Back at Lake Livingston Texas and a Day Trip to Nearby Huntsville.

We tried another route south out of Missouri to Livingston Texas which is located about 70 miles north of Houston. Last year we traveled south out of Branson Missouri down US 65 Highway. This year we gave US 69 a try through Oklahoma. I’ve got another route in mind but could use some advice regarding the best highways if anyone is familiar with the route. US 69 was a terrible highway for the most part. Other than over a toll road called the Indian Nations TPKE of Oklahoma which was scenic and relatively smooth.

Route from Missouri through Oklahoma to Livingston Texas down US69/259/59. One of the reasons we take US Highways is to avoid chances of low bridges although I have a trucker’s atlas that lists them all for most highways, as does my trip planning software.

We will be leaving Livingston Texas on 11/19/20 for a 13 day journey to Gulf Shores Alabama with stops in Alexandrea LA, Natchez MS for Thanksgiving and Hattiesburg MS. We are considering a trip to Florida after February 2nd.

Along the earlier trip south from Missouri we stayed at Belle Starr Corp. of Engineer Park in Stigler Oklahoma to take advantage of our 50% off camping rate using the America the Beautiful Pass. Awesome park with extra large full hookup pull throughs. The weather was rainy and caused us to extend the stay for a night to avoid heavier winds/rain. We spent all our time inside because of the weather. Our fifth wheel/truck does great in wind but I don’t like packing up in cold storms.

Belle Starr COE Site W26. Some shade without having branches overhead hitting the rig. Easy in but there were side roads within the park to avoid which had low branches. $11 a night on full hookups in a pull through spot using our America the Beautiful Pass.
Neat morning view across the lake at Belle Starr COE as the water was way warmer than the air.

We paid a little extra and stayed for three nights along the trip at Barefoot Bay RV Marina and Resort located in Pittsburg Texas. Nice park along the side of a lake. Notable was the booking process was confusing. This was the first time we had to pay for the spot plus a $100 refundable security deposit. I had not been told to check out at the office before we left in order to get the security deposit refund. No worries, I called them after the fact and all was taken care off. No need to get upset when parks have rules that are unusual. That’s part of fulltime RVing. I’ve got a decent system for keeping notes using Google Calendar. It might appear to be a lot of work to keep detailed notes, as well as all the trip planning, but it’s not. You come up with a system and use it over and over and over until it becomes second nature. I also use Google Calendar to keep track of our future locations. Sure feels good to know we are booked into spots through February 2nd.

This is an image of my Google Calendar app through the month of November. If I click on a date I can bring up my notes which include everything important to me about a campsite/reservation.

Below are the photos from Barefoot Bay Marina and Resort as well as some RV tips. I’ve got family who want the travel photos for sure – check them out so you don’t miss anything that might be important:)

Site 17 – away from all the “seasonal” campers. I’ll not say what spot the guy was from but his nightly routine was that of a drug dealer. I avoided the urge to follow him one night to make sure 🙂 Although that would have been fun to do. This park is okay to stay at, I just have a hipper awareness and genetic disposition to detect potential creeps.
First RV campground dog park ever for us that was located along a lake view. Wyatt loved it now that he is old enough and has his shots to be around dog parks. Picking up after your dog is a must do rule. Some had not in this dog run. Parvo is transmitted by direct contact with infected animal feces and can survive for months on a surface. A side note would be along the drive on this trip we took a break at a Love’s Truck Stop that had a dog park. Never knew those were out there.
First time seeing an actual towable tiny house in a spot. It’s hard to see, but that white dog skeleton Halloween decoration got Wyatt as it had a motion sensor that caused it to bark.
Wyatt was confused with the Halloween dog decoration barked at him when he tripped the motion sensor.
Compared BBQ tastes with the excellent cook across the street. I bought two bottles of Joe’s BBQ sauce before we left Kansas City!
Park decorated their short nature trail with spooky Halloween decorations.
Yup, we have a full size ironing board that is stored for travel behind our love seats. RVing is not just all about the travel. Life goes on and there is no way Karen will wear wrinkled clothes or allow me to. Those apartment size ironing boards, which we tried, are junk. Often campsite laundry rooms have a board but Karen enjoys ironing back home while watching TV and having a place to hang laundry. PS – there is a towel over our rug at the front door. When it’s rainy we put the towel down. Just another simple tip that you might already be aware of. Our camper still smells new when we walk through the door after a day outside. Yup, even with the new dog who has done outstanding with house training, presumably because he is with us 24/7. We will soon start to work up to leaving him alone inside. We hang our jackets over the dining room chairs unless wet then they go in the shower. No need for a coat closet if that’s on your must-haves when looking at RV’s to purchase.
Among other decorations in our camper is this card which Karen keeps in the kitchen window. Says a lot about the lifestyle.

And finally we arrive in Livingston Texas, home of our domicile. Lake Livingston State Park is our favorite in the area. We have also stayed at the Escapees Headquarters park with reason in the past. Lots of full-timers at Escapees to bounce ideas off. This state park is wonderful even compared against others we have stayed at. $16 a night on full hookups, on a concrete pad, with paved roads. The workcampers in the area have asked more than once if we were interested in a job. Karen and I would be leaning more towards a camp host job in Missouri near family, especially as the Texas summer heat will kill a person. We have another year or more of travel before any decision along that line. Our projected monthly budget is over our income by about $250 to $500 a month but we saved up $$$ to make up the difference for a years travel before we took off. With the virus thing going on, we have not been traveling like we planned so have not been using savings.

Before I forget to mention. While in Livingston Texas we handled our routine stuff like me having a doctors visit and getting the tags renewed on the truck and RV. Doctor says my overall cholesterol level has dropped 50 points in a year. No meds for me for now. Just keep doing what I’m doing. I had no idea reduced stress and anxiety lowers cholesterol. I still eat whatever but can say retirement from the job is helping with the stress. Doctor also advised to take vitamin D3 to help my immune system and Zinc which is good in case you get the virus thing. I went to the store after the doctor visit to find them sold out of Zinc. Karen had a bottle and said people have been buying stores out.

