Our Final Trailer Decision – Part Three

Back in November 2018 I started to break down the reasons Karen and I have selected the 35’ Vanleigh Vilano 320GK as our next home. That was followed up with a briefer post concerning resources you could go to and find out more specific information from the manufacturer. I’ll continue with a few details in this article for those interested.  This might be worth reading as it could provide a few ideas when selecting your own fifth wheel. This is part three of what is becoming a four part series.

I’ll continue with the specifics from where I left off in November, having already covered available options, customer service and the appliances Vanleigh installs. This posting will cover furniture, electrical, trim and insulation. Part four will include foundation, plumbing, mechanical systems, cargo capacity and additional comments about the exterior and interior.

Furniture:  This is a category we test in every fifth wheel Karen and I considered. You quickly learn there are brands like Thomas Payne (by Lippert) and then the others. Over the years I paid particular attention to brands used by some of the more upscale trailers as well. Regarding the bed mattress; we are leaning towards a queen size to allow more walking room around the sides.  In most new trailers it’s common for dealerships to ask that you not lay on them.  Well, we snuck in a few tests anyway. Personally, I prefer one with inner springs but mostly you find some form of foam used. Vanleigh uses a cool gel memory foam and without living with it for a while I can’t give an honest opinion of its comfort. As this fifth wheel is a wide-body it comes with a full-size 80” sofa while still retaining enough room for small shelves at each end. In this short of a trailer you should also consider the width of the theater seating which in this case, and all 2019 Vilanos regardless of trailer length, is 60”. In the mid- 2019 models they started using Franklin furniture which is custom built for Vanleigh. I first noticed this brand as a luxury when finding it in the 2016 DRV Mobile Suites.  As a side note many manufacturers including Vanleigh are installing theater seating with power recliners. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to operate the seats when not connected to shore power or a generator. A good way to see if you are looking at the most updated 2019 model is to look for the power seat button which was moved from the back inner portion of the seat arm to the front where it is more convenient. Small details like this really help when shopping for the most current version of a floor plan. 

Electrical: There is a lot to cover here but I’ll try and be brief. If you are looking to limit the number of things that could go wrong in an RV, then the Vanleigh Vilano might or might not be the brand for you. Tiffin took their 40 years of motorhome construction experience and transferred some of that knowledge to their fifth wheel. Their Spyder Multiplex wiring system is one of those systems. You will not find many old-style switches for lighting in the Vilano. Panels are well positioned around the RV on touch pads.  This includes the main control panel.  The lights are dimmable inside which is huge to me.  And there is a vendor working on a Bluetooth wireless interface for your phone. Just like Keystone’s inCommand system, you can control the awnings and more from the interface. This system is standard in the Vilano. Motion sensing lights are used in key areas. If it’s important, the living room television is 50” but is not on an arm to view from the kitchen as far as I can find; presumably because the TV also sits on legs for stability when traveling. The Vilano “solar prep” is a joke where you can only add a portable panel plugged into the front of the trailer. Compared to a Keystone Montana who includes wire runs to the roof. Lighting on the celling is recessed for a cleaner look. The trailer is setup with two batteries and an electric cord reel for that heavy 50-amp cord is standard. Personally, I would rather have a manual winding reel. What’s different here is the cord reel is tucked out of the way with the guts concealed behind the wet bay. As far as I know Vanleigh has not added any preparation for WIFI or cellular connectivity which Keystone is now doing. Here is a big one; Vanleigh uses external water and sewer tank level monitors rather than the ones that are installed inside tanks which corrode or cover with toilet paper. Owners on their Facebook page seem to be satisfied with the tank monitors. Of course, as with others in this price point, they are using LED lighting. But go a step further by including LEDs on the outside of the trailer. I have no idea what brand of power converter they are using and can only hope it has multi-stage charging which is more efficient. Nor do I know what brand of inverter they use in the case of the residential refrigerator option other than it is pure sine wave. Twelve-volt tank heaters are standard. I appreciate how they hang the ceiling fan down from the ceiling attached to a large box for better air flow. Like the appliances the stereo and TVs are Furrion brand. They brag about wrapping electrical runs in plastic wire looms to reduce the chance of wires rubbing against framing. USB ports are everywhere but I could never find a 12-volt cigarette lighter style plug which would be beneficial for a portable inverter and more. I’ll probably add an inverter connected to an outlet or two (and the electric recliners) after the fact. And finally I appreciate the whole house vacuums hose feeding from and to an enclosed area in a wall rather than having to store the hose in a closet or otherwise.

