The RV Rebuild
After an unexpected exit from our latest work camping job we headed quickly to Ben’s Mom and Step Dad’s house in Colorado. We were still reeling from the events that had transpired but we didn’t have time to dwell on it. Lauren’s parents were on their way out to visit and we had just left our jobs and where they were supposed to meet us. On top of that, this season we planned to do a rebuild and remodel of the fifth wheel and we were now going to be starting this project two months earlier than planned. There was a lot to do and a lot to think about.
Back in season five we had been trying to sell Lauren’s car. There were a few reasons for doing this. The first one being that by eliminating a second vehicle, we would cut down our maintenance and travel expenses. And, when we travelled we would be in the same vehicle allowing Lauren to navigate and find places to stay along the way. We had gotten a taste of how nice it was to be in the same vehicle when we left Lauren’s car behind for the trip to Michigan. Even more important though was that by selling Lauren’s car we would have the funds for the rebuild/ remodel of our home. We had discussed options that would allow us to keep Lauren’s car, back in season two we had thought about trading in the truck and trailer for a motorhome and towing Lauren’s car. The Crosstrek was not flat towable however and we would need to purchase a trailer to tow it on. In the end we made the decision to keep our very capable one ton truck and the trailer we really loved and knew as home. It made more sense to us to get rid of Lauren’s car. The car had not yet sold and it was a top priority when we arrived in Colorado.
Ben’s Mom and Step Dad also had a fifth wheel which they generously offered to Lauren’s parents to stay in so that they could still visit us. Ben and I started by cleaning and setting up the fifth wheel so that it could serve as a guest house for Lauren’s parents. Next was cleaning up the barn and rearranging some things so that we could put our fifth wheel in the barn to work on over the summer. We only had a few days before Lauren’s parents would arrive.
When they did arrive, they got straight to work, helping us with the fifth wheel. Step one was moving out of it. Lauren and her Mom packed up all of our belongings. Everything was boxed up except what we would need that summer. Our clothes and toiletries were moved into the guest room and bathroom in the house. While they did this Ben and Lauren’s Dad went to purchase some tools needed for moving the fifth wheel into the barn. When the fifth wheel was empty it was time to maneuver it into the barn. This was not a simple task as the barn door was oriented on the broad side of the barn and we would have to put the trailer inside and turn it 90 degrees in order for the trailer to fit. The plan was to back the fifth wheel through the door at an angle, jack it up and put it on castors and then using the castors, push it sideways and into position. We broke a couple of castors in the process but they served their purpose and we were able to start with the disassembly process of this project. We knew one of the things we wanted to do was work on the walls of the slide room and one of the reasons we were doing this project was because we weren’t sure if we were going to need to replace the main deck. In order to inspect and replace the main deck as well as work on the slide room, the slide room would need to be removed. Ben’s Step Dad and Lauren’s Dad worked on cutting wood blocks for cribbing to remove the slide room. While Ben worked on disconnecting the electronics for the slide room. Lauren’s Mom helped by stripping all of the cabinet doors and drawers so that they could be painted.
This was not going to be an all work vacation for Lauren’ s parents though. We would take a break for a few days and go to see Rocky Mountain National Park, Vail, Breckenridge, and the Capital building in Denver. That was about all the time we had for fun though and had to excuse ourselves from the additional excursions Lauren’s parents went on including a trip to Red Rocks.
Lauren’s parents and Ben’s Mom and Step Dad were meeting for the first time. So that everyone could get to know each other a little better we all went out to lunch at a winery and did a wine tasting. It was great getting to spend time with Lauren’s parents but their vacation was coming to an end and they would have to return to Rhode Island.
That summer was so hot that Lauren got up in the wee hours of the morning to paint before it got too hot. Some days it was too hot for the paint by eight am. Ben was the brains for the structural modifications and upgrades. The number one priority was to check the main floor for mold and damage. We realized early on that the main deck was in better condition than we were expecting and we would be able to leave it in tact. Which was a major relief. We also needed to fix the frame that we had worked on in season four and come up with a better way of reinforcing it. While we pondered that, we ordered replacements for the refrigerator, water heater, and furnace. And, listed the used propane appliances online. The new furnace and water heater were not direct replacements which created challenges including where to install them and what to do with the holes in the side of the rig left behind when we removed the old appliances. They were also diesel which meant finding a fuel tank and a place to install it.
The refrigerator was such a large item it had to be shipped freight. The driver backed right up to the barn door and placed the pallet inside for us. We signed for it and were excited to see our new 12V DC refrigerator. We started to unpack it when we heard a large crunching noise. The delivery driver ran into a 55-gallon drum sitting outside the barn and the well head for the property. We then spent the majority of the day trying to figure out how to file a report for damages and who to call to come and inspect the well head as the cover was cracked and we weren’t sure if there was any more damage further down in the ground. After that our other deliveries were relatively incident free.
We worked long hours modifying plumbing and wiring, and installing our replacement appliances as well as adding a few new items to our system. We were very excited that we would be able to add solar and a larger battery bank as a part of this project.
Most afternoons Ben’s Mom would get home from work and would immediately head out to the barn with her dog Macy in tow for what seemed like a daily inspection. What she didn’t know is that most days Macy would spend the day in a barn with us, bathing in the sun streaming through the door or following us around as we worked. Dressed in her business casual clothing and dress shoes she would walk around the barn for about twenty minutes taking note of the days progress and saying I have to get out of these work clothes and get back to work (in her home office). And, although Ben would tell his Mom, “I got to get back to work, you’re slowing us down,” he enjoyed showing the daily progress and visiting with his Mom.