Also replaced the front tires on the truck with a commercial grade tire after a factory tire threw a belt, which Ram truck Nexen tires are known for. You can get about 20-25,000 miles out of the stock Nexen front tires on a dually pulling a heavy trailer. Maybe 40,000 on the back tires which is what the stock tires are warranted to achieve on a heavy duty truck. I’ll change the rear tires next year. Found Larry at Cook Tire and Service Center in Livingston Texas to be a valuable resource. Larry says changing shocks on the front of the truck would allow for longer wear on the tires. I decided to spend a couple hundred extra on better tires, especially as commercial truck tires are way less likely to blow out due to sidewall strength.

Site 3 at Lake Livingston Texas State Park. Easy driver’s side back-in with no overhead obstructions off a wide roadway. We pushed the trailer to the back of concrete pad to allow more room to park the truck and added an extra length of sewer hose to reach the hookup. Our 34’11” trailer and truck prefer 55′ spots but 50′ will work if I park the truck sideways. With no trees near the pad at the rear of the site, we can extend the back of the trailer over the grass for several feet. Did you know you can measure lengths in Google Earth? Lots of room between spots in the woods. There are excellent trails to walk or ride to include a one mile boardwalk. This is a huge lake. Have not seen a gator yet, even when our dog Wyatt goes swimming each day.
Still learning new stuff to cook with cast iron. This time it was spaghetti sauce. This is one serious fire pit. Adjustable cooking surface and a concrete base. Hmm… wonder if having good fire pits is a sure sign of a better managed park? So many have crappy fire pits.

Took a trip to nearby Huntsville Texas to spend the day with Sam Houston. There is lots to do in this town which might warrant a three day stay in the area. We decided to tour locations with outdoor amenities to stay safe from the virus and give Wyatt a place to walk.

Sam Houston was the first President of the Texas Republic and General of it’s army. His statue is 77′ tall and within view of Interstate 45.
The visitors center near the Sam Houston statue has a walking trail, a place for a picnic, gift shop and small museum. Might have RV parking if you take up extra spots on slow days. Easy to get to off a minor highway.
We found Sam’s grave. Huntsville is easy to get around in. The graveyard was huge with places for Wyatt to run. We enjoyed the many markers placed around the park telling about the people of the area who are buried here.
Found a village in the center of town full of old buildings. This one is known at the Steamboat House where Sam died. There is a museum on site and everything was free to see.
Weird – maybe – this is the mock up of Sam Houston’s waiting place after death inside the Steamboat House as seen through the glass viewing area outside.
A garden still in full bloom in November. Got to love Texas weather which in these parts might average 20 degrees warmer than what we were used to in Kansas City.
Sam’s office as a lawyer.
The Sam Houston Memorial Park has buildings scattered around it. Located across the Street from the Sam Houston State College. The huge complex has no entrance fee!

I know these posts can be long but I rarely post more than two a month. I’ve got one more idea to pass along. You will or have figured out a lot of this as Rver’s. If not I hope these tips help.

It’s quick to take a photo of the computer screen with a cell phone when researching park maps. To be referred to upon arrival for directions. For those with smaller rigs you have an advantage when navigating roads. Here are a couple recent examples.

Computer photo on my phone for our spot at Lake Livingston. No need to worry about if a map was available at check-in. Many park entrances are not maned because of the virus thing.
Our spot in Belle Starr COE. Notice the arrow from the entrance.
Barefoot Bay RV and Marina in Pittsburg Texas. I called them to find out where to park upon arrival to check-in as I could not see it on Google Earth nor listed on their website. Marked my map, saved to phone, before taking off on the trip.
It’s a crude drawing I know. A map of sites to visit in Huntsville Texas for our day touring Sam Houston locations. Took only a few minutes to draw it. We drove to town one direction and left in another after stopping at sites in a logical order.

Thanks for reading.

Mark

“The great misfortune is that a notion obtains with those in power that the world, or the people, require more governing than is necessary. To govern well is a great science, but no country is ever improved by too much governing… men think when they are elevated to position, that it requires an effort to discharge their duties, and they leave common sense out of the question.” – Sam Houston.

Had Our Rig Professionally Weighed

Merry Christmas to all.  We miss our family but had a great day despite it. Had a meal with eight strangers at the park event and met some new friends. The park organized the event. We donated $4 each for the meat and drinks. Everyone at your assigned table brings two dishes and we sat around like a family at the table.

I am keeping detailed notes regarding establishing our domicile while here in Texas. I planned to include other non-domicile topics that we just happened to have completed during the same timeframes. It became apparent with the amount of data that I should report about our rig being weighed in a separate blog post.

We paid the $55 and had a Weight Master here at the Escapees RV Club weigh the rig. I wrote in the title we had it “professionally weighed” because this is no drive on the truck scale and get a printout. The Weight Master goes over the results in detail and can provide recommendations as needed. The lady who handled the scales teaches at the Escapees Bootcamp. Among other discussions I asked about people having their rigs weighed and complaining about tire blowouts.  She says almost always those people have overweight RVs and do little to maintain proper tire inflation.

I tried but could not get a PDF file to work correctly within this post.  The file has a feature that allows you to hold the pointer or click on a highlighted area on the downloaded form, notes would then appear regarding each highlighted area. Please email me at mseneker@hotmail.com and I’ll send you the PDF with the ability to view the notes.  Otherwise, below is a link to our weight form.

Vilano 320GK and Ram 3800 Dually Weights

If you are towing or buying a fifth wheel in the 16,000 pound class, which are common for full-timers, then our weights will really help.

Because I could not get the darn PDF form to work correctly and to save you asking me to email it; I’ll include two areas of my notes from the form that are most important:

Regarding Combined Gross Weight Ratings for the Truck:

Before I knew more, this weight limit was what I used to pick a truck. I knew I wanted something capable of hauling 19,000 pounds or less. Because a couple of the heavier trailers we liked had max trailer weights that were 18,000 and 19,000 pounds.

The gross combination weight rating (GCWR) is a specific maximum weight limit determined by the truck manufacturer. The GCWR takes into account two individual (yet attached) vehicles — the tow vehicle and the trailer. Doing the math, our truck is maxed out with a 19,800-pound fifth wheel trailer. (33,800 gross combined weight limit less the max truck weight of 14,000 GVWR).

This was a tricky number for me as the weight charts for our truck clearly indicate it has a max trailer weight rating of 25,020 pounds. I assume this is based on the truck not being at its max weight load to start with.