Electrical runs in plastic wire looms

Trim Work and Cabinets: If folks buy what they can see, then they will buy this trailer. It’s beautiful with diesel motorhome level trim work and cabinets. This feature, as well as others, might be a reason the cargo capacity is not so great in most of the Vilano floorplans without the 8,000-pound axle option. Although that’s not an issue in the shorter 320GK as I will report about in part four of this “book”. The solid wood cabinets are tall, extending to the ceiling line. This includes within the 8’ slide heights. Karen liked the drawer and cabinet hardware in the 2018 models but not so much in the 2019s as they are knobs rather than handles. She is going to need a stool with two steps to reach the top shelf. With the 320GK being a relatively shorter trailer, the extra cabinet space could come in handy given the basement storage area is smaller than what you get in a 40’ trailer. The drawers are not soft closing, like the Cedar Creek, however I believe they are a tad better constructed than the Cedar Creek, Montana and Bighorn. There are two stain options and several finish gloss selections where the factory will apply whatever glossiness you want. They use off brand shades, meaning something other than the preferred MCD brand. There is no worry of light coming around the shades as the valences are solid wood which extend well around the corners of the shades. I also like the fact there is no carpet, to include the bedroom other than under the theater and dining seating. Another feature in the Vilano is a soft touch vinyl ceiling. I truly believe, and they advertise, the soft touch ceiling is good for noise reduction. The hardwood wainscoting on the bedroom sidewall is a nice residential touch. It seems minor but I really wanted a trailer with cabinets over the theater seating which is included in this floor plan. I think it will be convenient. The reason this is sometimes not found in other trailers is first, other trailers don’t have 8’ ceilings in the slides like the Vilano. And second, the extra cabinets cut out a good portion of what would be a large window on the entrance door side of the trailer. Fortunately this 35′ floor plan does come with a pantry in the kitchen!

Photo from our first tour of the Vilano in January of 2016 – this is not the 320GK which was first built in 2018

2019.5 Vanleigh Vilano 320GK – 35′ Rear Livingroom

Insulation: The fully enclosed underbelly is a common feature. Perhaps not so common is the heating duct to the basement area has a return air for circulation. R45 ceilings and floors with an R11 sidewall that’s slightly better than average. The ceiling has a thermal wrap. There is no venting of the attic space like in the Montana which is used to vent off condensation. Better rolled insulation is used to cover the attic space rather than cutting and filling gaps with foam insulation.

Please let me know if you have any questions in the comment section. I’ll be back later with the final chapter regarding the features of our trailer decision which we thought were important.  Then maybe I’ll have time to announce we bought a truck this past week. It’s a slightly used 2018 Ram 3500!

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Truck Shopping Update

I had been wanting to finish up a post regarding why we deciding on a Vanleigh Vilano fifth wheel. And I’ll get back to that soon. However, for a change of pace I’ve been truck shopping and wanted to provide a few updates regarding this.

As you may recall I finally decided on a Ram 3500, having compared all three worthy brands.  I spent more time studying up on the Ram and Ford options compared to Chevy/GMC.  With a gross vehicle weight rating of 16,000 pounds, our future fifth wheel is a bit larger than what I’d feel comfortable towing full time without a diesel engine and dual rear wheels. If one estimates the front pin weight of a fifth wheel to be 20% of the total gross vehicle weight rating then I’d take an educated guess that our pin weight would be around 3,200 pounds at maximum. Add to that a 150 pound hitch, passengers, fuel, maybe a truck bed liner or tool box, or maybe a future external fuel tank and the weight adds up quickly.

When you start shopping around for a truck I highly suggest you consider the cargo capacity you will need. This will quickly limit the truck configurations you have to consider.  In my case, I am shooting for 20% more truck capacity than what I need which probably puts me at a 5,300 pound cargo capacity. This would be a worthy truck in case we ever decided to purchase a heavier trailer someday.

