Life En Route - Our journey on the road

Ready for Install

The remaining suspension parts arrived this morning, and I scheduled the install. I laid all the parts out so that I could inspect them and verify everything was there before taking it to the shop. One of these days I hope to have a large enough garage and the appropriate tools to do things like this at my house. It’s going to cost $1,400 for the install, including the alignment, which I’m being told is about right for this kind of deal. They’re giving me a fixed price quote… so either they make out or I do, but at least I’m not paying by the hour if/when they get stuck.

The install is going to be done by Reese’s Truck Pieces in Burnet, Texas. We’re going to make a mini vacation of this by taking my truck, the RV, and Kelly’s truck to Canyon of the Eagles next Monday, dropping off the RV, moving all the parts from the hers into my truck, driving both trucks to the shop, locking up my truck and leaving the keys with the owner for them to begin work on Tuesday morning. They estimate 2-3 days. We booked our site through Saturday, so hopefully we’ll have a couple days with it unloaded and then a good test haul back home with the new suspension in place.

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The components for the Kelderman kit are absolutely massive. With a shipping weight of five hundred pounds, I have to wonder how much weight I am adding to the truck. The parts I am pulling out cannot weigh anywhere close to that. I didn’t photograph anything for scale, but if you look at the right side of the top photo there is a 5 gallon water jug to act as a reference point.

 

New Kelderman Video

Kelderman added a Youtube video of the stock height suspension on a 2500HD the other day. This really helped me to visualize how everything is going to be placed, and how large the bags and rear sway bar are.

The video is illustrating the automatic height adjustment system. The beginning of the video is what would happen when dropping a 3,000# trailer onto the truck (simulated by dumping all the air out of the bags). The suspension will be compressed. Once it has settled for a moment, the level check activates the compressor to return the truck to normal ride height. That way, the height will be the same no matter what the load on the truck is. Helper bags can be configured to do the same thing, but unlike helper bags, the Kelderman setup should ride the same whether loaded or not.

 

Trailer Brake Upgrades

We’re planning on a couple extended trips: one is to take the rig through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, and finally come back to Texas over the course of several months; the other is a quicker trip up to Pennsylvania to visit family, head west to Chicago to visit friends, then turn south back to Texas. We’re trying to proactively address all of our concerns, and in that I set aside a $5,000 budget for safety upgrades.

We were debating the following upgrades, and trying to choose between them:

  1. Mor/Ryde Independent Suspension and Kodiak brake upgrade for the trailer (quote came in at $5700)
  2. Standalone disc brakes for the trailer (estimated $3000)
  3. Trade in the 2500HD for a dually (lose who knows how much on the trade, plus what we have into parts), or
  4. Investigate options to improve the ride and handling of the 2500HD (ended up around $8000)

In the end we opted not to get the Mor/Ryde IS. I’m sure it is worth it, but we already have a Trailer Saver BD3 hitch and the Equa-Flex suspension on the trailer does a fine job as far as we can tell. We’re pretty isolated from the movement of the trailer thanks to the hitch, and contents don’t seem to move around much if at all when we’re traveling.

The standalone disc brakes sounded very tempting, but I talked myself out of the upgrade after walking around our storage lot and noting that no other rigs have them. However, what I’ve read on forums leads me to believe they’re a great addition, especially when it comes to emergency maneuvers, and traveling in the mountains. I’m actually sort of impressed with this trailer’s ability to stop (better than the 10K# Crossroad’s we replaced), but think I could still drag it forward if I wanted to with the brakes fully applied.

Finally, it wasn’t in the cards to trade in the truck. Not only were we not happy with the dually options, we have a lot invested in our current truck and it serves all of our needs well. Getting it to happily handle our fully loaded trailer and auxiliary fuel tank was a tradeoff where unloaded ride quality suffers greatly, though. Due to this we opted for option #4. After a lot of research, we blew through our $5K budget and decided to go all out with a Kelderman rear setup and DMaxStore Stage 3 level for the front end of the truck. That decision is detailed here.