Our actual truck weighs 9,500 with occupants – and the dog, full fuel but no trailer hitched. Therefore, if the gross combined rating is 33,800 less the actual truck weight of 9,500 you would think I could tow around a 25,020-pound trailer. Apparently I can tow the 25,020 as long as I don’t have the truck packed with cargo.

Our truck has a 3.73 axle ratio. Change that to a 4.10 axle ratio and the gross combined weight limit goes up to 39,100 pounds.

As I found out talking to the Weight Master the truck can only handle the weight limitation of any one component such as on an axle, tires and more.

Regarding the Rear Axle Rating for a Truck:

The rear axle on our dually truck is rated at 9,720 pounds. That’s the max weight of cargo the rear axle can handle. The rear axle, on the same truck without dual rear wheels is rated at 7,000 pounds. I downloaded the charts way before I went truck shopping. And I don’t mean the charts that merely provide the “towing capacity” as those are close to worthless. Get the charts that show the axle weight ratings at the very least. And here is why:

THIS IS IMPORTANT

With the trailer attached the weight on our trucks rear axle is 7,450 pounds. This includes the stuff we are hauling in the bed of the truck, the hitch/pin weight of the trailer, loaded the passengers, fuel and whatever is shifted to the rear axle.

At 7450 pounds on the rear axle the weight exceeds the rating of the same truck that does not have dual rear tires by 450 pounds. Our hitch alone weights 220 pounds. I suspect if I took everything out of the bed of the truck, other than the hitch, I’d be closer to 7200 pounds. THE REAR AXLE RATING may set the actual limit of what you can tow.

Our trailer is rated for a gross weight of 16,000 pounds. We are 800 pounds under weight with a full tank of water and loaded for full time RV living. The rear axle weight on our truck would go up if we add more weight to the trailer.

If you want to guess at what would be the pin weight of a fifth wheel RV you can take the gross max weight of the trailer x 20%.  The Weigh Master  suggests using 25%. Either way, also add in a little for whatever you think you will have in the bed of the truck.

END OF MOST IMPORTANT – Know your truck’s rear axle rating.

I can see why not having a dually, long bed, diesel truck would be a benefit when you drive it every day. I really can.. Any long bed truck is harder to park and turn especially if you add two extra outside tires. If I only used the trailer while on vacation, there is no way I’d want a dually. But then again, I would not have bought the trailer we have if that was the case. Or if I flat out would not tolerate driving a dually then I’d buy a lighter trailer regardless, maybe something under 14,000 gross weight capacity or less.

The best advice I received before buying a truck was to get one setup to tow. Because towing is when you need to be the safest you can get.

I figured as we are fulltime RVers then our chances of having a crash or weight related issue would be more likely than if we used the trailer for vacations, if for no other reason than we are towing a lot of miles in one year compared to someone who uses their RV for vacation. And these dually trucks are very stable in high wind. If a tire goes flat in the back I’ve got three left to handle the weight while I drift to a stop.

The decision is yours to make.

I don’t have the charts for Chevy and Ford truck capacities. I had them when shopping for a truck however. All three brands build great trucks with almost identical warranties.

If you are towing anything near a 16,000 pound fifth wheel with a single rear wheel truck please watch what you put in the truck bed as you may be very close or just above the max weight the truck can handle per the manufacturer.

It was good to know that at this point we have 2,780 pounds of cargo in our trailer if you include a full fresh water tank with a weight of about 660 pounds. With no water we are at about 2,120 pounds of cargo.  Glad I set a minimum cargo capacity of 3,000 pounds  when we were shopping for our trailer. Deciding on your budget for a new RV rig and the minimum cargo capacity sure helps lower the number of RV’s to consider. Of course some required a lot less stuff when they travel.  And others travel with an overloaded RV.

When the tires of the trailer are weighed individually we are more than 1,000 pounds under weight per tire.  These Westlake G rated tires are rated at 4,400 pounds when the Goodyear G’s are rated for less weight. That’s a big reason you are seeing Westlakes on new trailers. Some call them China bombs but they are actually a South Korean Company.  So are car companies Kia and Hyundai. So are the tires on all new Ram heavy duty trucks (Nexen).

Now to get Karen used to driving this truck. She drove our last truck but it was not this huge and the long truck bed is harder to turn around corners or in parking lots. Use of mirrors is important. She should have the freedom to drive wherever she wants.

Truck Bed Cover and Locks

A concern we all share is how to protect our property while traveling or parked. I had no idea spending time in the crime prevention unit would come in handy years later as we prepare for our future in an RV.

Its been awhile since I looked up the statistics. Nationally maybe 26% of property crimes are solved and maybe half of those solved theft crimes result in recovering any of the stolen property. The Sheriff’s Office I work for had been in the upper 40% success rate which is rare. I feel for the victims who might not experience justice  when the criminal is captured and does not pay you back for what they have stolen or escapes punishment.

Perhaps the best approach to property crimes is protecting yourself and not becoming a victim, or at least lowering the chances of becoming one. Two topics come to mind those being target hardening and natural surveillance.  Not to get wordy in this post but I feel the need to lay some foundation, much of which very well could be self-evident.

Target hardening is using such measures as locks, alarm systems, and planting rose bushes below windows to make it difficult for property to be stolen or increase the time the criminal is at the scene, improving the chance of detection.  Natural surveillance is designing a building, city park or whatever to increase surrounding neighbors and visitors view of the area. Or perhaps adding lighting as long as the light does not trespass through the neighbor’s windows. Folks who live in downtown spaces and residential neighborhoods become more territorial and are more likely to notify authorities when someone is up to no good. I suspect in a mobile lifestyle people might pay less attention as they are not vested by “living” in the neighborhood.

I’d think both target hardening and natural surveillance would  be more difficult to deploy when your home is mobile. And surely a few of you have figured out some interesting ways to accomplish this. In my relatively limited RV travel experience I generally have the opinion folks that are camping are good people. And certainly there is a chance of making friends when parked for a longer period.

I’m approaching target hardening, or adding locks, to cover times when we are traveling and when parked. Right or wrong I added a truck bed cover. But still have to secure items in the bed of the truck when traveling which leaves the bed cover open where someone could quickly lift property at a highway rest area.