Here are my wants and must haves out of a Ram truck:

Must have truck options
·        Adjusting peddles (Karen is shorter than me. Be warned this is even an option in the Laramie trim level so don’t assume it’s standard)
·        Electronic folding mirrors (a must for parking in tight spots, drive-throughs)
·        Fifth wheel prep (with puck system in bed.)
·        Rear and front parking sensors
·        Rear camera
·        Aisin transmission with at least 3.73 gear ratio (a mountain climbing and descending beast)
·        Deiseal engine – Cummins high-output – Requires Aisin transmission option)
·        Four door crew cab long bed
·        Dual zone heating and cooling front passenger area
·        Dual  rear wheels
·        Electronic 4×4 – in my opinion required in a dually for resale purposes and traction even on wet grass.
·        Tow haul mode and exhaust braking (yes, like some other wants/musts, this generally comes with all newer trucks)
·        At least upgraded cloth seats
·        If a 2019 then get the LED headlights
·        Keyless entry
·        Drivers side electric adjusting seat
·        19,200 towing capacity which is 20% more than 16,000 pound fifth wheel
·        Cargo capacity (ask dealer to read door sticker – figure 5300 pounds min. which includes 20% safety margin)
·        Protection group with skid plates
·        Cold weather group
·        Steering wheel mounted audio controls to include phone
·        Side step running board. (Can be added later for maybe $800 per a dealer)
·        Locking rear deferential also called an anti-spin differential to lock rear tires together for traction
·        Rear wheel house liners  (protects underside of truck)
·        Theft system

Would be nice options
·        Front cooled and heated seats (probably the reason we are looking at the Laramie trim level)
·        Rear window defrost
·        Rubber floor mats – good ones that can be added later
·        Blind spot warning (only available in 2019)
·        Bed liner (can be added later)
·        Upgraded audio
·        Tire monitoring to include camper
·        8.4” U-Connect consul display (navigation optional)
·        CD player
·        Rear seat folding flat floor system (The 2019 1500 Rams have a flat floor but I’ve not heard, nor suspect, the 2019 3500 will)
·        Truck bed lighting – at least a single light above
·        Leather seats
·        Front bucket seats
·        Tailgate assist to make it easier to open and close.
·        Upgraded dash instrumentation
·        Push button start
·        Remote controlled start
·        Front driver and passenger electric adjusting seat
·        Heavy duty higher capacity single alternator
·        Front and rear mud flaps
·        Auto level rear suspension – only Ram has this as a factory option

And finally – any color but a black exterior. Yes I have color preferences but I’m not letting that stop me from a good deal.

I have been reading everything I can about the new Ram 2019, due to be announced on Monday in Detroit. I’ll spare you the details of what I have learned so far. If you are interested in discussing the 2019 just let me know in the comments section. My best guess is maybe a $3,000 increase in pricing compared to the 2018. Our budget would maybe allow for a new 2019 in the Bighorn trim level.

At this point I’m sticking with my theory the best option for us is a one year old truck and hence that is where my focus has been. Here is a blog post concerning why a one year old truck. The reason is best described as one can save around 22% off MSRP and perhaps get a few options outside the budget it bought new.

So far I have three trucks saved in my favorites that meet my criteria. I suspect with the 2019 models just around the corner there may be more to select from in a slightly used model. However – there remains a slight chance I’ll go for a new 2019. Much will depend on if the new pricing is within budget and if they are available when we are ready to purchase. I’d really like to order the fifth wheel or find it on the lot to be picked it up around May.

One last thought that has been a tremendous help while shopping for a truck with special attention to what options the truck has on it.  Researchmaniacs.com has an awesome tool where you can enter a VIN and get a copy of the original window sticker!

Update: Within hours of posting this, I found a new article at a 2019 Ram Heavy Duty truck forum I’d been watching. Go here for the article link. What’s most interesting is the sales predictions for each truck trim level and engine. This article will give you a good idea what most people are buying, hence what most may be looking for when you eventually sell. In the 3500 Ram the Laramie is the most popular. And 95% of these trucks are 4×4. There are some decent photos of the new truck as well.

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

Who is John Galt?

I’m taking a brief intermission away from discussing what features Karen and I used for our final RV selection. In order to put out a short message for folks who are on the fence regarding if they should make a major change in their lives. This will involve some homework. And is proof I’m able to write short posts.

I’ll give a couple hints for those interesting in pursuing this.  Above is the whiteboard in my office. On the left is the number 487.  That’s the total hours I’m required to spend on the job next year (61 days for those doing the math). Notably, a personal goal that most likely is not something others would be interested in.

More hints of what this post is about are found above.  John is a character in a book.

So if you are interesting in philosophical debates or conversations.  Do the homework (Google) and find out who John Galt is and we can discuss it in the comments.

I’m looking forward to sometime visiting Ouray Colorado. Also sometimes known as Galt’s Gulch.

Safe travels.

