Saturday, September 25, 2021

The last leg of the trip.

 We didn’t get to see my friends from Alion Science unfortunately but circumstances just didn’t allow it. Catch you next time around!

After saying a reluctant goodbye to Dave and Gloria we headed south.

We battled thru the permanently awful traffic around DC and after an overnight stop in Richmond paid a visit with our long time friends Fred and Judy in Raleigh North Carolina. We had planned to stop and see more friends Harold and Wanda French but Harold was recovering from some ill health and we all decided that with Covid making another surge we had better cancel that visit. We miss you guys though so hopefully we can reschedule it sometime.

With Fred and Judy

We definitely have “Get home-itis” and are looking forward to seeing everyone in Casa Grande. But we are also very much looking forward to Las Vegas in October for our 50th wedding party and sent out reminders on Facebook that the hotel and campground reservations will be expiring soon.

Barbara's cousin Helen met us at a truck stop for lunch. Delightful to see her again.

The rig started making a rumbling noise from the rear end as we hit Asheville and I made my mind up it was something major caused by the broken suspension episode. We had the U Joints looked at and they were reported as being fine. The only thing the shop could detect was one of the suspension leveling valve actuator arms which was broken off on the side of the rig that the suspension broke. We hadn’t noticed it when we put it back together but it must have got bent at that time and failed 500 miles later due to flexing at the weak point.

Nice campground in Asheville

Happily the shop we took it too took it off, welded it back together and reinstalled it in a couple of hours and for $200 we got off light.

Better yet the rumbling went away and the ride improved. When we drove to the shop to get it fixed we noticed a sign for Escapees RV Park and happily about a mile from the repair shop we found the Raccoon Valley SKP resort and sat in their air conditioned rec hall until we got the call to come get the coach!

The return trip started in earnest and we stopped at Knoxville before one of our favorite places:- Graceland RV Resort in Memphis and the real treat ribs at Charlie Vergos Rendezvous. We pigged out with a whole rack of the dry rub ribs each, none were left to bring home either.

Oh ribs!!

The coach was running so well that we skipped a planned stop in Hot Springs Arkansas and instead stopped in Texarkana Texas. The following day we skipped Paris Texas for Wichita Falls Texas which meant we were now 2 days ahead of schedule.

We were discussing our next stop which we had down as Amarillo but looking at the map it seemed that Lubbock was on a direct line between us and home so we decided to change the route.

What a fortuitous change it was! We were at the Elks Lodge with another rig and heard them talking at the bar about San Fillipe Mexico. We have been seriously talking about spending a month or so in Mexico when the park model in Sundance is rented out this winter.

Tom and Sue live in San Fillipe! We all got on like a house on fire and were soon laughing about common experiences and places we had enjoyed. They filled in all the details we had questions about and recommended a campground too so it may well be that we spend the entire month of March in San Fillipe where our other friends Rick and Mary also have a house. Sounds like a party brewing!

With one night stops in Roswell New Mexico, Las Cruces and a final one in Willcox Arizona we sped along and arrived mid morning in Sundance, I have not totaled the mileage up yet but we have put in around 8,000 miles this year.

We have had a lot of fun and seen many old friends, family and neighbors. We have had broken suspension, windshield and the front AC stopped working somewhere, but it has been a very pleasant year despite some long driving days at the beginning and end.

So now we get to settle down for a couple of weeks before we head to Las Vegas for the big 50th bash. We are looking forward to that.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

2009 Monaco Cayman broken trailing arm replacement.

 First things first.

This is not intended to be a step by step instruction manual on making changes to the suspension of any Motor Home (MH). It is just my reflections on the work we did with the help of some great friends in order to get our specific MH rolling again after a failure in the suspension.

All the parts and equipment mentioned are very heavy duty and you can easily crush fingers, toes and other body parts if tools and jacks are not strong enough. The trailing arms alone weigh close to 180lbs a piece, beware, be safe, don't get hands under parts supported by jacks, use stout wooden blocks to support pieces being installed or removed.

SAFETY FIRST! Wear appropriate clothing, wear safety glasses, use hearing protection.

First the background. 

