I follow the Keystone Alpine Owner’s Group on Facebook, and a couple weeks ago someone posted that they painted their AC covers white. As all the Keystone Alpine AC covers are black, that started a trend where quite a few people did it and reported better cooling, less compressor cycling, and discussing the prospect of a longer life for the AC units. I figure for $12 in paint, this is worth a try.
I received the goosebox a few days ago, and had them drop the pallet directly into the bed of the truck. From there, I tilted up the box and had Kelly pull the pallet out from under it, then turned it on its side, cut out the bottom of the box, and flipped it over so that it landed and secured itself on the ball. That made it easy enough to maneuver. I locked it down with a ratcheting tie down and attached the safety chains.
Today I took it to the RV, propped the back of the pin box up on leveling blocks, and backed under the wings. While I expected to make quick work of this using the hydraulic levelers on the front of the RV, it took close to an hour of shuffling to get everything lined up right and configured how I wanted it.
I found that I could get a full 90° lock, but that is the absolute limit, interestingly due to the reach of the safety chains.
It gives quite a bit more space around the back and side of the truck, which was surprising. Enough, actually, that I may eventually be able to get a wrap-around rear bumper for ease of access into the bed.
Towing with the Goosebox for the first time was uneventful. We made it home without any issues, and the ride was relatively smooth. There was a little but of unexpected discomfort on a bumpy 60mph stretch, but I suspect it may be the Timbrens, the air pressure, or possibly just something to get used to. On the flip side, it felt very nice at slower speeds, and going around corners at speed, without feeling like the trailer is trying to push past you. And it is silent – a nice change from the groaning that the friction-based sidewinder emits.
I think this is going to work out well for us, once we get a few small details worked out. I plan to tackle those this weekend.
We currently use a Reese Sidewinder pin box with a Curt A16 hitch. The Reese Sidewinder is designed to address the turning limitations you have with short bed trucks, and isn’t really designed for use in a long bed. It is compatible with a long bed truck and does slightly reduce the turning radius, but adds a lot of complexity and maintenance to the experience.
With a traditional pin box, you have a rigid connection from the trailer frame all the way to the connection point on the truck, and turning occurs at the connection point. With a short bed truck, this can result in the trailer hitting the cab in sharp turns because the trailer is too close to the truck. The Sidewinder uses a wedge to lock out this rotation – something that jams into the hitch head and has to resist the momentum to turn – and uses Teflon plates on a turret to rotate under the nose of the fifth wheel, where usually you would have a rigid connection. This moves the pivot point 22″ back, while keeping the connection point and weight over the rear axle. It’s a slick solution to a serious problem, when needed. In addition to a very heavy pin box, due to the turret and the reinforcement to handle the forces at play, you still need to have a heavy traditional hitch in the bed of the truck.
As mentioned, you can use one with a long bed, but since the hitch is already so much further from the cab the benefits are minimal. You end up with a slightly closer tracking trailer, which can be a great thing, but the majority of people tow day in and day out with traditional fifth wheel hitches.
I liked the idea of the tighter turning radius and moved ours over. It was also the cheapest up front thing to do – I had most of the components on hand. The more I thought about it, though, the less determined I was that I made the correct decision. The Sidewinder is a slick solution, but has some notable downsides:
- Noisy – the design relies on friction, and it lets you know it
- Feel – even with the AirBorne (air ride) option, you feel some of that friction, especially at low speeds
- Handling – because the pivot point is 22″ behind the axle of the truck, during a quick turn you can feel the trailer inertia pushing sideways behind the hitch. Given that this is fairly distant from the axle, it does have a noticeable amount of leverage on the truck and can feel like the rear axle of the truck is going to break free and move sideways. I don’t think this has ever been dangerous for us, but I’ve adjusted my driving accordingly – occasionally at the expense of holding up traffic. It has been uncomfortable on a couple occasions.
- Maintenance – before every trip you are supposed to check the torque on the turret bolts. I’ve rarely seen them loosen up, but carry a torque wrench in the truck and am constantly checking them. Additionally, you have to lubricate the teflon plates all the time if you want to keep the noise and friction down. And the biggest thing is that you have to drop the 175lb pinbox from the trailer, disassemble and lubricate it “seasonally”. I also had to add air to the air bag almost every time I moved it.
