The Septic System

He said…

Part of our journey to full timing it in an RV is selling the sticks & bricks house. And that isn’t a fun proposition…

Let’s recap.

  • Over two years ago Mariel and I decided to buy an RV and live on the road which was a total reversal of my plans (I had planned on dying in the house that we lived in).
  • A year and a half later, we bought our Class A motorhome and started moving into it the very next day (we actually have been living in our new Fleetwood since the day after we bought it back in July 2016).
  • That’s when we got serious about getting the house ready to sell (it took me a good six months to get the house ready enough so that I thought someone might be interested in it).
  • We put it on the market in January 2017 and had a few nibbles along the way but no real interest (we started thinking we might be full timing it while still paying the mortgage on that house).
  • In April 2017 – we got an offer. Bleh – now the pain starts (I made the house sellable; but I didn’t make it perfect – what was the potential buyer going to want changed?)
  • Home and septic inspections pointed out problems (thankfully the termite inspection passed).

And that’s where I’m at today…

All of the items on the home inspection we knew about which is why we dropped the price on the home so much; the septic inspection caught us by surprise. It turns out that they suggest having the septic tank (think 1000 gallon black water tank for those of you who don’t know what a septic tank is) pumped out every 1-2 years.  Around here that cost about $250 a shot – pricey but worth it in the long run.

Our septic tank?  It was pumped out in 2002. And then it was pumped out this week in 2017.  And there lies the problem… when inspected, the system didn’t perform as expected.

The tank had one pre-dug access; we had to dig out the other access.

The tank itself was still built well (it has about 4-6″ thick concrete walls); but it didn’t pass the test that makes sure it empties as fast as you fill it!  Something is blocking the flow to/through the leach field. This is not an insurmountable problem; it can be repaired. But our closing on the house is supposed to be in less than two weeks. Fixing it within that time – not going to happen!

Mariel and I had a bad day and didn’t sleep very well that night.

Thankfully, the buyer still wants to go through with the sale of the house as long as we have a plan to fix the issue.  And, the person that pumped out the tank is a certified plumber who is working with us to give the buyer that plan!  Yea Lord!

The plumber (who happens to have two businesses: the Rotor Rooter man and Dr. Pumper) believes that the problem is just 15 years worth of sludge that needs to be cleaned out with 2-3 months worth of enzyme/bacteria treatments – about $250 worth of product. If that doesn’t work, then he can add a second leach line for about $2000.

We’ve sent the plan to the buyer and we’re hoping that he goes along with this plan. It turns out that the buyer is good with the plan; however, his lender is concerned – so now we’re waiting to see what they want!

A little barricade put up until the septic system is finished!

More details to come.

The Satellite TV

He said…

Mariel and I haven’t had cable or satellite TV for quite a while now – we’ve survived solely on Netflix (and a few months ago we got a free subscription to Amazon).  But we knew these options weren’t going to work for us on the road. So, I’ve been researching the satellite TV options lately. Thankfully(?) our RV came with a Winegard Roadtrip Mission RTS-40B satellite antennae which works with either the Dish or DirectTV system.

Since Dish provides HD channels and we had experience with that system a few years back, I determined that we’d go with them. Once I figured that out, I started looking at the various receivers that we could use. A jump onto the roof of the RV and a quick disassembly of the satellite dish dome, I changed some dip switch settings so that the antennae would work with the Dish network (it comes from the factory set for DirecTV).

Since the receive will actually be stored behind the bedroom TV, I wanted a receiver that had a radio frequency remote vice the infrared remote.  The remote needs to be able to send the signal through the cabinetry and television while we’re watching the TV. This means that we’re locked into the Wally receiver.

Researching the prices – I found that you could get the receiver for anywhere from about $60-100. And then we’d be looking at getting the programming that starts at about $40 and sky rockets upwards based on the channels we wanted.

Then something popped up that I hadn’t really considered before.  It turns out that if you already have a Dish setup for your home, you can get an extra receiver for $7/month for your RV.  Amazingly enough, we are currently in a driveway of someone who happens to have a Dish setup in their house.  With their permission, we got the receiver. Since we wanted the Wally receiver, we paid an extra $65 to get it shipped to us. Now our monthly bill will only be $7.

It got to us in just two days! Very quick shipping.

Now to set it up…

Things seemed to start well enough. Until, that is, we the system setup screen got stuck on a page where it was “preparing to download software”. The page said it’d take less than 20 minutes – I waited over an hour. Time to do some internet research.

Apparently, you can’t set up the Wally using an RV satellite dish; at the least it’s a common problem trying to set it up in an RV. It needs to be set up using the home dish and then you can move it to the RV. No where in the documentation does it say this!

So into the house I went. Disconnected their setup and connected up the Wally. That didn’t work; it stayed stuck on the same screen.  So time to call up the customer support.