Our 2009 Monaco Cayman 

We bought our Monaco partly on impulse. It was a low mileage very nice looking diesel engine unit and that blinded us to an extent.

We had always heard that Monaco was a quality brand and well built. Ours was a 2009 model built just as the company went out of business after the recession around 2008.

We weren’t novices to RV’s but we didn’t have a lifetime of experience just 5 years on the road.

I joined the Monaco Owners section of IRV2 online and they seemed happy with their units. I saw occasional posts about broken rear trailing arms but they seemed to be before our year which had upgraded pieces as a result of a recall. Ours had no recalls outstanding when we bought it.

When we bought it it had 19K miles and over the next 2 years we increased that to 38K. That's when we hit trouble. Driving thru some EXTREMELY rough roads in Pennsylvania trying to avoid hurricane Henri we noticed the rig was rolling side to side like a rowing boat in a cross sea. It hadn’t done that before, I suspected a front shock absorber that wasn’t damping the swaying. In addition when I applied the brakes it would gently pull to the left. We spent the night at Lums Pond SP in Delaware.

When I crawled underneath there were no typical signs of a shock absorber failure which normally is oil leaking out of the body of the shock. I posted on FB about our problem and started calling all around repair shops in Maryland which was our next planned stop. Nobody wanted to help. No RV stores or truck repair shops would take it on. I extended my search to Virginia and North Carolina where we planned to stop after Maryland.

An old friend from our days riding Goldwing motorcycles replied to my post on FB, Dave Pumphrey and his wife Gloria who are super people. They ran the disco at our daughters wedding hence Dave’s nickname DJDave!

Dave has a motor home too, he is a trained mechanic so he has all the tools. He also has a huge yard and workshop with full hookups yet! He invited us to come over and see what the problem was.

First he organized a party for all our old Goldwing motorcyle friends!

A great bunch of friends to party with.

After that we got underneath and discovered that one arm of the rear suspension had broken clean in two,

End and side views of the broken trailing arm

Now this isn’t a skinny piece of metal, its 3 inches square tubing with ¼” thick sides.

A hefty piece of metal

My working life has been on shipbuilding. One of the first things we would be taught was that ships flex and square corners create stress points that lead to structural failures. The famous WW2 Liberty ships started breaking in half because of square hatch corners.

If you look at the broken trailing arm you can see a hard square corner,

On top you can see the rectangular plate with sharp corners where the break started

Doing some research revealed that the company had replaced the original trailing arm after the recall with strengthened pieces. During the recession/recall time the company went bankrupt. All recalls were unenforceable.

As things turned out the strengthened pieces also failed. Ours was one of those.

Now with the company gone how were we to fix this major failure??

A company in Oregon had recognized the need for replacements. Source Engineering had redesigned the whole piece and to my structural engineering trained eye had done a REALLY nice job. They had added side plates, eliminated the square edges completely and used a process called shot peening which impacts the surface and reduces the likely-hood of cracking.

Old piece top, new bottom

When I called Source they had a backlog of at least 4 weeks but identified one of their dealers in Michigan who had 5 sets in stock.

Veurinks RV Center 800-822-5292 were very helpful and dispatched a set express shipping by YRC (Yellow Truck Lines) to the YRC depot in Baltimore.

Well it turned out that express, rush, and guaranteed are all different services. We were told on Thursday that they would arrive Monday. Monday came and I called the YRC depot only to be told not to call them, they would call me when it was ready to pick up. 

Not being one to take no for an answer I kept calling anyone and everyone and finally found that the pieces had arrived at the depot on Sunday but they had a delay of up to 8 days to unload  the trailers after they arrived. Express didn't mean anything except you paid more for the name. Rush wasn’t a rush and only Guaranteed would have resulted in fast unloading or a refund if it wasn’t.

Finally they unloaded it on Tuesday and Dave and Gloria lent us their pickup truck to fetch it.

Dave called in Butch and George who are also old Goldwing friends on Tuesday afternoon and we started the project.

Dave and George working hard

I don’t know how to describe a major project like this involving heavy parts, huge bolts and torque wrench settings up to 350 foot pounds. Suffice it to say that four of us worked about 6 hours, tag teaming as we got tired. Eventually we had one of the broken arms off and the new one in and firmly attached.