Going back to the trailer brakes, I decided I’d rather be safe than sorry. I don’t want to put my family or anyone else on the road at risk, and being able to stop a rig running over 20,000# is critical to safety. While the stock brakes work well, it sounds like there is a lot of room for improvement (approximately 50% according to many tests) from all the reading I’ve done. After calling around and investigating our options, I decided to do a self install.  I received a quote this morning from Performance Trailer Braking for a setup including Titan Premier 13″ disk brakes, a Titan actuator, and everything required for a DIY install and interface with my factory GM brake controller. The quote came in at $1820, shipped to my door, and the only other costs I should incur are grease and brake fluid. It’s far less than the $3,000 we initially planned on and brings us to double our initial safety budget – but with fewer worries on the road.

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Also, a lot of our decision was thanks to this Live Work Dream Blog.

Major Suspension Upgrades

We’ve been complaining off and on about the ride of the truck since it was on stock tires and just had air bags on it. We figured we could live with it because it is a HD truck, but as a daily driver it’s really uncomfortable.

Aside from the air bags, the StableLoads and 19.5″ tires individually don’t make the ride much worse, but all paired together makes it almost unbearable (unloaded) on certain roads and horrid off road. The StableLoads can be disengaged, but we tow more than not and don’t tend to disengage them between hauls, but in practice the weight of the transfer tank and hitch on top of them keeps us from doing so.

The truck rides well when towing and is extremely stable, so we are happy with the setup in that regard, though there is always room for improvement, especially in regards to bump steer, which is an issue both loaded and not.

We strongly contemplated upgrading to a dually that can ride on stock suspension and E rated tires, but ultimately decided to overhaul both the front and rear suspension to address our issues. We should have a ride superior to any HD truck on the market once completed.

Starting with the rear: we’ve been talking to Kelderman about their four link rear suspension system that completely replaces the leaf suspension on the truck. It’s a fairly permanent installation because it requires cutting some brackets off the frame, but has several inherent benefits. It completely addresses both wheel hop and axle wrap, keeps the tires more firmly planted on the ground because the components holding the axle in place don’t flex, and is modeled after the large air ride systems found on large over the road trucks. Due to the cost of the system it is pretty rare to find anyone running it, but we spoke with two people we found on a forum who have it on their trucks and both were extremely happy with it.

The Kelderman 4 link is a must have… GM trucks are too stiff and ride poorly without it… I don’t like the GM IFS because they are susceptible to bump steer. I’ve had my truck for 3 years now and it has 75k miles on it. Majority of those miles were on the Kelderman 4 link and a lot of miles towing…

Long story short, I’d buy the Kelderman 4 link everyday of the week and twice on Sunday. Don’t skimp. You get what you pay for. Don’t expect it to ride like a Cadillac or 1500. You’ll be disappointed like me. However, I did notice improvement on a section of road on my way to work. Everyday I had to slow down or bump my head on the roof. With the air bags I no longer hit the roof. Another noticeable improvement is driving the hunting roads. A diesel is the roughest riding vehicle and not fun to ride in. However, since installing the air bags my ride is noticeably better. I also have a Cognito leveling kit with upper control arms and Fox shocks and they probably help a little. I blast down rutted dirt roads at 45-50mph which is too fast for a stock truck.

I could go on and on. I’ve had great success with my Kelderman 4 link. If it were a $7k option when purchasing a new truck, I’d get the diesel option first and 4 link second. Everything else just isn’t as important.

I do, the improvement over stock is pretty noticeable. Handles much better through corners, stays planted in the ass end & cuts down on sway while hooked to a trailer. The ride quality is better both loaded and empty.

I have a 10k 29′ toy hauler and a 14k 14′ dump trailer both tow great. Also live in Minnesota, haven’t had any problems with the cold temps and air system thus far.

If you can swallow the price tag I would highly recommend it. My dad has an 05 CCLB DRW and it rides like total shit compared to mine with the air ride.

Kelderman recommended that we run a leveling kit because the new suspension will either ride at the same height, or possibly up to one inch higher than stock. The Chevy trucks have a lot of rake, and we’ve been contemplating a leveling kit for a long time. Once again, avoiding it due to cost… Most people crank the bars to level their trucks which results in reduced ride quality, while we’re actually looking to improve it. So we decided to go with a Stage 3 kit which replaces the upper control arms with ones that have a different geometry to accommodate the taller ride height and increase suspension travel. It also includes Fox 2.0 shocks which are supposedly far better than the stock Rancho shocks on the truck, and comes with rear shocks to pair with the Kelderman kit. To address the bump steer, we purchased two items that are supposed to address the bump steer, and address it even better when used together. The Cognito PISK3008 Pitman/Idler support kit and a Rough Country steering stabilizer. And since we’re running such heavy front tires, decided to throw on a pair of Rough Country tie rod sleeves while in there to help keep the suspension in good shape.