During my research for a truck bed I narrowed the field of what is available to a soft cover that rolls up, a hard cover that folds over and a hard cover that retracts into a cannister. I kept in mind the mounting rails for the cover could impact with a fifth wheel pin box on sharp 90% turns such as backing in.  Generally speaking, others told me rails and covers that do not extend above the truck bed sides better avoid the chances of the hitch impacting the truck cover rails. But, in some cases you might need a slightly raised bed cover to allow room for your fifth wheel hitch.

The least cost approach is the soft cover that rolls up to the back of the truck. Two popular models are the Truxedo and Access. Depending on construction materials, folding covers and retracting covers can be comparably pricy. Our truck is a long bed so folding covers would be less likely to get in the way of the hitch when open. Popular brands include Bakflip with it’s four folding sections. It’s high dollar and certainly there are less costly brands.  Arguably the best retractable cover would be the Retrax.

My list of wants included a cover where the rails of the cover were relatively level with the sides of the truck, provided some measure of security that would make it more difficult to cut through, handy to open or close and did not require a separate key to unlock.  Keeping items dry under the cover or being able to close the cover half-way were secondary in my list of wants. Some covers are designed with rail locking systems that allow you to open them just enough to attached the fifth wheel hitch, leaving the remaining portion of the truck bed covered presumably to protect the contents from weather.

I was torn between a hard surfaced folding cover and a cannister model which is expensive. That decision became much easier when I suddenly found a manufacturer I was interest in had a 20% off sale.

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Pace Edwards shipped their Switchblade cover to our home in two boxes. Alone, I installed it in about two hours. This cover does not lock half way back, leaving it fully open or closed when traveling. The cover top is not metal but made of a durable vinyl. I’ll use 303 protectant on the vinyl. The underside of the cover consists of aluminum slats. The cover retracts into a box which this manufacturer designed the box to take up the least bed space as possible. The locking mechanism requires you to open the tailgate and squeeze two small handles to open it. Our truck bed is locking and the key fob can be used to unlock it. No extra keys to haul around was important to me.

Yes, it leaks a little with heavy rain but is rated for a reasonable snow load. I suppose had I not opened it with standing water on top, there would have been less water leaking through the cannister where the cover retracts. The center of the truck bed and hitch, even in a heavy rain, were dry.  I should also mention our B&W hitch is at least two inches below the cover when closed.

So we have some level of security for our stuff in the truck bed but I wondered about security with the truck cover open and the fifth wheel RV is hitched up. I’d not want someone lifting something out at a truck stop or campground.  Locks and cables/chains might be the answer. You see, Karen and I decided to go with the shortest fifth wheel we would feel comfortable living in. Our 34’11” trailer has less main basement space than a 40′ model. We are making up for that by anticipating using truck bed space, the trailer has 8′ tall slides and hence taller cabinets and we bought a portable generator rather than a built-in model to free up front basement space.  Our RV as configured is rated for 3,600 pounds of cargo so it’s possible we might be able to make use of it’s storage without going over the weight limit. The frame of the RV is also engineered to handle optional heavier axles for increased cargo capacity.

Criminals will do what is easiest. In the crime prevention profession, we call property left in view, like a purse in a passenger seat or generator sitting freely in the bed of a truck – an attractive nuisance. Criminals will go after the neighbor’s property if it’s unsecured rather than yours if the target is hard to get at. And any security measure is only as good as the weakest link in the system. I’ll also add sometimes expensive security measures, when it comes to personal property, could be more expensive than the property you are protecting. Safes, for example, are rated by how long it takes a professional to break into them. The theory is if it takes someone a long time to break-in then the chances of them giving up or being detected increase.

So now I need a solution for padlocks, chains or cables. Or any ideas how to secure the fifth wheel from being stolen, items taken from the truck when the cover is open and maybe attractive items exposed at the campsite.

The solution I’m considering is as follows:

Purchase enough padlocks that are keyed alike to secure our 5×10 storage locker we are keeping, the arm of the fifth wheel hitch so someone cannot unhook the trailer at a rest stop, a lock for a chain or cable threaded through the hitch, generator, toolboxes or whatever is in the bed or the truck, maybe a bike rack and maybe a cable at the campsite.  I add “maybe” because I’m not sure yet or in some cases I might wait and see what others are doing.

I’m thinking of starting off with five or six padlocks keyed alike because I don’t like carrying keys or figuring out which one opens which lock. I’ll buy one spare lock as well. I’ve got zero ideas for which cables or chains to use.

In over 30 years of law enforcement I can’t recall but twice where an RV was stolen but I’m still getting a king pin lock that will make use of one of my keyed alike padlocks. The lock type I’ve found crooks pass up the most are ones with protective shrouds making them harder to cut. Although someone with above average skills can pick many of the common padlocks in a few minutes.  And, not to be giving crooks any ideas, we are also finding them using battery operated cutting tools more often than in the past.

King Pin Lock

King Pin Lock – Thank You Rick for the suggestion!

Master is the most popular padlock brand and affordable when you need five or six of them. I’ve been researching the German made brand Abus for something a little more sturdy with better internal parts which are harder to pick and smoother to open with a key as well as having long-term durability.

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Again, keep in mind the security methods we select are only as good as the least secure point, such as the cable or chain. And when boondocking in the middle of the desert I’d suspect all beats are off other than having good neighbors or an internet linked trail camera that send images to your phone such as ones offered by Verizon. Those trail cameras really work. I’m hunting down three people on a case right now because of them…

Mark your valuable with something that makes them different such as the last four digits of your social security number. At work when I find items that might be stolen I always call the phone number that some write on the item. Calling a phone number is something a cop can easily do and crooks are too lazy to wipe off the numbers. Write down serial numbers on the owner’s manual or whatever. That way the cops can input stolen items into databases which can be tracked nationally. You would be surprised, and I’m not going to reveal, some of the technology law enforcement have today to find your stolen stuff. But then again who wants to drive thousands of miles back to attend court!  Best secure our stuff and hope the crooks go to an easier target down the road. In my opinion, take the N.R.A and any stickers off your truck or RV that suggests you have a gun aboard. Crooks appreciate the advertising as there is a big market for stolen guns.