Darkness stopped us that night and the next day Hurricane Ida swept thru Maryland. Tornadoes touched down causing major damage in Annapolis about 20 miles away.

Having a day off allowed us to think over how we had done the first side. We had struggled for hours trying to get the U bolts out. 

Dave realized it was all wasted time as we cut the U bolt with an air grinder in the end, but we only cut one side. The kit comes with new U bolts anyway so we could have cut both U bolts on both sides of the axle.

U bolts cut thru with a cutting disc on an air grinder

We had tightened up everything before we tried to attach the rear link bar and had to loosen everything off to get it aligned. If we left the final tightening to the end we would be able to waggle things into place.

Rear axle looking forward. Showing to the left the shock, airbag and the trailing arm.
The rear link bar joins the two trailing arms at the rear.

We struggled to get the front of the arm up to the pivot and were nearly to the point of it slipping off the jack a couple of times. I realized we could attach it at the rear using the shock absorber bolt first which left the front of the arm almost horizontal when jacked into place.

The front end of the new training arm with the new nut on the pivot pin

Front of the new arm looking back

We spent much time and effort getting the U bolts torqued up to the required 350ft/lbs. Dave had a big ¾ drive impact wrench but it didn’t get it close to tight enough. On the second side he replaced a coupling on the airline that was leaking air and the wrench tightened the nuts down to almost the right torque first go.

The inside of the new arm looking back showing the u bolts and the airbag.
The rear link bar is below that.

The second side took less than half the time the first side took and with 2 less people.

Our final sequence of events was.

With the coach on heavy duty jack stands at the rear.

Cut both U bolts on both sides of the axle

Remove the nuts holding the airbag to the trailing arm

Remove the bolt attaching the rear link bar at the rear 

Remove the nut from the bottom of the shock 

With a jack to support the rear of the trailing arm remove the bolt holding the shock to the trailing arm.

The trailing arm can now pivot on the front pivot bolt until the rear of the trailing arm touches the ground.

Now move to the front and support it with a jack, be very careful, When you remove the pivot bolt the jack might slip and the arm can crash down and crush your hands. Use stout wooden blocks to give support if the jack does slip. Remove the nut from the pivot pin and then the pivot pin. Mine had 3 washers inside the bracket on the chassis, two of them are needed for the reinstallation. Note that the kit comes with 2 replacement nuts for the pivot bolts.

Remove the old arm and the pieces of U bolt from the top of the axle. Not that there is a “Pin” on the bottom of the axle that fits into a hole in the plate for the U Bolts to locate the axle. The new arm also has a hole for this pin and the new arm needs to be aligned to get the pin properly in the hole so don’t tighten bolts fully until this alignment has been achieved.

With the new arm in approximate alignment under the MH and with blocks under it to allow a jack to get in, jack up the rear of the arm and get the bottom shock bolt thru the lugs on the arm. Put the nut on by hand just to keep the bolt in place.

Slip the U bolts over the top of the axle taking care not to trap the wire on the front side of the axle. Let the bolts hang down then move the jack forward to the back of the plate the U bolts go thru. The arm can then be jacked up so the u bolts can go thru the holes in the plate and the nuts run on by hand. This is just to hold the arm up safely, the nuts will have to be removed again and the lower plate will have to be installed before completion.

Move the jack all the way to the front of the arm and jack the arm up so the pivot bolt can be inserted. Take 2 of the washers that were on the old arm and put 1 each side between the lug on the chassis and the new pivot bearing. This is harder than it looks, we used a piece of flat bar about 3” long to push the washer up and stop it rolling out all the time. 

With the new nut on the pivot pin in place but not tightened up, go back to the U bolt plate. There is a lower plate that has a ramp built in, the highest part of the ramp facing towards the front of the RV. Put the nuts and washers back on and hand tighten.

The u bolts and the bottom plate.
Note that the top and bottom plates are parallel if the ramp is to the front of the vehicle.