Fifth Wheel Features: Why We Selected the Vanleigh Vilano

The RV evaluation system I followed was to rate how an RV compared to what features were most important. As always, Karen’s and my ideas of what we want out of our new home may be different than yours.  For the sake of thoroughness I feel the need to throw in a little of the reasoning I’ve followed in the past which may have already been stated in earlier blog posts. This will be a series of posts. Feel free to pass these up if you are not into RV shopping.

In short, the system I use takes into account the score I give each trailer based off what is important to us. And then the suggested retail price, or as close as I can get to it, is considered. In many cases I was able to locate a factory order sheet with pricing. Obviously, a trailer that is relatively expensive might contain more attractive goodies. But the price blows it out of contention, or in better words, each of those points earned are expensive.  The final step in the evaluation became dividing the points a trailer earned by the retail price which equals what I called a value score. Hopefully this resulted in a final list of trailers with our most desired features at the least retail price.  Here are our final four:

Ranked #1 – The 2019 Vanleigh Vilano 320GK.
Tied for #2 – The 2019 Keystone Montana with Legacy Package 3120RL
Tied for #2 – The 2019 Keystone Montana without the Legacy Package 3120RL
Ranked #3 – The 2019 Forest River Cedar Creek Hathaway 34IK
Ranked #4 – The 2019 Grand Design Solitude 310GK

320GK – Photo from Vanleigh Website

What all four trailers have in common is all are nearly the same 35′ rear living room plan. But, if you peel back the skin there are differences to consider.

There were 15 categories I used to evaluate trailers. Not to repeat previous posts, but I believe its important to note each category was assigned a weighted average (points) based on what is most important to us. For example, insulation is a 5 and the exterior is a 3 in importance to us.  I have a written criteria, some of which is subjective, whereby a trailer can receive 1 to 5 points based of it’s features in that category. For example, if a trailer rates  a 3 in the insulation category then its total points in that category is 20 (5×3). Or if it rates a 4 in the exterior category then its total point in that category is 12 (3×4). Hope that makes since.

And so it begins. I’ll now summarize what the Vanleigh Vilano offers within the 15 categories. Sorry, I don’t plan to compare it against our other top trailers in extreme detail, other than to maybe drive home major differences. Bear with me for all of this. Many questions someone might have could be answered once I get through all the categories.

Options:

  • A couple years ago when I thought about which company offered the most factory options to me it was clearly DRV or custom builders like New Horizons. All of which are outside our budget if bought new and therefore taken off our list. DRV was known for modifying cabinetry at the factory based on what the customer wants and New Horizons builds them from the ground up to your specifications within any given floor plan. Karen and I have consistently been drawn to the newer versions of trailers. I can defend that position but will spare you the extra reading…
  • Some companies have options available that are not published.  In its price point, Vanleigh exceeds everyone I know of in this category. Back in 2016 and again this year I contacted a factory sale representative for the unpublished options.
  • An option that is close to a deal-breaker if not available is a second outside awning over the living room windows. I’ve been convinced by others the second awning shades the trailer windows and thereby helps with air conditioning. One thing that counted against other trailers for us was having a slide under any awning which is common in floor plans like the front living room. The 320GK (GK stands for grand kitchen) can have the second awning. Another deal breaker for us was if a trailer did not have an RV gas/electric fridge option.  More on that later in the appliance category.
  • I’ll warn everyone if you start adding all the options available in the 16,000 pound gross weight class 320GK you might as well buy the next price point up which is the Vanleigh Beacon. Or if you start optioning out a Cedar Creek Hathaway you might as well consider going to the Cedar Creek Champaign edition.
  • But having options is a good thing. When selected in moderation they can make the difference.
  • Here are the unpublished options for the Vilano. You can get 8000 pound axles, disc brakes, H rated tires, Goodyear tires, slide toppers, aluminum awning covers, CPAP stand, induction stove top. That’s a heck of a list when you consider what the Vilano comes with as a standard and the published options.
  • Here’s a big one. I continue to read when people go back to the factory for repairs they are able to have cabinet changes such as adding shelving. You can also get installation of any option the trailer did not have if you happened to buy it off a dealership’s lot.
  • They also offer four different trim finishes in varying degrees of gloss finish.
  • I’m seriously thinking if we order a trailer to skip the generator ready option because I want extra space in that compartment by eliminating an inside box on the trailer. The National Sales Manager does not think skipping it will hurt resale.
  • I’ve joined or monitored owners group forums for many of the trailers we looked at. I constantly read where someone thinks, to include me, that a certain manufacturer should change one thing or another.  Well they can put the best of the best on their trailers but it’s been proven most people will not pay for it. I believe Vanleigh has done an extremely good job of balancing the price with what’s important in features. And frankly, I wonder if they are able to take advantage of material discounts through their relationship with Tiffin Motorhomes?