Bought a Hitch

We now look closer to real RV owners when riding around in our truck, having just bought and installed our fifth wheel hitch. I got amazingly lucky one day last week. I wondered if by chance there was a B&W Companion hitch on Craiglist.  Found a brand new one that had already been installed on the same year and model Ram truck we own. The lady selling it used to transport RVs professionally but gave it up after a major accident in the snow. The insurance company replaced her truck and equipment. Thankfully she was not injured.  She never used her new replacement hitch and gave me a heck of a good deal.  Karen and I met her in a Walmart parking lot and moved the hitch from her truck to ours in 10 minutes.

It’s easy to start a major debate on what hitch to buy. I’ll just say my final two selections were the Curt and B&W. And I’ll explain why I went with the B&W simply as it’s beefier, with a 25,000 pound fifth wheel weight capacity and more than a 6,000 pound pin weight capacity.  Compare the locking jaws on hitches and you will see what I mean by beefier.

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You will notice in the above photo how the legs of the hitch attach to the truck bed. That’s the RAM puck system that is part of the fifth wheel prep option. Ford and Chevy have something similar. This allows you to remove the hitch by breaking it down into two parts by turning the handles to lift it out of the truck. The base of the hitch weighs 135 pounds so that’s a two person job. The coupler or head is 75 pounds. Of course you would remove the hitch in case you ever wanted to lay something flat in the truck or hauling large objects.  I’ll repeat this for those that are truck shopping.  Make sure you get the factory fifth wheel prep option with the puck system. The cost of installing a hitch is large without it. 

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I was happy to learn the top of the hitch is below the bed rails of my truck. Although I had studied photos before and expected that. Because – in my garage is a truck bed cover that I’ll report about after it’s installed. This hitch is very adjustable up and down by a few inches and front to back over the rear truck axle.

It also has an articulating head that twists and turns with the trailer. Something very important to note when you go hitch shopping is to make sure the hitch works with whatever king pin you have on your trailer. Some king pins also articulate and can work against the hitch head with opposing forces. Maybe easier described as if the king pin moves one way and the hitch head moves another it could place unnecessary pressure and wear on both. I learned that by joining the Facebook users group for our particular trailer. I talked to friends who own this hitch and claim it’s easier to hitch and unhitch when the trailer is at slight angles.  It does not bind up as easy, if that make sense.

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I should also mention the professional RV delivery person I bought this hitch from has a word of advise. She says there are parts of the country where if you leave your rig unattended a trucker might just pull the arm and release the hitch from your trailer when parked. I circled the area in red above. She says replace the pin that holds the arm closed with a locking pin. She said the issue is more common in… well I’ll say it, the west and east coast.  She says in some areas of our country there are professional drivers that don’t appreciate sharing the road and parking spots with us RV people.

Update: 3/31/19 – It took a long time to figure out where I needed to apply lubrication for this hitch.  I bought a 10″ king pin Teflon disc rather than having to keep adding grease between the pin and hitch.  You also will need spray white lithium grease for the black plastic “saddles” where the hitch head sits on the lower stand.  And finally you will need some automotive lithium chassis grease, with a grease gun. There is a grease zerk under the hitch head. And use some of the same chassis grease inside the jaws.   I decided to go with anything NLGI #2 certified.  The Lucas red tacky is what I bought because I can use in on the truck as well.

Planning Update – Our Final Year

The clock is ticking down quickly. We expect to be off on our future in an RV by October and spending vacation time on the road before then.  So what are we up to regarding planning this close to take off?

Regarding the Truck: I replaced the front floor mats with the Husky X-Act Contour rubber mats. I also considered the Weather Tech brand but went with the Husky’s which are more rubbery and pliable for removal to clean. The feel of these mats are nice against our shoes. I am seriously considering adding a truck bed cover and plan to report back on that is a future post. Within reason, getting the truck ready to travel is important. I know we can finish it up later on the road and once we learn how we are using the bed space.  I’ve also selected the B&W as our hitch. Might buy that and install it in a couple months.

Regarding the RV: We decided to order a new Vanleigh Vilano 320GK. We both have been members of their unofficial Facebook Group where others have provided advise.  Karen and I agreed to a list of options and I contacted three dealership via email. So far we have pricing from two and are waiting for a third bid. I’ve corresponded with the local Factory Representative and the National Representative who have been incredible to work with. Build time right now is 10 to 12 weeks for delivery. We are looking forward to trips while on vacation and getting to know the trailer. More on this in an upcoming post as well.

Regarding Domicile:  This is a big one and right now we are down to Florida and Texas, having considered what other’s said are important factors such as available healthcare, taxes, vehicle licensing and insurance. I had planned to setup a mail service a couple months before we take off in order to start mail forwarding.  Having contacted a longtime RVer it was suggested before we settle on a state to contact an insurance agent for healthcare. We had wondered if we could get away with visiting family beginning in October and then heading to our domicile state in December to finish up the transition. He suggested transitioning from our current healthcare provider to a new one might effect the timing of the domicile move.

Regarding Tools:  I’ve been seriously looking into what tools I want to pack for the road. I suppose much of the decision has to do with how much I want to work on the camper and truck compared to hiring it out.  More on this topic later in a blog post for sure.

Regarding Cooking on the Road:  Over the past few months I really have enjoyed cooking on our Weber Q 1200. Keeping odors and sometimes heat outside the trailer is a good idea. Plus, I enjoy cooking outside especially as it gives Karen and break.  I had been wondering how to expand the food types we can cook on a common grill. After getting with a friend I purchased a set of BBQ mats. I’ve cooked bacon, eggs and all types of vegetables on these mats which are designed to sit on top of the grill grates, blocking food from falling through. The Weber and these mats have my vote of confidence for sure. Karen also found a roasting pan that sits on the grates used roast a whole chicken or ribs.

Grill Mat

Eggs – Make sure the grill is level 🙂

Roasting pan I used to cook a whole chicken

5.5 pound chicken came out perfect!

Regarding Budget:  I had updated our financial plan the last time in March of 2018, having adjusted it annually for several years.  Now that we are close to leaving, having made the truck purchase, getting bids on the RV, selling major assets and more the budget is more realistic. I’m happy to report we are within budget so far. I’m glad there have been no major surprises so far.  I’ve always been big on keeping track of the numbers in case we have to adjust something. For example when we built our current home if we were over budget in one area then we cut another. That way you don’t wait to the end when there is no chance of making up a deficit.