Move to the back of the arm again and attach the rear link bar checking as you do so that the pin in the axle is in the hole in the top u bolt plate. There will be no gap between the bottom of the axle and the top of the u bolt plate and the arm will be square to the axle not cocked to one side of the other if its correct.

Now its time to tighten up all the bolts using a BIG impact wrench watching as you go that the pin on the axle stays in the hole in the u bolt plate. It takes a BIG torque wrench to get the u bolt nuts up to 350ft/lbs.

Double check that all the bolts have been tightened and everything is lined up.

East coast heading south.

 After another great dinner at Chases Diner it was time to go. The end of our “Outbound” trip and time to turn around. It has been enormous fun but we still have more adventures to find yet.

"The Breakers" built for Cornelius Vanderbilt in Newport Rhode Island

We wandered south thru Massachusetts and into Rhode Island and started hearing news about a tropical storm forming in the Atlantic called Henri.

Fabulous interiors

No strangers to hurricanes we kept an eye on it and made plans. We were due to leave Rhode Island on Sunday morning having enjoyed a few days around Providence and Newport. Henri was looking to arrive Sunday afternoon somewhere in the region of where we currently.

More interiors.

A look at the storm track and it’s timing made us decide to leave at 8am and instead of heading south to Delaware to head west to Allentown Pennsylvania (PA) then turn south from there.

The plan worked and we had some moderate rain but no high winds which are no fun in a high sided box like a motor home.

What we hadn’t reckoned on was the terrible state of the roads in PA which were more like motocross tracks than roads and consistently awful all day. So bad that they damaged the suspension of the coach which started to sway from side to side occasionally and to pull to the left slightly under braking.

We reached our destination for the day, Lums Pond State Park in Bear Delaware (DE) which is a nice little park with full hook ups. We had been conserving our fresh water and taking steps to stop our grey water and black water holding tanks from getting too full. We pulled in and immediately dumped our tanks and got connected to the power and water.

Lance like GOOD beer too.

We chose this place because we have friends nearby, Charlie and Debbie Bricker and Lance McKay who we have know thru our motorcycle days for many years. What a delight to meet them again after 5 years. Lots of catching up was done.

With Charlie and Debbie

Our next stop was planned to be Baltimore to see our son Fred and his wife Cori plus more friends from our motorcycle days, some of whom have become RVer’s like us.

The coach had been handling strangely since the pounding it took on the rough roads in Pennsylvania. I posted about it on Facebook thinking it was a broken shock absorber.

Dave and Gloria Pumphrey are super people , Dave drives a truck, they have a mobile disco (and did a great job at our daughters wedding years ago) plus they have a mobile Barbecue and find time to ride motorcycles and camp in their RV too! Dave heard about the suspension issues we were having and invited to come over to his place and see if we can fix it because he does all the work on his motor home himself and has a big enough driveway WITH HOOK UPS and all the tools to do they job!!

When we examined the suspension there was no obvious signs of a bad shock absorber but the rear trailing arm supporting the axle was snapped clean thru on the right side! Research revealed that is was a known problem on some models of Monaco and ours was one.

The company that built it has since gone out of business and the recall on the suspension is no longer enforceable. Fortunately there is a company in Oregon who manufacture a replacement that is much stronger.

If you are fortunate enough to have friends like Dave and Gloria you are indeed fortunate. Pretty soon they had mobilized our motorcycle friends in the area and invited them round for Lasagna! Friends we haven’t seen for 5 years or more. What a great time we had.

Meantime the supplier for the replacement trailing arm that was broken on the right side of the rig was rush shipping a pair to Baltimore and they were due in the following Monday.

The broken suspension arm

Broken clean thru.

I am posting a separate article on the suspension repair so if you are into mechanical things you can read it.

Dave and George, you would recognize them anywhere.

We thought we were done with hurricanes after Henri chased us around thru New York and Pennsylvania but then Hurricane Ida’s remnants swept thru halfway into the repair of the coach, which may have actually done us a favor by giving us time to think about how we went about doing the first side and letting us improve a LOT on the second side.

Old unit top and the sturdy new one bottom

Annapolis MD is about 20 miles from Dave’s house and although we got torrential rain we were spared the tornado that did so much damage over there.