Service:  A top priority in our search.

  • I can tell you with absolutely little chance of being wrong that Vanleigh and Grand Design offer excellent service after sale in their price points. Just read the forums and join the Facebook groups and you will find I’m right. The Montana owners forum is second to none, with thousands of owners who will answer questions.
  • Here are a couple examples for the Vilano about customer service. I sent an email to their customer service email on a Sunday afternoon stating I had questions about their product. Three hours later the National Sales Manager emailed me back and said send all my questions to him, he will answer all of them. Once during Thanksgiving day a customer had an issue and sent in a customer service email. They received a phone call that day and by the next morning all the repairs were scheduled. I’m in awe when day after day I see someone post a problem on the Vilano Facebook owners group page about an issue. If it’s not answered and resolved by a fellow owner, it’s common to see factory support people chime into the conversation. They even publish direct dial phone numbers to important contacts at the factory.
  • As we are going to be full-timers I don’t put much weight on the dealership we end up buying from that we will also use the same dealer for repairs. I plan on keeping a list of first year repairs and taking the trailer back to the factory when in the area. I’ve read how it’s common that warranty repairs can be handled by mobile repair people as well. Factory repairs, according to every comment I’ve read are outstanding with zero exception.
  • For those that know motorhomes then you know Tiffin Motorhomes. I have to add a comment here that’s important. Bob Tiffin, during an interview says you have to build a quality unit at a fair price to stay in business. Leigh is his grandson and Van is his son. Hence the name Vanleigh. Both started the fifth wheel side of the family. They are still a family owned business. Not being managed by the restrictions that can come with a huge corporation is an advantage. Not that long ago Jayco would talk about that when they were family owned prior to their buyout by Thor. And I still don’t know what to think about a couple guys that started Keystone (way back in the 1990’s :)) and created the Montana, then left to start Grand Design, selling that off a few years later to Winnebago. The Tiffin family has been building RV since 1972 if that’s important.
  • All the service after the sales can fly out the window if a company does not stay in business (think Lifestyles RV who remade the fabulous Carriage RV brand when they went out of business.) Lifestyles lost their financial backing and closed down a short time later as well.   Bob Tiffin is a co-owner in Vanleigh.
  • I once got a look at a fifth wheel RV sales chart. It’s common knowledge the Montana is the number one brand for sales, with trailer #100,000 coming out of the factory last year. Montana is the undisputed champion for sales and for good reason. In 2016 the Vilano was listed as having sold 239 units. The top three were rounded out with Heartland’s top selling Bighorn, the Montana and Grand Design. Cedar Creek placed fourth if the chart is correct. At the time I looked at the chart Vanleigh had something around one brand, the Vilano, and two floor plans. Fast forward to their 2019 trailer offerings and they are now three brands with multiple floor plans. And still keeping up on their customer service!
  • Maybe in a small way I’m thinking Vanleigh being built in northern Mississippi (two hours east of Memphis Tennessee) is an advantage. Compared to like 80 percent of the other RVs being built in Elkhart Indiana. Perhaps they don’t have to compete for labor like everyone else? Because we all know the quality of these trailers can be only as good as those that build them. I’ve not been on a factory tour at Vanleigh but have read more than once the place is run like everyone is family with workers stopping on the line during a tour to answer questions. I’m hoping their surge in trailer orders in 2017 is caught up and the pace for building is reasonable.

I’ll squeeze in one more category of the 15 before I end this for now.

