Taking Sparky to a Class Reunion, Day 3

Class Reunion, Day 3

In Day 1 I told you about our plans and preps for a class reunion. Day 2, we visited the Arch in St. Louis and Grant’s house. Friday was a day to relax. Debbi and I slept in and went to Waffle House for breakfast. It’s pretty much an unwritten rule that we have to stop there every time we travel. We went to a couple of dollar stores to pick up some things for Mom and then back to the trailer.


My stepfather hasn’t been in good health and doesn’t get out much so we volunteered to drive everyone around in Sparky. Mom lives off Highway 51 and Graceland is on that same highway. We drove down Highway 51 to go past Graceland and get some pictures. We turned around and picked up some coffee from Starbucks before heading home.

Who Goes to Memphis and Doesn’t Get Barbecue?

When I mentioned the trip to my boss before leaving he told me about a great BBQ place in an alley. It’s called Rendezvous and is pretty well known around Memphis. It’s downtown across from the Peabody Hotel. Mom wanted to get out so we three drove down there and parked. We were lucky to get a spot close by because the Memphis Redbirds were playing a home game.

We got to Rendezvous before they got really busy. I had the signature ribs and they were great. Mom got some chicken and Debbi got nachos and neither were all that impressed. We looked around after paying. The place has served ribs to George W. Bush, the Tokyo Prime Minister, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

We walked over to the Peabody to look around. The Peabody is famous for its ducks but they had already been put up for the evening. Lucky for us, they are in a transparent enclosure on the roof. We took the elevator up and checked them out. They have a miniature version of the Peabody in the enclosure. We looked around and talked to a family from Tennessee before heading back down.

A Little Dessert

We walked towards the car and took a turn down one street that was being worked on. It’s one of those pedestrian areas going up in a lot of cities. They had some nice murals on the walls, plenty of apartments for lease and several shops open. We got some ice cream and sat down to enjoy the breeze.

We drove home past Sun Records and relaxed the rest of the evening.


Taking Sparky to a Class Reunion, Day 2

Class Reunion, Day 2

In Day 1 I told y’all about my class reunion, our preparations for the trip and making it to St. Louis. We stayed at the Casino Queen’s RV park that first night.

Checking Out the Arch

When we talked to security the night before they told us the store would open at 8 and we could register then. We set the alarm for 7 so we would have time to get ready and make it there on time. But there was no need for that because the sun had us up at 6:30. We took the dog on a walk and made sure we were at the door at 8.

We talked with a guy that was checking in for the morning while we waited. He was troubleshooting electrical issues on his bus. We paid for our stay and called security for a ride to the metro link station. They arrived after a few minutes and dropped us off. We bought our tickets to the metro link and our ride showed up in less than 5 minutes. We only had to make it to the next stop.

We got off the metro link and walked down the stairs to the park. It’s a really nice park and let out to the wide walkway to the arch. There were a few ponds along the edge and a few people having picnics and enjoying the day.


Hurry Up and Wait

We made it through the security checkpoint and walked into the area. We already had our tickets for 9 a.m. and had a few minutes left. They said we would be taking the north trams up to the top but that line wasn’t open yet. We looked around the store and got our national parks pass book stamped. The line for the north tram was starting so we jumped in and waited. About 9:20 they started moving people that were supposed to go up at 8:50. We finally got in line and got into a tram with a family from Iowa, of all places.

I’ve been to the arch before but it was like 30 years ago. Nothing at the top has really changed. It was Debbi’s first time. We spent about 15 minutes looking out the window and taking some pictures before heading back down.

One More Stop on the Way Out of Town

It was getting warm when we left the arch and walked back to the tram. The A/C felt pretty good then. We packed up the RV, took Toby for another walk, and checked out. We got our directions together and drove to the Ulysses S. Grant Historical Site in town.

The site wasn’t too busy. We couldn’t take Toby in so Debbi walked him around while I went inside and got our book stamped and toured some of the exhibits. They have some exhibits in the main building and another old barn to the side. They also have Grant’s house but it’s only open for guided tours. We didn’t want to wait around for the next one so we took some pictures and left.


On the Road Again

We decided to get some lunch on the way out of town, close to the interstate. We filled up with gas again and stopped at Hardee’s. We ate outside under the umbrellas. It was a little breezy but not bad.