Both of them were very friendly. Yep – the basic tech support guy did what he could and it didn’t help. The advanced guy won the day however.

So what were the troubleshooting steps?  Reboot the machine and wait. Disconnect the receiver from “this” coaxial cable and attach it to “that” coaxial cable (both of which went to the same satellite dish). After 45 minutes on the phone (with about 10 minutes of that waiting on the reboots and 20 minutes waiting to see if the software would download) the receiver finally connected to the satellites!

Now… to see if I can unplug it from the house and then move it to the RV.  Fingers are crossed as I type this…  the satellite antennae on the roof is buzzing.  I’m feeling a little apprehensive – should I go look at the TV to see if it worked?

Bummer… spent longer than five minutes waiting for it to acquire the signal. Unplugged and then plugged in the receiver… see how that works…

Arghh! Five minutes has long gone…

Well now, what’s next?  There are two coaxial cables coming from the satellite dish – I chose to hook up the cable that said “1” on it.  I decided to see what happens when I plug the cable that said “2” on it… Finally the signal was acquired.

Now the system is supposed to take less than 10 minutes (so says the TV screen) to download the guide! Unfortunately… it’s been longer than that!  So time to pull the plug and reset the machine – AGAIN.

Arghh! Yet another wait!

Hmmm… now I’m wondering if the rain/clouds are causing the problems…  It’s not affecting the satellite in the house; but maybe the RV system is more delicate?

Alright.  I did a factory reset – maybe starting over will help.

Research on the internet tells most folks to reset a switch. Unfortunately every screenshot and manual I’ve seen does NOT match what I see with the Wally’s setting’s screens.  Eventually, I found it though. I needed to reset the switch via a “Test Installation” button.

First I did it with the satellite cable disconnected (to clear out all the old settings) and then with the cable hooked back up.  I even went back and hooked up cable “1” again to see if it would work.

Waiting on a check switch…

I finally got it working!  Man – what a major pain in the #$%!  An hour or so last night and about three hours this morning and I prevailed.

Nothing is plug-n-play anymore!

All of that pain – so, as Mariel so sarcastically indicated, we can watch commercials! I guess we’ve been spoiled the last few years with just Netflix!

Toad Tail Lights Installed

He said…

When last I blogged I had just finished installing the baseplate on our toad (towed vehicle)… The next day, I took another step to get the car ready to be towed; I modified the electrical system to the rear lights. Basically, anything you tow needs to have lights that function as the brake lights/turn signals – and this is what I was attempting to do.

Car without the lights installed.
Car without the lights installed.

This was confusing to start because the instructions that came with the kit didn’t really explain anything to a novice (of which I’m an expert at being).  It was also confusing because there were two different systems provided to me and I wasn’t aware of that either.  I thought all the parts had to be used.

YouTube is good.  If you can’t follow the instructions – watch a video of someone else doing the job.  That’ll clue you in… I eventually figured out that there were a couple different ways to set up the lights on the tow car to work.

One method is to drill a hole in each of the tail light housings and insert an additional bulb in each housing. These would be connected to the RV’s system via the tow harness.  Any braking or turn signal use in the RV would automatically light up these additional lights at the rear of the car.

The other method is to tap in to the existing wiring going to the tail lights that are already installed in the car.  This uses diodes that prevent “cross contamination” of the electrical signals when the car is attached to the RV. I chose to go with this system because I felt drilling into the housing and adding additional light bulbs would be more difficult.

I was wrong. More on that later.

The first thing that I had to do was route wires from the front of the car where the tow harness will be installed to the rear of the car.  This is a major pain in the *&^&* if you don’t have your car on a lift.  Suffice it to say I got dirty and squished.

Not a fun place to be.

Eventually, I was able to get the wires routed from front to rear.  This took me about an hour and a half.

After that, I had to remove the tail light housings so that I could get behind them to the car’s wiring and to pull up the wires that I just fought with.

Removed the tail light housing.

And then the scary part starts…  actually cutting into the wiring of the car.  This was nerve racking because there is VERY LITTLE slack in the wires.  There is no wiggle room for making a mistake (of which I’m a proud expert at accomplishing).

Not enough wire slack to play with.

I did it though… I cut into them wires and installed the diodes (the little black boxes in the picture below).

Diode’s installed.

Before I tightened everything, I attached the lights and made sure everything worked. Amazingly enough, they did!

Attaching the tail lights back to the car became my next hurdle.  I had to install two diodes and extra wiring between each tail light and the auto body.  Unfortunately, there isn’t that much room!  And it seemed that I was squishing something.  But I prevailed.

Until, that is, I tested the lights again.  All but one of the lights was working. Argh!  I pulled off the tail light and found a wire had pulled loose. Bummer. Tightened it again. Tested it. Reinstalled the tail light. Tested it. Failed again!