Appliances: 

  • This category was dear to me because I recently replaced all the appliances in my home and had looked at a lot of brands in doing so.
  • Call me crazy, but I downloaded every owners manual for every appliance used in the 2018/2019 Vilano. Read all of them and wrote down the specific model numbers.
  • People say all the trailer brands pretty much use the same appliances, furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters and much more.  When it comes to appliances, and to a degree electronics, that might not necessary be the case. Especially if you bother to look at the specific models within a brand.
  • At the time of this writing, the Vilano appliance and electronics are mostly one brand which is Furrion. The standard convection microwave does vent to the outside of the trailer and the model they used is more costly than the Maytag I just put in my house.
  • You got to love the two piece combo Furrion stove top and oven that came out last year and is used in about every competitors brand at this price point. It’s self igniting so there is no need to light the pilot.
  • I should add if you go with a residential fridge then they use Samsung. Nothing wrong with that brand for sure.  Their gas electric RV option is the four door Dometic brand. Personally I don’t know if it has any advantage over the Norcold four door. The one used in the Vilano has a built in ice maker. I’m not sure having a water line in a slide is necessary the best idea, but at least there is a water shut-off valve for the ice maker in the utility bay should there be a water leak or a need to winterize the ice maker. We are going with a gas electric because a residential fridge requires at least four batteries, extensive solar or longer generator hours when boondocking.

I want to end this for the night. But have to mention something about price point and the fact you are going to pay a little more for a Vilano when compared to a Montana Legacy Edition.  Right now there are three 2018 Vilano 320GKs prices at $59,000 on rvtrader.com without the second outside awning and with a residential fridge.  In rough numbers, I’ve seen the 2019 Montana – non Legacy version going for about $53,000 at a big discount dealership.  You would need to add about $6,000 more for the Legacy package. And I’m expecting the 2019 Vilano, decked out the way we want, to end up costing maybe $7,500 more than the Montana we would have bought.  So is the Vilano technically in the Montana price point?  Maybe not.  The Vilano might better be compared to something like the Jayco Pinnacle for price. I think when I’m done with this novel outlining why we are going with the Vilano 320GK you will see it’s worth the premium.  Bear with me because some of the final categories I’ll be writing about are among the most important reasons.

Hope I’m adding enough details that are not specific to the Vilano to make this interesting and give the reader something to think about. I’ve got some not so good and average points to make about the Vilano as well.  To be continued…

Downsizing Update: Boxes and Boxes

We are running out of things to throw out with the trash. For the past few years, and more so in the last year, we having been drifting through the house looking for items that can’t be sold, given away or taken on the road. Filling the large trash receptacle on as much of a weekly basis as possible. The successful garage sale last summer and selling off larger items since then has opened up spaces in the house.

Karen and I made the final decision that we will be renting a 5×10 storage unit which will most likely be in a climate controlled facility. Knowing we will have this available small space has made it easier to deal with the emotions of downsizing. To some extent we are not forced to part with things that are most important to us.  We might also place a few things in storage where we aren’t sure if they are needed on the road or not.

I’m really trying to avoid buying anything new to include storage totes. I’ve read plastic boxes may not be the best thing to use for long-term storage because of issues with condensation.  I’m assuming with a climate controlled storage area the condensation will not be bad.  I’ve been bringing cardboard boxes home from work that might be a better solution for items in storage we don’t plan to access, thereby saving the plastic boxes for the camper depending on their sizes.

Our homes storage spaces are nearly free of everything we have not touched for years. That’s making it possible for staging areas we use for sorting and storing  in anticipation of a large springtime sale. We have decided not to hire an estate sales company. I was not sure at first how to display larger items upstairs in our home during the sale. Our driveway is larger and I may just move larger items to the driveway for the sale. Especially as we would need to move things to the truck should something not sell. Karen and I have both been busy listing larger stuff on Craigslist and our local Facebook swap and shop page. We are lucky to live just outside the city so the customer base is larger than if we lived further outside of town.

We finally have at least one room in the house where we can move everything remaining into the center of the room for painting. So far, and subject to change, we are leaning towards just keeping a minimal amount of furniture and accessories to live with while the house is on the market? Although I suspect the realtor may want us to stage a few items? Karen would rather move into the fifth wheel once the house is on the market. I’d be open to giving that a try for a month and see how it works. Repairs and upgrades inside our house are hit and miss. I suspect there will be a mad rush to finish it up before the house goes on sale right after we replace our very old and stained carpeted areas.

We have setup a few boxes with labels for sorting. These include items going to family, keepsakes for storage and items to sell on Ebay. After our experience with the last garage sale I know there are smaller collectables and specialty items that would never bring a fraction of what they are worth. I suspect we will end up with one or two medium sized boxes of items that would be easy to ship as they are sold off. So we have decided to give Ebay a try once we are on the road?  Again, with a storage unit back home, we have an advantage of keeping a few sale items there. Personally, it will be fun to sell off a few things on Ebay, especially having more time on our hands by not have a nine to five job. So far, I’ve decided not to bother with trying to Ebay anything worth less than $50.