Both the leveling kit and Kelderman kit increase suspension travel over stock, and the rear is a full air ride solution. The upgraded shocks, steering components, and full air ride should provide an incredible ride compared to what we have now. Kelderman has a few options for the air management; manual (via schrader valve) or onboard, and then a few options for the onboard kit. We opted to go full out and get the automatic leveling with an air dryer, so the truck will sense when weight is added and automatically inflate to the normal ride height. It’ll also allow us to dump the air out of the bags to drop the truck 4″ or so lower than stock to make loading/ unloading or hooking up to trailers easier.

Another thing that sold us on the Kelderman is that as a full suspension replacement, it is the same exact suspension that they sell for 3500SRW and DRW trucks. It’s rated for 12K RAWR, with two 6K bags, which is far more than we’ll ever carry. Aside from the door sticker, we’ll have completely eliminated the differences between our truck and an upgraded 3500HD. I called the DMV the other day to see if we could register our truck for a higher GVWR in Texas and they told me that for personal use, it doesn’t matter in this state. If we wanted, we could change it to commercial and buy additional weight, but there was no point for our use. Pretty happy with that answer and it was considered in our decision to keep our SRW, which we’re otherwise really happy with! With the amount of money we now have into this truck, we’re going to keep it for a very long time.

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RV AC, Texas heat, and Reflectix

by James 0 Comments

We have two 15K AC units in our coach, but the site we’re currently staying at offers no shade, has direct sunlight for most of the day, and is located in Texas with 100° Fahrenheit heat. The AC units were running constantly and could only keep the living room area around 78°, and the bedroom/ front bath area in the low seventies.

Since we prefer temps in the high sixties to very low seventies throughout the coach, we looked for some options that we could implement quickly while here without having to order or custom make anything. We ran across many forums online that cited a material called Reflectix, which is basically bubble wrap covered in aluminum foil on both sides. If you’ve ever used a folding sun-visor for a car windshield, you’re probably familiar with the stuff.

I’ve read that you’re not supposed to use it with dual pane windows because it can blow out the seals, but that single pane windows like we have should be fine with it. We purchased a 48″x25′ roll, a straight rule, a sharpie, utility knife, and 3/4″x180″ roll of velcro from Lowes last night for under $100. We measured all of our windows beforehand, and found that if we purchased the 25′ roll, we’d have about 13% left over. We used a free program called MaxCut (which I use for my woodworking projects) to find the most efficient way to make the cuts.

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We sized all the pieces for the windows and used 2-6 ~1.25″ pieces of velcro to hold them up. So far, the adhesive on the velcro is working (though I’m keeping an eye on it for longevity), and the AC that was running constantly yesterday has been only coming on for a few minutes every half hour to maintain a temp of 70° in the coach.

The material isn’t visible from the inside of the coach thanks to the blinds, and is easily removable due to the velcro. We didn’t use velcro on the windows where screens could be used to hold it place. The outside of the coach has dark tint over the windows, so it’s difficult to see on all but the clear window for the front door.

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Update: it’s almost the hottest part of the day and the coach is a littler warmer than I’d like, at 73°, but still much cooler than yesterday. The bedroom and front bath are staying under 70°, so we’re considering a fan to blow air from that area into the living.

 

 

RV RO Components First Impression

I’ve been waiting about a week for the major system components, and they finally arrived today. The box was smaller than I expected, but was well very well packed, and I had to spend quite a bit of time getting bubble wrap off of individual parts. Though the box was smaller than I expected, the components themselves are actually a little larger. The photos online don’t really express the size of these components, but luckily they’ll still fit in my storage bay just fine. The filters, filter canisters, output wye, standalone filter cap, and standalone filter bracket were the only things needing assembly.

