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The Outside Stuff

November 30, 2011

In my last post, I gave you a tour of the pretty inside parts of the motorhome.  Today, I thought we’d take a look at some of the not-so-pretty, but very critical outside parts.

On my Art Blog, I occasionally write posts about our experiences doing art festivals and fairs.  A lot of it is written for those who are fairly new to doing those things.

So, I thought I’d do the same thing with this blog, and let those of you who are new to fulltime RV living learn along with me.  Please note that I am not a mechanic, nor am I much of a handyman.  But I will learn how to operate and maintain this rig.  And all of you old hands can sit back and chuckle at the newbie’s description of things.  Just remember: you were once new at this, also.


Critical to  living in an RV are the water and sewer connections.  At Northlake Village, we have full hookups, meaning water, electrical, and sewer.  The black cord coming from the power pole is the electrical service.  The blue hose is fresh water, and the “slinky” looking gray hose is the sewer line.

As we take this little tour, keep in mind that this is a 1998 Holiday Rambler Vacationer.  It was top of the line back then, but now it’s 13 years old with a lot miles on it.

The sewer hose (“slinky”) is connected to a clear connection that allows us to see what’s going on.  There are two push/pull valves, one for solid waste, from the toilet (generally called black water, and one for liquid waste from the kitchen, shower, and bathroom sink (gray water).  The black water tank needs to be drained pretty soon, and I’ve already made a rookie mistake.  There’s nothing wrong with leaving the gray water valve open when connected to the sewer, but I should have closed it at least yesterday, to allow the gray water tank to fill.  Now I’m having to run water in the kitchen sink, with the valve closed outside, in order to have plenty of gray water.  Why?  When draining the holding tanks, the black water gets drained first, then the gray water is drained, thus helping to flush out the sewer line (slinky), and the clear valve.  At this point, most of this is on-the-job training, so I’m learning.  How often does this have to be done?  I don’t know yet, but it’s beginning to look like every 4 or 5 days.

The water heater is located behind this panel on the passenger (sidewalk) side.  I can almost guarantee it will be in a different place on every RV model.  This is where it is on ours.

This is the water heater.  This one is a propane heater, with electronic ignition.  The on/off switch is inside the bathroom with a little red light that indicates when it’s on.  The burner is the round hole with the horizontal pipe going into the center (in the lower right quadrant of the unit).  The burner heats the water in the tank, which is inside under the bathroom sink.  There is a water heater bypass valve under there as well.  That bypass valve was on, which meant we weren’t getting any water into the heater.  There’s also a temperature/pressure relief on this outside unit which opens when water reaches 210 degrees or pressure reaches 150 pounds.

How do I know all this?  Because a) I got some help online in the forums at ; and b)  I have Barry Standefer living right across the street here at the RV Park.  Barry is a mobile RV Service Technician, and I have a feeling we are going to get really well acquainted over the next couple of months.

The furnace, the water heater, and the kitchen stove operate on Liquid Propane Gas.  The refrigerator operates on propane or electricity.  Motorhomes have an ASME tank, permanently mounted horizontally in a “basement” compartment.  Trailers use DOT tanks, which are generally smaller and can be removed from the unit.  Ours is a 27 gallon tank.  One gallon of liquid propane makes 36.6 cubic feet of gas with 2500 btus.  I have no idea what that means.  What we are trying to determine is how long that 27 gallons will last when we’re running the furnace at night in the winter, running the water heater fulltime, operating the fridge, and cooking roughly 9 hot meals a week.  THAT’s what I want to know about propane.  Other than the safety aspects, of course.  We also may test the cost of using a small electric heater in cold, but not freezing, temperatures.  One thing I’m noticing during the day is that I can turn the furnace way down, or even off once the sun comes up.  Depending on the outside temperature, the sun coming through the windows warms this place up really well.

We’ve been parked for five days, and we’ve used 1/4 of a tank of propane.  At some point, when it starts to get low, I’ll have to unhook the motorhome from the connections, drive to a place that can fill the tank, then return and park and reconnect.

And yes, that is the spare tire under the propane tank.  Conventional wisdom with a rig this size is to have a usable spare, and a good emergency roadside service provider.  There is no way I’m going to change a flat tire on this baby.

There are two 6 volt, deep cycle batteries, connected in series, to create 12 volts to power the 12 volt DC electyrical system.  Most of the lights and ignition units operate on 12volt DC.  The refrigerator can operate on 12 volt DC as well.  I’m still learning about the electrical system.  It will be important at some point to know what operates on battery power and what operates on 120 volt AC “shore” power provided by the park.  The batteries are sitting on a shelf that pulls out to provide access to the tops of both batteries.

This storage bay will house automotive liquids, tools, and road emergency items when I get everything organized better.

The infamous onboard generator.  Actually, to be fair, these are said to be pretty tough pieces of equipment, and the problems we had were due to my own neglect, and no fault of the generator.   This is an Onan Marquis 5500 120-volt AC Generator.  It is gasoline powered, and runs off the motorhome fuel tank.  To avoid running out of gas, the generator will automatically shut off when the motorhome fuel tank reaches 1/4 tank.  The generator will come in handy on those times when we park somewhere without electrical power.  Aside from checking the oil, the main maintenance activity for the generator appears to be regular exercise, as in running it for about a half-hour under load every 3-4 weeks.  When they don’t get exercised, and they sit for too long, the gasoline in the carburetor turns to varnish.  A new carburetor for an older generator is expensive.  I know this from experience.  ‘Nuff said.

There are some things that need attention.  Remember, this is an older motorhome, and we knew we’d discover things that would need work.

I’ve been unable to get the TV antenna to go up.  I’ve followed the instructions in the owner’s manual, but nothing’s happening.  Since the antenna is on the roof, and I have a problem with heights, I’ll have to get someone knowledgeable to look at it.  We can get one network TV station, so we can at least see the news.  I use for my weather forecasts, so we’re good there.

When we parked here, I lowered the hydraulic levelling jacks.  I remember feeling a mild jolt at some point, but it was several hours before I discovered one of the rear jacks was leaking hydraulic fluid.  I raised all the jacks to prevent any further damage, and I’ll probably get our friendly RV Technician across the street to take a look at the jacks.

We appear to have a slight leak in the seal at the top of the windshield.  We are getting a few drips early in the morning, when the sun starts to melt the frost off the roof.  I don’t think we have major leaking, because we’ve been in the RV in the storage lot after a rain, and there hasn’t been any indication of extensive leaks.  BUT, there’s rain forecast for the weekend, so we’ll check it out then.  So far, it has dripped on the dash (it’s a HUGE dash), and I’ve put a couple of towels there to catch the few drips I’ve seen so far.

Other than that, we’re just learning.  It’s making a lot more sense for me to spend time with the manuals and RV handbooks now that we’re living in it.  I can read, get up and go look at something, and have a much better understanding of what I’m reading.

It’s kind of like moving into an older house.  Only after you start living in it do you really find those things that need attention.

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