Before we installed the solar on the roof we knew we needed to replace the rubber membrane and possibly one of the plywood sheets that felt soft when we were on the roof. When we pulled the membrane back and removed the plywood sheet we found black mold. At this point we decided we better replace all of the plywood boards and while we were at it, the insulation. This was going to be a huge undertaking and something we could not do on our own. Ben’s Mom and Step Dad helped us and in a single day we replaced all of the insulation and decking. Ben and his Step Dad spent the day on the roof removing the old material and calling out measurements to Ben’s Mom and Lauren who were on the ground cutting material to size and handing it up to be put in place and fastened. We had a system and it worked. The full roof replacement was not in the original plan. This was an unforeseen expense. Luckily, because we did not have to replace the main deck we had the budget to fix the roof. This would just mean we couldn’t do other upgrades we had been looking into. But that was okay as the roof was more important. Ben likes to joke, “if you need an RV roof replaced, don’t call him.” This was our first RV roof replacement and we did not do the best job.
After the new membrane was glued on Ben’s Step Dad who was an electrician and now worked in the solar industry helped to wire in the solar panels.
Solar was not going to be our only power source for recharging the batteries though. We would also be installing a battery to battery charger. This would connect the alternator in the truck via an Anderson plug back to the trailer so that while we were driving down the road the power being produced could be used to recharge our trailer batteries. This would mean that we were not dependent on a single power source for recharging our batteries.
Ben’s Mom and Step Dad in a previous endeavor had been buying storage units and selling the contents out of the barn. They had also done the remodel of their house a few years prior. From these projects they had left over miscellaneous materials which they offered to us for use in our remodel. As our home was not very big we did not require very much material for our various projects. The left over materials were plenty to put the finishing touches on our home. One of our favorite pieces is an arched piece of molding that is over our doorway. Ben’s Mom walked around the fifth wheel for about a week, holding this piece up in various locations trying to find a place it would work. Her dedication to finding a place for it in our home paid off when she held it up over our doorway. Although we forget about it most of the time, occasionally we look up at this piece of molding and have fond memories of finding Ben’s Mom in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, or living room holding up this piece of wood molding and looking for the perfect location to incorporate it.
It wasn’t all work that summer though. We did find time for a few fun outings including a trip to Mile High Stadium to see a Broncos game with Ben’s Mom and Step Dad. As well as dinner with Ben’s cousin Shawnett and her family either at her house or out at a local restaurant or brewery.
We were becoming crunched for time and if the fifth wheel was going to be operational again Lauren would have to move her attention away from the remodel and help Ben with the frame repair and reassembly of the things we had taken apart. We reconstructed the storage bay with a rack to store skis and a utility bay where all of the water and electrical connections would be inside.
Ben’s Mom saved the remodel project by stripping the table and chairs so that they could be stained and worked with Lauren to create the valences for the windows in the bedroom and the living space. (These would be made out of reclaimed/ weathered fence post and cedar shingles.) Without her help, there would be a large portion of the remodel left undone. She also found the rug for the slide room that we were able to cut to size and rebind.
The project was only supposed to take two months. In reality it took two months and three weeks. Originally, we thought we would only have time to get the major projects for the rebuild finished. If it had not been for the help of Ben’s Mom and Step Dad there would have been a lot of small things left undone. They were instrumental in helping to make our home mobile again and their help allowed us to focus our work on some of the finer details. This would mean we would be leaving with the trailer closer to overall completion than expected. We finally had everything back together and were able to get the trailer out of the barn. The first thing we did was drive it down the road to the fuel station to fill it with it’s first tank of diesel.
After a few test drives and taking care of a few loose ends it was time to get back on the road as we were quickly approaching the beginning of our next contract. Our first night out we stopped at the Wyoming visitor center outside of Cheyenne which had some pretty cool displays including the fossil of a wooly mammoth. We enjoyed the diversion and got on our way to a campground located near Laramie, Wyoming. The dirt road in was a little tricky to maneuver but we made it, and got to test our new systems with a night of boondocking.
The next day we were on our way through Rawlins, Wyoming when we spotted an MCI bus off the highway in the KOA, it looked just like the one our neighbors and co-workers from Michigan had. We quickly exited and found out that it was theirs and got to catch up with them. We had to say goodbye though as we were running out of time and had to get further down the road. We were going to stay in a campground at the Flaming Gorge Recreation Area that night but when we got there it hadn’t opened yet for the season. We made one more attempt to stay in the area on public land open for camping but it wasn’t working out. It was getting late and our next best option was a truck stop (Little America) that allowed overnight parking for RVs. We were almost there when Ben said we blew a tire on the trailer. Lauren was in disbelief as neither of us had felt anything. Ben had just looked in the side view mirror and saw smoke coming from the trailer tire. We pulled over in front of the sign that said we were a mile from our destination. Ben put on his coveralls and got out the tools to put the spare on. We made it to the truck stop and luckily there was service shop there. The spare was not in great shape and we didn’t want to go too far on it. When we called the service shop they said we could bring it in in the morning and they could replace all of the tires for us but they would have to go get the correct tires in the nearest town. The tires were all replaced by mid afternoon and we were on our way again. That night we found the BLM campground near the Bonneville Salt Flats that had alluded us in the past. We enjoyed a calm and quiet evening alone under the stars and dreamed about what the next season would bring.
From there we made a stop at Ben’s Grandmother’s house where we went out to a Barbeque dinner which seemed like it was becoming a tradition as we had gone every time we were in town. We spent a few days driveway surfing so that we could visit and catch up with her as well as stock up on supplies as this was going to be the last big town we would be in for a while. After stocking up it was time to continue our journey westward into the Sierra Nevada Mountains.