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(not pictured are the automatic flow controller and sensors that came with it, that arrived separately)

The components were all from http://www.rvwaterfilterstore.com – I placed the order over the phone after speaking with Rick Dahl, the owner who was extremely helpful in answering questions about my design. I spent a few days doing online research before deciding to move forward with the RO system, and how in depth I wanted to go with it. I decided to go high end to avoid regrets, and bought the Super Deluxe Package IIB package, with upgrades to dual 100GPD membranes, an additional single canister with a PS-3C cartridge, and an upgrade for the coach pump to the Aquajet ARV model that can output 5.3gpm @ 65PSI. I expected the canisters to be made of flimsy plastic but they’re actually made of extremely sturdy material. The pumps look to be well built and like they’ll last a long time, and the only thing I wasn’t overly impressed with were the brackets that mount the assemblies together and to the wall. Realistically, they’re industry standard and perfectly sufficient for the task, but compared to the rest of the components that seem to be possibly overbuilt, they seem underwhelming.

I’ll be gathering the rest of the components for the install and post about the install once some progress is made.

 

RV RO System

by James 0 Comments

I bought a filtering system yesterday, but called the vendor today to ask if it’ll actually address our issues before it ships. The person I spoke with was very knowledgeable and helpful, and pointed us to a reverse osmosis system for the ultimate setup, which can be implemented for anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand. At the low end we would spend little more than we did on the filtering, and have better results. After a lot of my own research, I decided to mock one up for consideration. To do it to my standards will be way more than I have budgeted for RV upgrades this month, so I’m going to sleep on it for a few days. The install will also be quite involved if we go with this solution.

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The rest of our shopping list

by James 0 Comments

We took the RV for a dry run last weekend and stayed for five days. We have a few expensive items that we still need to purchase before hitting the road, and I’ve been procrastinating a little bit because I’m waiting to find them on sale:

  • Spare truck tire ($800) Updated 07/18/2016
    • 19.5″ 8×180 Vision 81 wheel and Michelin XDS2 245/70r19.5 tire w/ TPMS
    • I decided that I should go ahead and upgrade to a spare that can handle a fully loaded rig.
    • I originally was going to save $200-$300 on the tire itself, but decided to do a five tire rotation.
    • I have decided, for now, to skip the five tire rotation. It is likely that we will age out the tires (7 years) before wearing out a set.
    • The OEM spare on my truck is a 265/70r18 Goodyear SR-A, rated for 3525#. It has a diameter of 32.6″ and 638 revs per mile.
    • The 19.5s I am running have a diameter of 33.6″ and 615 revs per mile. The difference in revs is the important one, at 3.7%.
    • 3.7% is under the 5% difference you need to be aware of for ABS, Traction Control, Stability Control, etc…
    • And capacity is enough to safe on the front at all times, the rear for 95% of the loads we’ll carry.
    • I threw eight factory lugs in my toolbox in case my aftermarket acorn lugs don’t work with the spare.
    • Saves a substantial amount of money.
  • Wireless Signal Booster ($479) Won Ebay Auction for NIB item, $396 incl. S&H, 07/18/2016
    • Weboost Drive 4G-X
    • I want to have something that will help us get cell/data reception in rural areas, since we depend on it for work.
    • Spent some of the money I saved on a Wilson 301133 antenna and 901104 mount for $60.
  • RVLock 4.0 with extra key fob ($300) Purchased 07/18/2016 without extra keyfob, with promo code for $199
    • This is an electronic RV door lock that serves two purposes
    • Rare keying vs the standard keying (a handful of keys work all RV doors)
    • PIN access so we don’t have to carry keys, and fob so we can unlock with a remote
  • RV Water Softener ($200-$300) Purchased alternative 07/18/2016
    • I’ve seen a lot of these, especially at campgrounds with lots of fulltimers.  I think one would be very useful.
    • Looking at the 602abcwater.com 16,000 grain unit.
    • I decided to invest in proper flow and filtration instead, after reading several blogs, including this one.
    • 263A-LF, stainless oil filled gauge, stainless parts kit
    • Triple canister kit with mounting bracket, one clear, and two white canisters
    • RV-SED1 cartridge, 2pk
    • RV-SED5 cartridge, 2pk
    • F1Pb cartridge
  • Rope Lights ($50-$100) Purchased 07/18/2016
    • These are great to throw on the ground and light up the area around the rig.
    • We’ve had some inexpensive ones, but they don’t last, so I’m going to research nicer sets.
    • Ended up buying Meilo brand from Overstock. 48′ LED strip for $42 with good reviews.
  • HP OfficeJet 150 portable all-in-one ($325) Purchased alternative 07/18/2016
    • We don’t have room for the Brother all in one that we have been using.
    • Decided to go with a Brother AIO that is a little larger than the HP, but will better fit our needs and is less expensive.
    • Brother MFC-J985DW for $169 from B&H.
  • Eternabond roof seal tape ($60) Purchased 07/18/2016
    • Even though we have a much better roof, I don’t think I want to be caught without roofing repair tape again.
    • Bought a 4″x12′ roll for $20.