We have considered the total cost of a storage unit over a six year period and it’s worth it to us. I’ll have to figure that into our annual budget.

Because we decided on a 35′ fifth wheel, compared to a forty-footer, our basement storage area will be a little smaller. Opting to not have a larger on-board generator will free some space up in the front storage of the trailer. If we end up ordering a trailer I may not even spend the several hundred dollars for the generator prep option? Our trailer will have great inside storage and a better than average cargo capacity. But still, we already know space will be at a premium. We have started stacking things we are taking on the road within some of the freed-up space at home. We want to start off with that pile being as small as possible for sure.

Thank you to everyone for the comments and conversation on the last blog post concerning which camper we have selected. I’m working on a multi-part post to over-explain the reasons for that selection. I’m hoping it will be informative. If you want to bounce ideas off each other offline my email is mseneker@hotmail.com. Karen says it’s okay to email her as well at ksseneker@hotmail.com

How We Meetup with Fulltimers

Karen and I met up with our friends (for the third time) Kay and Russ from the Destination Unknown blog a couple weeks ago as they were traveling through the area on the way to Colorado. I was sorry to hear about the catastrophic frame failure on their last travel trailer. It was very informative to talk about how they replaced that trailer – during a trip! Karen and I both would drop what we are doing to meet the couple from New Hampshire as we consider them good friends. I could write an entire post of what we have learned from them about the fulltime RV lifestyle. Maybe someday they can be our tour guide while we follow them to a wonderful winter spot in Mexico. They participate in the Harvest Host program and have picked a scenic winery for boondocking while near Kansas City.

Russ found out there is 110 power on that pole for their usage!

Wonderful landscape – and no lawn mowing required.

Price for this view – nearly nothing with Harvest Host membership

And today Karen and I are driving to Topeka Kansas, the half-way point to meetup with Bill from the bkamericanodyssey blog. Kelly had to make a trip out of town. See ya on the road Kelly! They came to the area while Bill installs yet another solar system as he works with RV Solar Solutions.  Kelly – I’d planned to talk to you about a number of more advanced topics, such as using the Amazon Affiliates program. Hit you up about that later.

Meetup with Bill in Topeka Kansas right after this blog was posted.

It’s worth repeating that a good way to reduce the chance of failure is through planning.  “Piss poor planning leads to piss poor performance” to quote my Command Sgt. Major father. Be Prepared is the motto for us Eagle Scouts. And to a large degree this blog is about the planning process for becoming fulltime RV travelers. This blog started just as a place to park my notes. It’s become the gateway to developing wonderful relationships, from planning a meeting, sending long emails back and forth and more.

This post can only cover half the story. The other side will have to come from you fulltimers or others that might post in the comments section. The half story includes views from myself who is parked at our sticks and bricks home.  I could not come up with a do’s and don’ts list for meeting fulltimers – perhaps someone else can do that in their own blog. Top 10 lists seem to be a popular format. So I’ll just write about what comes to mind as I think through the topic.  I have a special message at the end of this post as well.

How We Generally Discover RV Travelers 

First the best source I’ve had for meeting fulltimers, and part-timers for that matter, is reading blogs. I’ve even poached a couple to meet from the blog comment sections. And some have contacted me first.

A majority of the blogs I’ve subscribed to are from those in the class of 2014. That was the year I began planning for what is happening next year when we go fulltime – yay. That class of 2014 had just finished up planning and had moved onto the road. Following their blogs from the near start has obvious advantages. I also bookmark several in my internet browser to go back to and read. And not to be stalking anyone, I’m a free to be member at RVillage where I have 21 friends as of today. I’m fairly selective about friends links but am always on the lookout for readers of this blog to be-friend as we have commons interests and are often at the same point in our planning.  Really like the mapping feature where with one click I can see where our friends are parked anywhere in the country. You can search the membership area for Mark and Karen to find us at RVillage.  I’m not much of a Facebook user, having an account for various reasons. That might have to change – or not.

How Our Initial Contact Usually Occurs

Generally there is an email link within other’s blogs or at RVillage. Sometimes it only takes responding to a readers comment in another’s blog. I’ve considered it an advantage that we live in Kansas City which is part of the country fulltimers usually “fly-over” as their perspective might be there are better places to see when in Missouri such as Branson and St. Louis. Offering to be a tour guide while in town is a way of giving back for their time and frankly is enjoyable. Generally the second time we have contact I try and give them my phone number and email. That way they can select the best method that works for them to contact me. Email, texting and phone calls come at various intervals. The majority will send emails until they are in town and then switch off to text messaging. Don’t get in a panic if they don’t respond the same day. Remember, the lifestyle is often about slowing down and enjoying the journey. 