We had an easy drive down to Memphis. Traffic was, well, Memphis traffic. People drive like idiots down there. We weren’t allowed to park in the trailer court where Mom lives so we parked at the mini storage next door and Mom picked us up. We got into the air conditioning and relaxed the rest of the night with some pizza for supper.

Taking Sparky To a Class Reunion, Day 1

Class Reunion, Day 1

We live in Nebraska and my high school class reunion in Arkansas was coming up. It sounds like the perfect opportunity to take the new RV on a road trip. So we decided to take a few extra days off and make a real trip of it. Since my high school in northeast Arkansas is only a couple of hours from my mom’s in Memphis, we knew we had to stop by there and visit. And our drive down there would take us through St. Louis. Since Debbi has never seen the Arch before we had to put that on our list of places to go, too.


We had to get a plan together. We wanted to cook some in the RV and made a grocery list but in the end, forgot to get everything. Or maybe we “forgot”. We had to pack up all the clothes and make reservations. The Arch is across the river from a casino in east St. Louis and it had an RV park. I made reservations there for one night. We wanted to take our time so we planned to leave on Wednesday; see the Arch on Thursday; visit Mom and my stepfather Thursday and Friday; attend the reunion Saturday; and drive back Sunday.


We took Wednesday afternoon off and came home to pack up our final stuff. We wanted to be on the road by 4 and actually made it out by 3. Not bad, especially for us. We brought our dog Toby with us but forgot his travel seat. He wanted to spend the entire trip on Debbi’s lap.

We took I-29 south to Kansas City. We stopped at the Love’s Truck Stop in St. Joseph, Missouri, for gas and to stretch our legs. And walk Toby, of course. We took our time because we weren’t in any hurry. It sure seemed like we weren’t getting the 15 mpg we were told we would get, either. The trip computer was estimating about 13 but we were catching a lot of wind coming from the south.

Kansas City was a bear to get through. We hit it at rush hour and that’s not the time to visit KC. I love that town but I’m not so fond of the traffic. But it’s easier to bear that traffic when you have a comfortable seat, big windshield and a bathroom you can hop back to if you need it. Not to mention it’s nice to be able to grab snacks from the kitchen. We caught I-70 east from there.

We stopped again in Columbia, Missouri, for supper. We went to a Wendy’s and ate while standing next to Sparky. We took Toby for another walk and climbed back in for another jaunt. We stopped again at a rest area for a bathroom break and again at a Flying J on the west side of St. Louis for more gas. We got slightly better gas mileage with that tank, about 14 mpg.

Arriving at the Casino

We took I-64 east to the exit for the casino, just past the river, and followed the GPS directions to the park entrance. The store we would normally check in at was closed since it was around 10 pm. There was a phone so I called security, filled out the form I needed to, and we found a place to park. We picked a spot at the end of a row, away from everyone else, and hooked up to the electric. The place was pretty quiet.

It was pretty darn warm out and we forgot to start the A/C before arriving so it took a little bit to cool down. I aimed the antenna and checked the TV. We got around 30 channels and watched a little TV while we waited for Sparky to cool down.


A Tour of Sparky

A Little Information About Our RV

It’s a 2017 Winnebago Fuse. It’s based on the Ford Transit chassis and has a diesel engine. It’s 24 feet long and is gray in color, not the standard white. We wanted a new nickname for it and wanted to stick with the Vacation movie theme. Since our previous RV was Cousin Eddie, we decided to go with Sparky for this one.

The Outside

We have the standard water inlet, dump valves, electrical outlet and all that on the outside. The only differences here are that the fresh water fill is on the passenger side and our electrical cord is attached to the RV. Also, our storage is a lot less on the outside. We don’t have any pass through bays and the compartments we have are small. It’s much lower to the ground than Cousin Eddie and easy to step into from the coach door or the front doors.


We also have a bike rack already attached to the back. It holds two bikes. We have a small hitch that should allow us to pull up to 3500 pounds but I think we’ll be using it for a rack to hold our big grill. And last but not least, a propane generator so we can run the air conditioner and charge the batteries when we need to.


We Have Joined the Modern World

We have solar! It’s a 100 Watt panel on top that charges the batteries. We have a charge controller inside so we don’t fry the batteries. It’s enough to keep them topped off but not enough to heavily use like others that have solar. But it’s a start and should be easy to expand. In addition, all the lights we have are LED.