Jim Hogg Park

by James 0 Comments

We’ve stayed at Lake Georgetown several times over the years. It is close to home, inexpensive, and usually relatively sparse. This weekend it was heavily crowded and there was a lot of boat traffic, but we extended our stay a couple days and it thinned out greatly this afternoon.

We’re staying in Site 37. It was relatively easy to back into with only one tree to worry about that only slightly reaches over the pad, but it is on the blind side of the trailer. As far as I know, all the spots on the lake side are on the blind side. Not a huge deal but is much easier when using two way radios and a spotter.

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Next time we’re going to try and book site 30, which happens to be a double site, so that we don’t have a slope out the door of the trailer and because it has a terrific view of the sunset. Or site 32, which is a single site right next to it, that has a great trail down to the water.

As for the new roof, we had a strong thunderstorm roll through last night and hang over the lake for a couple hours. We checked the ceiling throughout the entire unit for leaks during and after the storm and didn’t find any indication of moisture coming in. It was a great test and we’re very happy with the results. When the storm came in Violet was extremely upset because I think the last storm we went through (with the roof leak) traumatized her. We’ll have to work on positive associations with the trailer and storms with her, as we experience them.

RV as a Bug Out Vehicle

by James 0 Comments

This is an interesting subject to me. There are a lot of ideas of what preparedness is, what events to prepare for, and even stereotypes for the people who prepare for them. There are a lot of unknowns: are we ever likely to see a zombie apocalypse? Is it all just a waste of money?

I doubt I’ll see a zombie apocalypse in my lifetime. I don’t think it’s completely out of the question to see an economic collapse, widespread natural disaster, or chemical warfare, though. And as someone who tries to plan at least a couple steps ahead for everything in life, I’m planning for these unknowns as well. I don’t make prepping a central part of my life, rather, I add it to the criteria I use when making important decisions. That includes many decisions we made regarding the RV, and the accessories we purchased.

First of all, there are several classes of RVs. You have motorized RVs, classes A, B, and C. Then you have various types of travel trailers and fifth wheels. I ruled out class B and C RVs because they don’t meet our recreational requirements for full-time or extended duration trips. I ruled out travel trailers because I don’t like they way they tow. So that left us with class A RVs and fifth wheels. With class A, if you want to take a day trip, you need to tow a small car or other vehicle behind it. Due to the long wheel base of the the RV, and the short wheelbase of the trailer, you can’t really back up with it. Any backing will most likely require you to disconnect the towed vehicle. Additionally, if your RV has a mechanical issue, your living quarters go to the shop with it. With a fifth wheel, you can put the truck in the shop and have the RV towed to a destination where you can remain until the tow vehicle is fixed. I also decided that in a survival situation, having a pickup truck would be more useful than a small car because it could be used to access more difficult areas, hold more cargo, and is generally more utilitarian in every way. And since we’re planning on buying some acreage in the future, it makes a lot of sense for us to have a pickup instead of a car when that time comes.

