting the bus fixed enough to nurse back to Florida where we could deal with the problems under less pressure faded.  It became clear that the transmission was going to have to be removed and shipped to an expert; Gary agreed to take it on.   This would be the second rebuild within a few months.  Hopefully we can get it done right this time, document the damage, and perhaps even get some of the money back from the place that did it this fall, though I am not holding my breath on that last account.

The Big Kahuna made it to all of these states, but just couldn't quite get us back around to Florida to end the year.

The Big Kahuna made it to all of these states, but just couldn’t quite get us back around to Florida to end the year.

So we will fix the bus, but looking at the bigger picture, this is it for us.  We can’t keep full time RVing in The Big Kahuna.   We kept telling ourselves that things would get better as we repaired system after system, and that we were still finding the gremlins from the years that the bus sat up uncared for.  But the truth is that our breakdowns are actually getting closer together, and we lack the expertise to properly get this old bus up to reliable running condition.   Even this state of affairs might be workable if it wasn’t so had to find anyone to work on all but the most basic problems.

Over the last couple of months we had resolved to just get the bus back to South Florida, and during the winter we would reassess our plans.  Now that reassessment has been pushed forward, and we have decided two things:

  1. Once repaired, The Big Kahuna goes up for sale.
  2. We are NOT done full time RVing, we just need something more reliable but still affordable.

So we spent a portion of our time in the General Diesel’s parking lot using their guest wifi to research our options, and then we took action.  The results next post.