- Weight – at 175lbs for the pin box, it weighs about 100lbs more than the Lippert 1621 most trailers come with, and you have to use a conventional hitch (100+lbs) fixed in the bed of your truck. This takes away payload – not really an issue with the DRW, but a major issue on an SRW, and one of the contributing reasons we went chasing good money after bad to make that truck work.
These are all things I was willing to put up with on a short bed, now that I don’t need to, I decided that I won’t. The Reese Sidewinder, in-bed hitch, and adapter was not cheap. Most of the cost was in the pin box itself, but to go out and buy an identical setup would run around $2500. That should hold some value on the used market, say at least half of new. That gives us some money to play with and can be used to eventually offset the costs of a new setup.
We’ve used several hitches over the years, buying and selling and haggling with others, and have experienced quite a few designs. By far, our favorite hitch to date was the TrailerSaver BD3. The BD3 is an air-ride hitch, where the air bags are on the hitch itself rather than the pin box. It rides extremely smooth, the hitch head is highly articulative, has a great automatic latch system and huge, tight tolerance jaws. It was also insanely expensive and there is no way I’m investing in a new one. I looked around on Craigslist and nearly bought one, but decided again, to look at my options.
Gooseneck adapters are typically frowned upon for fifth wheels because they exert a lot more force on the trailer than a fifth wheel hitch would. Reese provides a solution called the Goosebox, which is the only supported solution by our frame manufacturer, Lippert. They’ll even honor the warranty with it, though our trailer is now well out of factory warranty. It works a bit differently than in that it is a complete pin box and not an adapter, and distributes those forces over a larger connection area as well as utilizes shock absorbers and air to mitigate them. It still probably exerts more force on the trailer than a fixed pin box and hitch, but I doubt any more than the Sidewinder we are using now.
The Goosebox is not without some downsides:
- Difficult to connect
- Additional forces on the trailer frame, as described above
- Safety chains are required by most state laws
On the flip side, they have some really nice benefits:
- Clean truck bed when not attached to the truck
- Smooth and quiet ride
- Low maintenance (never requiring removal from trailer)
The major con for most people would be hooking up – you have to be directly under the ball. Since we have the cargo cam in our truck, we have a direct visual of the ball and should be able to hit it every time. I’ve also gotten pretty precise at backing over the years and don’t expect it to be an issue.
The Goosebox comes in a couple sizes. Our trailer has a gross weight of 15,500#, so we can get away with the 16,000# model in theory. All of our current gear is rated for 16,000# and 3,200# tongue weight. While I don’t have weights on hand, I suspect we’re under on the first number but at or over on the second.
Being that we’ve not had issues with the 16K/3.2K gear I started out looking at the same for the Goosebox. Ultimately, I decided to order the 20K version with 4,000# pin capacity to make sure we’re not overloading the pin. With a 300lb generator, 110lbs of propane, 100lbs of batteries, and 160lbs of washer/dryer right around the pin on our RV with a dry hitch weight of 2,485# we’re easily pushing north of 3,200# once we add in other gear.
With the Goosebox, the bulk of the hitching gear remains with the trailer. It looks like this (not my truck):
All that remains in the truck once the trailer is removed is a 2-5/8″ hitch ball, which due to the factory tow prep on our Ram, can be removed in about 10 seconds and stored virtually anywhere. With no trailer in the truck, there is no hitch, and no fuss. The truck bed is freed up for storage and transport like it should be. The ride should be really nice from everything I’ve read as there is no slop in a ball connection and the assembly uses shock absorbers and air for dampening. Turning shouldn’t be an issue, since we’ll be using our long bed truck as designed.
I’m not sure when we’ll get this in, but I’m excited to try it out. It ran less than $1500 for the whole outfit, including the ball and safety chain setup, and I anticipate making most if not all of that money back by selling the Sidewinder pin box, Curt A16 hitch, and B&W Patriot hitch that will soon be gathering dust in the garage.