When it came to choosing a truck, I chose a diesel for few reasons. They have a lot more pulling and stopping (engine brake) power,  diesel is a more stable fuel, is widely available, but there are fewer diesel vehicles on the road. You can run most diesel engines off of filtered homebrew fuels if the need ever arises. Because it’s a more stable fuel, you can keep tanks of it for extended periods of time without worrying about fuel degradation. It’s also legal to add an auxiliary fuel tank as long as it is used for diesel (the same does not apply to gasoline.) In previous natural disasters, like Katrina, there are reports of stations running out of gas but few running out of diesel, and while there were long lines at gas pumps, most diesel drivers were able to fuel up and leave without an issue. My truck has a 36 gallon factory tank and a 51 gallon auxiliary tank, giving me 87 gallons of fuel. It also has some MPG benefits, so I get 10-12mpg when towing a 13k+ trailer and 17mpg unloaded, giving me a range of 870-1479 miles.

When it came for purchasing a trailer, the biggest factor we looked at was floor plan. The floor plan we were interested in was available from a few manufacturers, but only in higher end models, so all of them had the features I was looking for as far as preparedness goes. For what it is worth, those features were a completely enclosed and warmed underbelly, better insulation, protected water hookups, and heated storage. We had the choice between a residential fridge and a slightly smaller RV fridge that could run off of propane, and chose the latter. Some nice to haves that we ended up with were electric heaters in both the living and bedroom to save on propane usage in cold weather, a convection microwave, and a far superior roof through our insurance claim. Our trailer did not come with a generator, so I opted to add a built-in Onan propane generator, for around $5,000. They’re very expensive but fully integrated into the units and capable of powering everything in them, including dual A/C units. They’re also very long lasting and repair parts are readily available.

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LP is readily available and I have a Camco 59123 kit that allows me to connect it to external propane sources such as 20# LP gas grill canisters, as well as a handful of adapters that will let me connect it to almost any propane source I can find. There are gasoline and natural gas conversion kits readily available for around $300 that I will purchase in the future. The same propane source can be used to run our stove, oven, refrigerator, furnace, and water heater. We also have adapters for running (with reduced cooling capacity) on 20A and 30A shore power instead of the 50A that our coach is designed for.

For water, in addition to the on board 60 gallon freshwater tank, I purchased a 45 gallon bladder that can be filled with water and a Wayne PC2 pump to transfer that into the onboard tank. And for septic, in addition to your usual 20ft RV septic kits that you carry for sites with full hookups, I purchased a Barker 32 gallon portable septic tank with pneumatic tires. The generator, bladder, pump, and tank address everything we need in order to “boondock”, or park and stay at any location without full hookups for an extended period of time.

In addition to taking a few steps to ensure that we can both camp and “bug out” off grid for a while, I’ve stocked the pantry with approximately a month’s supply of legumes, grains, and canned vegetables, and a comprehensive first aid kit in addition to whatever we have in our medicine cabinet. And we keep the RV stocked with flashlights, spare batteries, lighters, matches, fire starters, and other small items of importance. My truck’s toolbox is stocked with a full mechanic’s toolset, gloves, various types of cleaners, greases, and lubricants, jumper cables, and miscellaneous tools I think might be useful. We keep a Eastwing Fireside Friend and Bahco 10-21-51 in the RV. The truck is outfitted with Ranch Hand bumpers front and rear, as well as side steps that double as mild rockers, and H rated tires that increase its utility (bumpers can be used to push/pull items, have multiple tie-off points, can accept tray mounted winches, greatly improve approach and departure angles for off road use; tires increase stability, puncture resistance, and weight carrying capacity).

All in all, if an event ever hits that we need to leave town and stay for a while we can get in the RV and go. We have most of the things we’ll need to stay comfortably without full hookups for at least a month. We can travel nearly 900 miles if fully topped of with fuel.

Last, due to varying state and local laws, we decided not to carry firearms in the RV. Instead, I carry a Leatherman Surge on my person or in my truck, along with a 3″ survival knife in my center console. In the RV, we store a SOG Seal Pup and TenPoint Titan Xtreme crossbow (AcuDraw 50) with a dozen Black Eagle Executioner arrows carrying NAP Thunderheads for defense and hunting if ever required. Hopefully we will never use either, but ultimately they’re inexpensive insurance and a useful knife and fun toy.

In conclusion, we believe that we will be able to leverage our vacation and travel vehicle for emergency situations if they arise due to the careful planning we’ve put into it. We’re always interested in hearing what other people do, so leave comments. Hope this gives you some ideas for your own planning.