So we are happy to report we are safe and well and have a repaired coach.

Ginger, needed lots of spoiling.

We got to catch up with a whole lot of great people Fred and Cori, Lyn and Doug, Dave and Gloria, Al and Jackie, Dave Bohrer, George and Jen, Butch, Terry, Neci. If I accidentally left somebody off the list I apologize for my poor memory, we love you just as much as everyone else.

We didn’t get to see my friends from Alion Science unfortunately but circumstances just didn’t allow it. Catch you next time around!

Thursday, August 19, 2021

The objective has been reached

 On the way we stopped at the capitol of Maine – Augusta and another Elks Lodge, a really nice lodge with DARTS! They also had a nice oatmeal stout which made life pleasant. A side trip to Booth Bay Harbor reminded us that the tourist trap towns should really be avoided.

and they were GOOD!

After Augusta we went back to one of our old haunts, the Elks Lodge at Rockland where enjoyed had previously enjoyed the Maine Lobsterfest. Unfortunately after Covid last year and the long lead time necessary for organizing vendors etc, this years event had been cancelled. It may have been a good thing as the heavens opened for a couple of days and the forecasts were talking of 2” to 4” in total.

The Knox mansion near Rockland

A very welcoming lodge equipped with several dart boards and a shuffleboard table helped us fill in the time.

One of the many pretty little coves, each with a harbor for lobster boats

Just around the corner we saw a sign for Lobster Rolls with decent prices so we stopped by for lunch. We placed our order and started one of those great casual conversations with another customer as we waited for our orders. We were just talking about being from the Liverpool England area when the owner came out with our orders. He joined in the conversation then asked if we knew the other side of the “Harbor” from Liverpool. We explained that it was actually the river Mersey and the town was called Birkenhead – our hometown.

Then he said that his father in law was from a place named OXTON VILLAGE!! We lived in Oxton Village for a couple of years before we emigrated to the States and our good friends Ken and Angie Oram have lived there for a long time!

You just never know when those “Its a small world” moments will pop up!

After decimating the lobster population some more we packed up for the long drive to Bangor. Well 64 miles can seem long sometimes! We were soon settled into one of the nicest campgrounds around, Pumpkin Patch in Hermon ME. On arrival we met our “Mum and Dad” Peter and Donna who officially adopted us when we joined Escapees Chapter 57 in Florida. They quickly filled us in on all the best places to eat!

I should move to Maine just for the license plate

We took that information and crossed the road to Ralph and Crystal’s rig, yes the same Ralph and Crystal we met in the Finger Lakes! They, by pure coincidence, happened to be here for a few days, but they didn’t know about the rally and unfortunately couldn’t stay for it as the CG is completely full.

With Peter and Donna’s list of good eats we went to a local diner. While everyone else had seafood I chose the cracked pepper rib eye steak, and what a fantastic steak it was. It’s years since I had one as good. We staggered back to the CG stuffed to the gills.

Ralph and I decided we needed to go fishing the next morning and I think the lades were glad to see our backs for a couple of hours. With tips from a local bait shop about where to fish, we had a couple of pleasant hours annoying the local fish population. Ralph took the honors by landing 2 nice ones and I put back the little sunfish I caught. 

Ralph joined us in our attempt to eat all the lobsters in Maine by finding a local seafood restaurant/market and eating 2 there then bringing 2 more back to cook for later consumption. Good man!

Ralph caught the first fish of the day.
Back at the CG the early rallyists were arriving and our old friends Dave and Rose Irons camped directly opposite us, giving us a chance to catch up on all the news.

Getting ready for the feast.

Pretty soon the party started! Rallies are so much fun, meeting old friends and making new ones. Learning new things and sharing knowledge with others. We have been “Rally Rats” since we were teenagers running around the motorcycle rally scene across England and Europe. Back then we would throw a tent and a couple of sleeping bags on the back of the BSA or whatever motorcycle we had at the time and just head out. That made us graduate to more capable bikes, better camping equipment, then to a pop up trailer and eventually into RV’s.