The Cab

The two seats up front are really comfortable and high enough that we can sit in it like a regular chair. We have two drink holders each. The radio has two memories each for AM and FM, and 10 presets for each of those. We also have a Sirius satellite receiver but haven’t paid for a subscription. The windshield is huge and a joy to look out from as we drive down the road. We have cruise control and the engine provides more than enough power to keep up with traffic. We have a color backup camera mounted to the back and a big screen where the rearview mirror would normally be.


The Coach

At the front of the coach we have the kitchen area with a two-burner propane stove and a sink with an adjustable faucet. We also have a couch and Norcold refrigerator on a slide opposite the kitchen. The passenger seat from the front swivels to provide extra seating. We also have the first of two TVs, both of which are Insigna 12-Volt TVs attached to our digial antenna.

At the back of the coach are two couches and the second TV. We have a dry bath in the back and a closet and drawers behind the toilet. We have storage above the cab, above the kitchen and couch and above the couches. We can also set up dinettes in front of the small couch and between the two couches in the back.

Smaller Means Some Sacrifice

We can’t fit the big grill that we had in the old RV so we have resorted to taking it in our van when we go out. The couch next to the fridge makes into a full bed but is not the least bit comfortable. We have been trying to fix that but haven’t come up with a solution yet. The couches make into a king sized bed but that blocks off the bathroom. The air conditioner, in my opinion, is cheap. It’s one of those with low/high cool and can’t be set from a thermostat like Cousin Eddie. And it’s loud.

Final Thoughts

All RVs have their good points and bad points and overall, we love this one. It meets our needs and we can deal with the shortcomings. It allows us to travel like we want and do so economically. It’s a great little vehicle that we hope to keep for a long time.

Trading Off Cousin Eddie

We Decided To Trade Off Cousin Eddie

Times have changed for us lately, as it does for everyone. Our kids are getting older and don’t really enjoy camping as much. We’ve been busy with work and haven’t had as much time to camp. Add in the cost of repairing tires that were too old, storage for an RV we use less and less, and the cost of repairing the generator, we decided it might be time to find something else we like.

The Decision Process

Like our decisions before, we looked at what we need and how we’d like to use a new RV. We wanted to keep a motorhome, it would mostly be just us and the dog, and we wanted something that gave us a space to sleep while we were out and about. We wanted something that would allow us to go about anywhere; that Debbi can drive easily; we can store at home; we can afford to drive; and something we can park just about anywhere.

Looking At What Was Out There

That pretty much limited us to a class B camper van. We started off with our local Camping World in Council Bluffs. They didn’t have any class Bs but did have some very small class Cs. We really didn’t like that they all had slides but did like the room in them. We looked at Craigslist but that is a wasteland of scams, in my opinion. We contacted two people and they both turned out to be scams. We decided to keep looking at dealerships and took a Saturday to look at a Pleasure Way we found in Lincoln.

Looking At Inventory

We drove out to Leach Camper Sales in Lincoln and talked to Jay. We looked at the Pleasure Way but it was in kind of rough shape. We also looked at a Roadtrek but once we got in there it seemed a little cramped for us. We also test drove a Travato but hated the way we sat in the seats. It just wasn’t comfortable. We decided to look at a Winnebago Fuse and it seemed really comfortable. We test drove it and it had a really smooth ride. Debbi drove it and really liked it. It was a class C, about the size of the ones we saw in Camping World, and had a slide. Not our first choice but if we were going to be comfortable inside that’s the way it would have to be.


How Does It Match Our Requirements?

We want something we can sleep in:   It has a couch on the slide that makes into a full bed. It also has two couches that convert into a king-sized bed.
Debbi needs to drive it easily:   Debbi enjoyed the test drive and found it easy to maneuver.
We need to store it at home and park it in most spaces:   At 24 feet long, it fits easily into our driveway and most parking spaces.
We need to be able to afford to drive it:   Cousin Eddie got 8 mpg and that made it difficult to take on long trips but this Fuse gets 15 mpg.

We Decided to Pull the Trigger

We had to take a loan out over 20 years to keep the payment similar to what we had so it won’t be paid off by the time the kids are out of school. That’s a bummer because I didn’t really want a payment when we hit the road but getting something that we wanted was going to cost us. We put down a deposit and filled out a questionnaire about our RV. We told them about the tires and the generator. They worked with lots of different lenders but they were all closed at the time. We had to go home and come back later.