Double Arghh!

Pulled the tail light. Tightened it again. Tested it. Reinstalled the tail light. Tested it. Failed again!

Triple Arghhh!

Okay… so that whole thing about no slack… It’s haunting me now.  I finally decided to add in another foot of wire.  This gave me enough slack that the system is finally working….  for now.

The tow harness on the car.

I think the car is ready to be towed.  Once we get the tow bar, we’ll hook it up to my folks truck and pull car around to see how it fares!  Maybe there’ll be a blog about that in the future.

So, would I do this again?  Yes. But instead of using method #2, I’d go with method #1 and drill the hole in the taillight housing to add the extra bulbs.


DIY Blue Ox Install

He said…

After talking, back in September 2016, with a sales rep at our regional FMCA rally we decided to go with the Blue Ox system for towing our 2014 Honda CR-V.  The system cost us about $2600 new for:

I know we could have gotten a system cheaper than that; but I have a hard time buying used equipment.

We ordered it on the 28th and three of the four boxes (all but the tow bar itself) arrived less than a week later. The tow bar is getting shipped in a week – so it’s a good thing that I ordered all of this early since we’re hitting the road in about a month).

The installation instructions looked a bit complex – so I decided to pay to have someone install it for us.  I looked at the Blue Ox website for the closest authorized dealer to do the install.

When I called them up, I had to explain that I already had all the equipment and that I wanted them to just install it.  They quoted my about seven hours at $96/hour! Ouch.

I called someone else who said they could do it and they wouldn’t give me a time estimate; but they would charge me $70/hour. Still ouch.

I decided it was time for me to learn something new!  So I started watching a few different YouTube videos and reading the instructions multiple times.  I decided I was qualified to do it! Heh heh.

Started looking at all the tools and materials that I needed and headed to AutoZone to get what I didn’t have. The next day the fun began.

Car up on blocks with the hood open.
Car up on blocks with the hood open.

First thing that we had to do was take off the face of the car. They call it the fascia.  Sounds simple; but this took us about an hour and a half.  It is also the scariest part of the procedure because of the noises that happen as you pull and prod the fascia out of the snaps.  In the process we broke three of the plastic push fasteners… so we know we’ll be headed back to AutoZone again to replace those.

Face off the car
Face off the car

Then we have to pull the bumper off.  This was going so very quickly…

Removing bolts from the bumper

…up until I noticed that I didn’t have the appropriate chisel.  There are two nuts that are welded to the frame that needed to come off – and a chisel is what is needed.

A second trip (first for the day) to AutoZone was needed. Once back, and a few hits of the hammer on the chisel (and a couple on my hands) and the nut came off.

No face - No bumper
No face – No bumper

Now it’s time to put the baseplate in.  I have no idea why it’s called a baseplate!  There is no plate involved… it’s just a huge chunk of metal in bumper shape with a bunch of spikes sticking out of it!

One of the fun things about this? Nothing…  It turns out that I over torqued one of the bolts and snapped it in two!  Yea me!  Back to AutoZone again to get an easy out and another bolt!

Broken bolt removed! Hah
Broken bolt removed! Hah

I got it though!!

Baseplate Installed – Installing the Break Away device

Once the baseplate was installed, Mariel and I reinstalled the fascia.  This was the most disconcerting task for me.  I wasn’t sure it’d go back easily – that’s the pessimist in me.  I was wrong.  It went together pretty easily.

Car ready to be towed

We started at 8:30am and finished before 2:30pm. During that time I went to AutoZone twice (about 30-45 minutes worth of time) and had lunch (another 20 minutes or so).  I’m guesstimating that it took Mariel and I about five hours to do this job!

Feeling pretty good about now – I can still be a mechanic if I have to. Tomorrow I plan on working to hook up the electrical system so the lights of the toad (towed vehicle) will replicate the lights of the RV as we go down the road. Guess I’ll take off the mechanic hat now and put on the electrician hat.

PS. Later in the day, I find water in one of the bays and some wetness beneath the back sink/shower!  Great…

Lucky Find

He said…

I was just walking from the car to my folk’s house (we’re currently mooch docking on their property) when I noticed something shiny on the ground. It looked like a spring until I bent over to pick it up and it turned out to be a headless 5/32″ Allen bolt.

In my head I’m thinking, “Oh great! What now?”  But it was more of a sigh than an angry thought.  I figured it had to be something from the awning since we’ve had it out the last few days (and the wind keeps kicking it back in).

So, up I go to look at all the joints.  Once again, not too difficult.  After just a minute I found where it went! It is one of six bolts holding the awning to its frame.

All it took was a minute to screw it back in.  But, to be on the safe side, I checked all the screws.  Glad I did since two others were a little loose.

It’s the little victories that make me happy!