Regarding Preparing the House for Sale:  This has been hard because we are so busy. And we know that everything we have left to do can actually be condensed into a month or so of great effort. I’m guessing the closer we come to wanting to leave the harder we will work on the house. But, one piece at a time we are making progress. Boxes from work are full of stuff going into a future garage sale, a 5×10 storage unit, our future fifth wheel and family. We finished cleaning out our basement storage area and are now using it for box sorting.  Several rooms in the house have boxes sitting out for trash, burning and more. I’m happy with the progress but have to say, downsizing is always on my mind and is a major source of stress that’s hard to avoid.

Bought a Truck

I bought our new truck a few weeks ago. It is a slightly used 2018 Ram 3500 with the high-output Cummins diesel with Aisin transmission. I decided on the 3.73 gears vs. 3.42 or 4.10 but would have been willing to settle on the 4.10 gears.  This truck came with the optional auto leveling system so it will be interesting to see how that works. It has all our must-haves and nearly all our other wish list items.

The color is a dark metallic grey which is hard to see if in the wrong light. Not that color was all that important.  I had found three trucks within a reasonable driving distance and sure was happy when a truck an hour away came out on top during negotiations.  I really found it easy to do business online with emails and photos at all three locations.  I decided to trade in a family car. All things considered, we came out at 23.1% under original MSRP on the deal. Ended up getting it from a high-end horse trailer dealership that also builds custom interiors of big trucks. The prior owner decided he wanted a larger horse trailer and truck.

I’ve got three items to have the local dealership fix under warranty which include trim items and two of the tire pressure sensors are not working.  Other than that the truck is in perfect shape.

I decided not to wait for the new 2019 version that will not make it to the dealerships for maybe another couple months. Our budget would not have allowed for a new Laramie trim package which we bought as a used truck.  And personally I think Ram is going to raise the price considerably on the 2019 heavy duty trucks if their release of the new 2019 1500s are an indication.

Above is a screen clip from the Ram truck website. The 2018 1500’s are priced $4,500 MSRP lower than the 2019’s. That’s why I’m guessing the new heavy duty 2500 and 3500 will have a substantial increase as well.

If you are waiting for the 2019 Ram heavy duty pricing and options you will have to wait until the end of the month 2/19. I’ve read dealerships have the details but are not to talk about it until then.

Final Fifth Wheel Selection: Part 2

Earlier in the month I announced that we had finally made our decision on a future fifth wheel; the Vanleigh Vilano 320GK.  This is the second post regarding the features in this trailer that helped push it to the top of the list. I’ll add a few not-so good things about the unit in a future post.

For those just wanting to skip all this reading, I located a 2018 Vilano Value Guide which is published by the manufacturer. It does a fair job of breaking down why they think you should compare their brand against others.

2018-Vilano-Value-Guide

I found it notable in the Guide they listed the direct dial phone numbers and emails for top management. I’ve consistently read in their unofficial Facebook Owners Group where it’s not uncommon to call specific people at the factory for questions. I said it last post that an apparent excellent service record after the sale is a leading reason this brand scored high for me. For us future-full-timers it is most important to have good factory support rather than counting on dealership support as we will be away from a local dealer. Over on Facebook I had posted about the buying process. A reader contacted me within the hour and asked that I call him. Seems liked an organized fellow, who recommended I contact three dealers for pricing and let each know you are doing it. He ended up driving from Knoxville Tennessee and bought from the Kansas RV Center. I have downloaded their 2018 price sheet and now have a very firm grasp on options to include those options not published. Karen and I will use this information to specify what we want each dealer to bid on. For me, it was important to note Vanleigh started using the Franklin brand of furniture in May of 2018 (that’s huge). So I suspect if we were to consider a trailer already on the lot it would have to include that furniture. We could consider adding missing options later at the factory or dealership.

2018 Vilano Price Sheet

I know I have at least one reader considering a future upgrade to the Vanleigh Beacon which is a step up from the Vilano with standard features such as 8,000 pound axles, H rated tires and more. Here is the price sheet for the 2019 model:

2019 Vanleigh Beacon Price Sheet

If you are wanting full body paint you will have to go with the Beacon. When I emailed management about unpublished options and other questions it became apparent one could outfit a Vilano to the point a Beacon should be considered as the price went up.  Here is a copy of the email response I received:

2019 Vanleigh Unpublished Options and Questions

I’ll dive into a few of the most important features we considered during my next blog post. I hope looking through these links will give you some ideas for your list of must have options and features regardless of what brand or price point trailer you are considering.

I should add we are wanting to purchase our trailer and have it at home in April or May to give you an idea of where we are in the buying process. And I’m after a truck no later than February. I’ve got three specific truck models/builds I’m interesting in and have been watching out for slightly used ones which I’m prepared to buy today. Any of four different colors will work for us so that broadens the search. I’ve contacted my first dealership up in Nebraska. I’ve not figured out a truck buying/negotiation strategy yet other than I’m willing to compromise on a one year old truck and bid at least two dealerships if we end up ordering one. Seems like most of the larger dually truck inventory are in what could be considered more rural states. I Googled “map of Ram truck dealerships Nebraska” for example. That produced a map where I could drag my curser around and see how many reviews were posted on the dealership. That led to finding a volume dealership or what I presumed must be a more popular dealership in the area. The dealership I found has 94 Ram 3500 trucks on their lot today.  Good selection within easy driving range of my home.

Google map search for Ram truck dealerships in Nebraska

Good to see Vanleigh is growing in dealerships. I suspect they have better than average access because of the relationship to the Tiffin family. I’m also hoping their pockets are deep enough that they will be around for a long time.

Vanleigh Dealership Map as of 11/15/18 per Website

Ram Truck Options

Eventually I’ll have a chance to test drive the Ram. Maybe this fall I’ll let you know if we go with the Ford or Ram and which truck trim package. For now, I’d like to discuss the build options available in the Ram. I’ve already written about in the Ford. I’ll not be writing about the Chevy/GMC.

It’s important to pass along from what I’m reading, the next generation Ram 2500 and 3500 trucks will be coming out in 2020.  The next generation 1500 trucks are out in 2019 and there are plenty of photos to find on the internet. As of today, I’ve not found any confirmed photos of the next 2500/3500 generation trucks. And of course, Ford came out with their next generation truck in 2017.