Keystone ships the same Alpine floor plan with two designations – the 3730FB and the 3731FB. The former has a two-way RV refrigerator while the latter has a Samsung residential unit. We opted for the 3730FB, thinking it would be better for off-grid camping but eventually came to regret that decision. I’ve looked at converting the unit to fit a residential fridge for a while, but it’s a costly and laborious undertaking.
The included fridge is a Dometic RM1350, which is among the larger RV refrigerators available. It has panels that match the cabinets in the RV, though I didn’t get photos of them before removing it. It can run off of 120v or propane, but has some issues maintaining desired temperatures and we’ve had quite a few issues with it over the years.
We purchased a GE GYE18JSLSS on sale for the fourth of July from Home Depot. It’s the only refrigerator I could find, anywhere, that fits in the space and has both a water dispenser and an ice maker.
I had to remove quite a bit of trim and modify the cabinet a bit, but the new fridge fits well.
I capped off the propane and ordered a Xantrex XM1000 inverter, which is what shipped with the 3731FB. I installed it up in the front basement and connected it to the existing battery, through a 150A inline fuse. I ran two runs of Romex 14/3 through the underbody from the breaker panel to the inverter, and teed off the “General” 15A circuit (which apparently powers the fridge) and added the inverter in the middle. The new output of the breaker is wired to the input of the inverter, then the output of the inverter is wired to the previous output of the breaker. This places the inverter inline, where it will provide inverter power when the input is dead, otherwise, it will pass the input through to the output.
I ran a braided steel water line from under the kitchen sink, into the cable tray of the slide, and up though the tube that held the old propane line. I wrapped the exposed area in some pipe insulation and used a Sharkbite fitting to tee off the cold connection and supply the unit with water.
I secured the base of the refrigerator to prevent it from rolling forward and then ran four metal rails side to side over the top of the fridge, which were spares from decommissioned servers. They should prevent the fridge from tipping forward and lock it into place. We test-towed the RV about ten miles, adding in a few fast(er) turns and a railroad crossing, and the refrigerator doesn’t appear to have moved any.
We now have a much larger fridge/freezer with filtered ice and water so we don’t need to carry tons of bottles of water with us on each trip. If we’re doing a lot of activities, we’ll go through a 24 pack or larger each day and the old fridge would struggle to catch up with room temp bottles constantly being added as cold ones were removed. The extra temperature stability, reduction in fire risk, and addition of filtered water/ice will be a nice improvement.
One of our major concerns with our three dogs and traveling, is that an RV without air conditioning will heat up quicker than a larger and better insulated house will. Our RV is equipped with an Onan QG5500 generator, but as it was installed had to be started manually. We don’t want to come back to the RV one day to find the dogs overheated and suffering related effects.
Back in September 2016, I ordered an Onan EC-30 which is an automatic controller that integrates with the generator to switch on automatically if needed by the HVAC system. It wasn’t cheap – $328 – but the install wasn’t straightforward and I started it a couple times, but never completed it due to trouble with snaking wires through the walls and RV basement to get it working.
I decided to tackle it again on Saturday and actually finished it.
It supports integrating with the HVAC system so that it will only turn on the generator when the thermostat requests it, but I realized halfway through the install that I don’t have a $60 module for the HVAC system that is needed. Additionally, even if I had that module, I would have to fish a cable from the rear AC on top of the roof for the install, through about 20′ of ceiling, then down a wall, which makes for a lot of work. I’m saving it here – Dometic part number 3109311.005 – in case I ever decide to do it. I would probably have to pull the AC unit completely off and fish the cables into the ceiling from the roof with the unit removed.
In lieu of using HVAC control, I configured it to start the generator on shore power loss. This required tapping into the shore power feed before the transfer switch, but was a much easier task compared to the above. So as it actually works:
- If shore power is lost, start the generator
- If shore power is restored, stop the generator (or stop after a min run time of 10min has been met)
Ultimately it’s a lot of money and a lot of time to perform a very simple task. But it’s worth it for the peace of mind when we are leaving the dogs in the RV for longer periods of times on our outings. This last week, we made multiple grocery store runs and trail runs without the dogs – something we’ve avoided in the past. Lake Georgetown has pretty stable power and we’ve been there several times, so we weren’t too concerned about that, but this will increase our comfort in leaving them in the rig when we’re elsewhere.