This Is a Mess On Your Credit

When they started running our applications across the banks’ desks, most of them turned us down for one reason or another. Bank of the West accepted our loan. We got all kinds of alerts on our credit because we are signed up at Credit Karma and Mint. We also got letters from each of the banks telling us why they didn’t want our loan.

Making the Trade

We had commitments at home the first week so we made an appointment the next week to drive Cousin Eddie in and do the trade. We got there before 3, our appointment time, and parked Cousin Eddie for the last time. Jay took us to a guy that drove us out to the Fuse and showed us how to operate everything. Then we went into the credit office and signed the last of the papers. We drove away in our new RV and picked up some coffee from Scooters to celebrate.

Diamonds May Be Forever but RV Tires Are Not


Diamonds May Be Forever but RV Tires Are Not

Cousin Eddie was our first RV so we had a lot of learning to do. One of those things was the sad lifespan of an RV tire. Although your tires may be rated for 7 years/70,000 miles or more, you may be lucky to get half that.

All I Did Was Take the Darn Thing Out of Storage

It was late spring and my team from work was going on its usual team outing to the baseball field. I normally bring out Cousin Eddie, set up the grill and we have a great time socializing under the awning. About a week before, I pulled him out of storage and my wife heard a hissing sound coming from underneath when we pulled into the driveway. Wouldn’t you know it, one of the darn tires was flat.

Time to Call Roadside Assistance

With Cousin Eddie at 31 feet long and no telling how heavy, I was outmatched. There was no way I was fixing that flat myself. I called Good Sam Roadside Assistance. It was the weekend and they said they couldn’t find anyone open. I called in to work and worked from home the day after so I could wait around for someone to show up.

The Waiting Game

They initially told me someone would be there by 11 and then it was 3. The guy finally showed up around 3:30 and got to work. The tire he pulled off was flat because of the stem. It had sprung a leak. He said they were the cheap stems and go out all the time. After he was done he checked the pressure in the other tires and found one that was flat. He pulled it off and we found a huge hole in it. I don’t know how long it had been like that. He put the spare on for that one and fixed the stem on the first one.


Tires Don’t Last As Long As You’d Think

I talked to the guy about the tires. I had heard it before but didn’t really believe it because, you know, internet. RV tires might be rated for 70,000 miles but won’t get nearly that many on them. The UV in the sunlight breaks down the rubber so you’re lucky to get 4 years out of them. We were looking at around $250/tire to replace 6 tires, plus labor.

The Takeaway

Put some money aside every month to pay for tires. When you’re looking at almost $2,000 to replace tires, it’s an expensive repair. Break that up each month over 4 years and it’s a lot easier to handle. It’s less than $100/month. So if you’re looking at buying an RV, consider tires an added monthly expense when you start calculating what it will cost you to keep.

My Advice for TJ

My Advice for TJ

Not long ago, I ran into a guy named TJ. The Babe and I were outside the RV and he struck up a conversation by joking that he wanted to interview rich people. We talked about an hour and it was a real delight.

I’m Not Rich

At least, not the way I measure it. Sure, I have good health, a good job and people that love me. I’m doing better than a lot of people, and by no means am I complaining. But I still go to work because I have to and I worry about losing my income through a disability or something like that. I’m not financially secure, though I’m working on it. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life but I’m working on fixing them and overcoming my shortfalls.

TJ Isn’t Rich, Either

Compared to TJ, though, I am friggin’ rich. He has no savings and is working lots of hours per week. He has a lot of debt. He bought a house fairly cheap but it needs a ton of work. Projects all over the place. His car is borderline reliable. He recently saw how poorly he was managing his money and decided to make changes. He works hard at a job and is paying off a lot of debt. It takes time, though.

But He Has a Lot Going For Him

TJ has a plan to pay off his debt. He works hard and does a lot of the house repairs himself. It’s on several acres of land and will only go up in value. He’ll have a lot of sweat equity in the house when he’s done. But most of all, TJ is teachable. He wants to learn new things and isn’t so prideful that he won’t take advice from others. He acknowledges that he has failed before and isn’t afraid of failing again.

It’s People Like TJ That Make It

Not every one of them, I suppose, because life can be cruel. But I can guarantee you that someone who wants to succeed, who is willing to learn new things and who isn’t prideful will eventually make it. The other people — the proud, the lazy, the intractable — will be where they are right now. They won’t move.