2019 on the left and 2018 on the right. Wonder if the New 2500/3500 design will copy the 1500 series truck?

I intentional skipped a few options the Ram had in common with the Ford which were covered in my Ford options blog post last month.

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Test Drive – 2018 Ford F350 Lariat

As luck would have it, a friend (Jeff) bought a 2018 Ford F350 Lariat diesel dually a few months ago.   Jeff had been wanting to drop it off at our house for the weekend to give me a chance to play with it – what a nice guy!  The only thing better than owning a truck like this is having one you can borrow.  So today I drove over to Jeff’s home as his wife Ester had a few questions about Microsoft Windows 10. After a couple hours of computer training I asked for the keys to his truck and off I went.

Santa Fe Trail Map
Bonus that Jeff lives next to Fort Osage (Lewis and Clark thing) down scenic roads that were once part of the Santa Fe Trail just 35 miles from our home. Nice place to test drive his truck I’d have to say.

I have owned two F150 4×4 trucks with the 5.7 gas engine and drove an older F250 diesel all of about three miles in the past.  That’s the extent of my pickup truck experience. I had been worried this monster F350 long bed truck would be intimidating. Well, in about five minutes I discovered it drives just about like every other truck I’ve driven.  It was not overwhelming at all.  I had been worried the power of the truck would cause it to lurch from a stop as I pressed on the accelerator pedal which was not the case. Yes, the back of the truck was distant. The monitor for the backup camera was large and crisp to view. I felt 100% comfortable backing the monster truck.

The seats were more comfortable than I had remembered sitting in at the auto show. They would not be a problem for long drives.  The steering wheel, seats and pedals were highly adjustable leading me to believe Karen would have no problem driving this truck as well. I really don’t want to sentence myself to driving her around everywhere for years on end, so adjustability of the driver’s position is important.

Like so many others, I watch all the YouTube video I can find to include test drives. I’ve never counted on the audio portion of the videos to reflect what the actual sound levels are in the truck. I can tell you this Ford truck was quiet as a passenger car inside.  The diesel engine outside was remarkably quiet to me as well. Really was impressed with that.

Yup, the ride was bumpier than our luxury car, my work SUV and such. But, it was not unbearable nor constant. What I did notice was this Ford’s turn radius – sucked.  Turning the wheel to enter his driveway at a 90-degree angle was not as bad as the old days with no power steering. But as I turned I felt the need to crank the wheel hard during the turn, thinking for a moment I was glad to have turned wide to avoid a light pole at the corner of the drive. Jeff said the Ram truck he drove has a tighter turn radius and his 2016 F250 turns on a dime. He came by my office a week ago. A road crew was working on a corner, thereby temporarily narrowing the lane for vehicles to pass. He told me he went around the block rather than trying to make a tight turn into a narrow space. I’d not eliminate the Ford just because of this. I had  never driven an F350/3500 class truck so don’t place much weight on my opinion regarding truck turning abilities.

A few people have posted in various truck forums one reason they eliminated this all new in 2017 Ford truck from their list is all the plastic in the interior. Well – I say BS.  Yes, it has a few hard surfaces, but the rest is soft in all the right places.  I must disagree with their opinion. At least in the Lariat trim package which, judging by the number of Ford trucks for sale online, is the most popular of all trims.

Jeff’s truck has all the electronic options he could get to include a way fancy trailer towing camera setup.  I did not have much of a chance to play with most of it. I did notice when the backup camera came on, a small truck picture showed up in the frame as if I could see if I was going to hit anything at any corner. I was most wanting to see the blind spot warning system.  Way cool. The sensors are on the outside of the rear tail lights. This is one feature I understand the 2020 Ram 3500 may add. The blind spot warning includes sensing other vehicle next to you – 35’ down the side of a trailer. I told Jeff a reader commented his blind spot sensor did not work with his trailer. Jeff tows a wide body toy hauler trailer and said the blind spot warning works perfect with his trailer. This must be an advantage when one is entering the highway on a ramp or needed to switch lanes quickly. As I began to back out of his driveway a vehicle passed behind the truck. Well in advance of the other car passing, the system set off a warning. I could see that being nice when backing out of a parking spot at the grocery store.

I forgot to ask Jeff what gear ratio he got with the truck. No need anyway. Unlike the Ram and Chevy trucks The Ford F350 dually has less of a chance of someone selecting the wrong transmission and gear ratio for a heavier fifth wheel. This turbo diesel has one automatic transmission to select from and conventional fifth wheel tow capacity is 27,500 pounds with a 4.10 gear and 27,300 with a 3.55 gear.

I have to say, I like the idea this is the second year for the all new Ford. Better chance of finding a used one in the next generation configuration. By the way, in my opinion Chevy’s television commercials where they throw a tool box in the back of Ford’s aluminum bed is BS.  Look closely; the metal tool box they are throwing is an antique. I’m sure they had to buy a heavy metal tool box at a garage sale. And anyone that does that to their truck deserves a hole in their truck bed. I’ll bet the factory bed liner helps a bit as well – and excluded from the Chevy commercials. And if you are worried the engine will outlast the body, I’d have to think aluminum will hold up better in the long-term because it does not rust. I’ve wrote it before that if any one manufacturer thinks they are the best then why are the warranties the same for important features like the engine and transmission?

I played with the fully electric tow mirrors on the truck. Ford is said to have the best mirrors. Jeff says the Ram truck mirrors reach out further. I sure like the idea of hitting a button inside the Ford to extend or fold the mirrors in. The view down the side of the truck was exceptional.

Sitting on the floor of his garage was a B&W Companion fifth wheel hitch. What a monster piece of engineering. The thing looked tuff with its huge jaws. Jeff says you can hitch up and unhitch easily even when the trailer is not level in a spot as if the fifth wheel pin was binding up at the hitch. Not a problem with B&W. He also looked at the Curt for all of 10 seconds. He said it just did not seem to be as well built as the B&W. Then again these hitches are rated for certain weights and I’m sure both hitches would be fine, as would many others for the weights we are looking at.  Jeff offered me a chance to lift the two hitch parts, those being the head and base. The head of the hitch has handles and was easy to lift. The base was heavier. I could lift it myself, but two persons would be better. Jeff said no worries moving the hitch from the truck with the F350 because it has old man stairs mounted inside the truck tailgate. Those stairs are another exceptional feature exclusive to the Fords.