Dave getting tucked in

We ate A LOT! Diets were not a feature of this event and breakfasts were provided every morning, dinners out were frequent, happy hours at night, and a pot luck dinner, but the big one was the Lobster Feast.

Barbara, Myself Rose and Dave still eating

When you registered for the rally they asked how many lobsters you wanted, last time we just ordered 2 a piece but friends ordered more so they could freeze them and enjoy them later, we thought that was a good idea. This time we ordered 10!!

Fresh from the boiler

Clams too

Peter knows the lobster guy and got them direct from the boat. There were 100 I believe plus fresh clams and corn cooked out the back of the rec center. The club (Chapter 3 of the Escapees RV club) has all the pots etc and have had plenty of practice cooking them. The crowd gathered, the excitement built and then….LOBSTERS!

Dressed for the occasion

They were just delicious and pretty soon they were devoured. Lots of full bellies and smiling faces were all that was left. I have to think that we seriously reduced the lobster population, maybe we got a bit closer to making them an endangered species, who knows??

The objective in sight

Dreams do come true

We stayed a few extra days after the rally was over and hung out with Peter, Donna, Rose and Dave, relaxing, sipping a few drinks, getting bitten by the mosquitoes! 

After another great dinner at Chases Diner it was time to go. The end of our “Outbound” trip and time to turn around. It has been enormous fun but we still have more adventures to find yet.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Vermont and Southern Maine

 Then we finally left New York and moved into one of our favorite states, Vermont.

Delicious hand made ice cream

Vermont is known as “The Green Mountain State” which is apt in several ways. Firstly the name Ver Mont is French for Green Mountain! Secondly the state is very mountainous. Not gigantic mountains but very picturesque. Lastly there are trees everywhere and so everything is very green.

See what I mean about the Green Mountains?

We have had many family vacation here when the kids were growing up and my sisters and Barbara’s brother have visited here on vacations. We have been thru on our fulltime adventures in the past too, so know it well.

Vermont is the home of REAL Maple Syrup

We were trying to decide whether to stay around Burlington and we had intended to meet Ralph and Crystal in Burlington VT, but at the same time we were also trying to get a Thousand Trails stay to help offset the cost of the membership.

Maine lighthouses are our favorites

As it turned out we could get one week in at a TT campground in Wells Maine starting in a couple of days, so the plan became a couple of nights at the Elks Lodge in Brattleboro VT then a week in Maine followed by?? 

Just our regular drifting around! But the distances aren’t vast so just a couple of hundred miles would cover it.

To our surprise the TT park in Moody Beach ME was quite nice, at least in the new section we managed to get into. The sites were spacious and level with 50amp power and all the amenities.  The town of Moody Beach was nice too.

Craft beer seemingly everywhere.

Traffic was a nightmare though on Rt 1. It is very much a vacation destination for the population of Massachusetts, the border being less than 20 miles south, and Rt1 although pretty, it is just 2 lanes wide with many small towns and 25mph speed limits.

LOBSTAH! As its pronounced in Maine

No big deal as long as you keep your cool and enjoy watching the tourists cutting each other off and getting irate!

There were lots of places to explore and magnificent coastal views to be had. Having a week in one place we broke out the grill and the chairs.

Of course we had a mission. Make the Lobster an endangered species! We ate as many as we could but prices have almost doubled this year. With the hammering businesses took last year it’s not surprising.

A Lobster sticker for the RV

Another chance sighting of a billboard saw us in the theater watching “Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville” which was a very nice change of pace.

The set for Margaritaville.

We explored all around and visited several Elks Lodges to add to our collection of the special pins (Badges) that each lodge have custom made.

Fort Western Augusta ME

Eventually we had to move on. The long term goal was to go to Rockland ME then on to Harmon ME where Escapees Chapter 2 are holding their annual Lobsterfest Rally. Escapees and Lobsters, what else can you ask for?

The State Capital Building Augusta ME

On the way we stopped at the capitol of Maine – Augusta and another Elks Lodge, a really nice lodge with DARTS! They also had a nice oatmeal stout which made life pleasant. A side trip to Booth Bay Harbor reminded us that the tourist trap towns should really be avoided.