Firm Commitments Are Usually Not Part of the Plan at First

You have heard it before, plans are made in jello. Things change, emergencies come up, sometime we get sick and sometimes we just change our minds and want the day to ourselves. In no way would I want to cause someone to go out of their way because of a sense of obligation. We have changed or cancelled plans as late as the day of our visit. I’m totally okay with that. See ya next time is a phrase we all should use.

Where to Meet and What to See

Be prepared to make a drive if it’s needed. Today, we are meeting Bill at a half-way point to cut the drive down for both. Some ask for suggestions in selecting an RV park. I keep a list of the local spots that I’ve researched for not only their benefit but for ours during expected longer stays when we come home. Sometimes they even have a better idea that makes my list. Most prefer a certain type of atmosphere such as a State Park. If they ask for a recommendation they usually have a list from their own research. Knowing the area for shopping, closeness to attractions, traffic patterns and maybe even ease of getting in with a large trailer is advise I can help with.  I feel I should be the one to offer flexibility in meeting times, after all I’m not the one dragging my house to a new area.

I’ve learned that 95% of the time they have their own ideas as to what they might like to tour, or a restaurant they want to check out. If I’m asked for suggestions I usually point them towards special places they can only see here such as a national museum, a Kansas City BBQ joint, or a special historical location.  Leave it up to them to ask. I generally offer to be the tour guide if it’s a place both Karen and I want to see, otherwise I’ll decline spending the day with them. We especially like to meet-up at their RV for a tour and in those cases try and always bring food with us. Personally I also prefer to buy lunch if we decide on a restaurant. And to drive – in our family car – if we decide to check out a site together. I know it can be awkward when you first begin setting up the meeting. I truly mean it when I let them know we are flexible and will leave the decision up to them. Lastly, sometimes these plans begin months ahead as folks are making their way across the country. There is no need for constant contact along the way. They let us know if their plans change.

The Day of the Meeting

Most of this is common sense.  We have a meeting spot and time, usually coordinated through texting. I’m big on letting someone know if we are going to be late by 15 minutes or more. Generally we have already decided if we are meeting at their RV and leaving for lunch or a tour. Sometimes we just sit around talking about RV stuff and then decide to go somewhere. If we are meeting in public, such as a local farmers market, I describe what we are wearing or our car. Sometimes we just meet under a sign or in front of a building. Once the meeting is coming to an end, some will be staying another day or two and touring the local attractions. I personally never offer to tag along. Once our new friends even came out to the house later that evening. Really enjoyed the extra time and sharing a homecooked meal. And every now and then I’ll come up with a special stop along the way or coming back from a restaurant when we drive. A spot they may have not been looking for such as a wonderful city scape or extraordinary water fountain or little known historic spot. I’ll first ask if they have time to run by there and by now hope they feel comfortable to say no.

After the Meeting

Friends for life – or at least the best you can be until we see ya next time. And for sure really adds special meaning when you read their blog, or see a post on social media or their name comes up in another forum. And for sure, a good point of contact when you are researching a topic. After all, those fulltimer and part-timers really are as close to an expert that you can find. Thank you all for the times we have had so far. 

And now for a special announcement!

Actually it’s one of those check back later for the full story thing. Karen and I have finally selected a fifth wheel trailer. It’s may not be what many are expecting. Our plans are to buy it early this coming spring. Four units made it to the top of our list. My sister had a wonderful idea. Let Karen pick it from the four from the research. Karen and I have been in every one of our top four models and the specific floor plan twice. I purposely waited these nearly four years to narrow the list to a few trailers. Why? Because floor plans and companies constantly change. For us, we are trying to buy our third trailer first. It’s expensive to change your mind later and trade these suckers in. The depreciation hit in the first five years can be terrible unless you buy a new trailer at an awesome price or find a decent used one.

I’m not ready to announce the specific fifth wheel because I’m planning a decent blog post on the reasons for the selection. Thank you again to my sister for the great idea to propose the four trailers to Karen that made the top four list. They were so close in scoring I could live with all four. Karen took all of about 5 seconds to point to the one she wants. Now I wish she would pick the truck.  Hmm, just thought of that one.

See ya next time! Thanks for reading, commenting and the emails.

Mark from Missouri