These are the features I was most interested in testing out. Online videos do a better job of describing the finer details. I came away with feeling if anyone has driven a pickup truck for any length of time, the F350 diesel dually will not be intimidating to operate. I could not find any single reason not to buy this truck. Lee over on the Campers Chronicles blog may have the best approach for evaluating the details. I recall him writing once that it’s easier to look for the suckier parts.  For me, maybe feeling like the truck would not make real sharp turns or the brakes did not feel as responsive as a passenger car could be called the suckier parts in my humble and somewhat inexperienced opinion.

Here in a few weeks I’m going to call a buddy with a Ram dually. Better than test driving one at a dealership and being pestered to buy it. Oh, forgot to add I hit it lucky. Jeff’s son tows a fifth wheel trailer for a job.  Can’t believe I might be getting some towing lessons from someone I’ve known since he was four feet tall!

Here are a few internet links of interest:

Super Ike Gautlent by Fast Lane Truck for 2018.  Ram barely won over the Ford. They wanted to get as close to maxed out tow ratings as possible. The Chevy cannot pull these weights, so they were left out of the test.

Roads Less Traveled blog is the best for the Ram and general discussion of selecting a truck.

B&W Hitch has a neat page on their website to figure out what the tow ratings are for individual trucks. Of course, you can also surf the web to find the manufacturers charts. Or go to RV Tow Check if you really want to play with the numbers.

All this is most important to me because we are buying the truck before the trailer and I’d hate to make any mistakes. And that includes getting the right options such as fifth wheel prep on the truck which includes the puck systems that are pre-installed for hitches. These systems are a series of holes in the truck bed in which the hitch is mounted, making it easier to remove the hitch when you need to haul stuff flat in the truck bed. I’d be scared to buy the truck before the trailer other than we already know the top five trailers we are selecting from and their weights. Also, a one-ton dually diesel will pull anything in our top 16 trailer choices with plenty of room for moving to a heavier trailer later if configured appropriately. And has the cargo capacity for the pin weights were are considering. One best be nervous if you are looking at buying a single rear wheel truck before the trailer decision because of pin weight.

Ford F350 Truck Options

We all know (and sometimes dread) those emails or blog posts that are laced with questions, some of which warrant a reply or comment. The hard part is reading the entire post while remembering what you might want to write as a reply without taking notes. Well, this is one of those posts.  I’ll apologize up front.  If you’re inclined to comment, feel free to just go after anything that’s way out of line or invokes a strong opinion. I should also add I’ll not be commenting about the F450 truck.

I can’t recall it ever being such a challenge to buy the right vehicle. Perhaps knowing the truck purchase would be a “final” decision in terms of what we live with long-term, caused the decision to take on a new meaning. And of course, adding on the need to tow a huge fifth wheel safely, eventually over thousands of miles in all kinds of weather has a little bit to do with overthinking the purchase. After years of owning two vehicles, we are moving to just one to share as a tow vehicle and daily driver.

I had planned a couple times to post in detail about selecting a gear ratio but decided not to bore you with it. I parked those notes over on this truck page and included a few brief comments below. If you know what a “gear ratio” is then some of what follows in this post might be elementary. For me, it’s been a learning curve for sure.

I’ve had quit the dialog via email with several readers that have been very helpful. Thank you!

As you may recall, I’ve already decided to look at 2017/2018 Ford F350 and Ram 3500 trucks. If I had an unlimited budget, selecting options would be easier. For this post I’ll cover the Ford truck options I’m considering. Should we decide on the Ford, I’ll let our budget dictate if we buy the very popular Lariat model or less popular XLT. If we can’t find a truck equipped with most of what we want, we may have to order it new. With the options I’d want, there is about a $6,000 difference between the XLT (cloth seats) and Lariat (leather seats) trim packages.

2017 Ford Trucks

Before getting into the list of options to consider, here are a few Ford questions for the benefit of us soon to be new – first time diesel truck owners.

  1. Heavy Service Front Suspension Package? Yes or no when pulling trailers under 19,000 pounds? I understand the option is for heavy-service front springs that will degrade ride quality. I’ve read a few forum posts but still don’t understand when one might want this option. Seems like this option is geared towards snow plows and truck campers or when you expect to tow a trailer that is near the capacity the truck is rated to pull.
  2. Individual Trailer TPMS/Trailer Camera Prep Kit? At $750/$1375 this option adds tire pressure monitoring for your trailer tires. This option forces you to also add a high mounted camera option (if not already equipped) that has a view of the truck bed that could be handy for hitching up the fifth wheel. It also upgrades the screen display size on the center of the dash to Sync 3 (if not already equipped). I’m thinking it might be nice to limit the number of gadgets one has attached to the truck dashboard or wherever. This includes a standalone system for monitoring trailer tire pressure which is 100% something one needs to monitor. But, some of the aftermarket devises also monitor tire temperature so you know a problem is coming as the tires heat up. I jumped on Amazon to price out a system for the 10 tires a dually truck and double axle fifth wheel would need and generally found they start at $405 with temperature monitoring. Another confusing option. Just a quick reminder. Get metal valve stems that are more durable!
  3. Skid plates for fuel tank and transfer case protection? It’s only $100 but do you really need it if you are not figuring on any heavy off-road travel?
  4. Engine ideal shut down? Okay, what the heck is this all about. The option comes in three values ranging from five to 20 minutes. Is it okay to idle diesel engines for long periods? Does this option just turn the truck off in case you forget? And if so, when would you want it shut down in 5 minutes, 10, 15 or 20 minutes?
  5. Operator command regeneration? I added this question because it’s yet another diesel engine thingy for those of us who never owned a diesel can find confusing. I understand regeneration burns off soot in the particulate filter. I read this is button you can push if a warning light comes on. It also has a feature to prevent regeneration if you’re sitting on grass and you don’t want to burn your truck. The Ford website says contact the dealership for details. Okay.. I’ve read it’s a bad thing to allow the soot to build up. The filters are expensive and the truck limps along if there is a problem. Thank goodness for owner’s manuals, I for one am going to need to read it!

 

warning sign     (Warning opinions ahead)

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