As a full-time RVer, one of the most unsettling things that can happen is a breakdown. I mean, let’s face it, we’re not talking about a car. We can’t just get a rental while our rig is in the shop. We’re talking about our home!
This is a LONG post, and it was a LONG few days. But we promised to be transparent, and if you really want to know about us and how we handled our breakdown…it is quite a story.
First Signs of the Breakdown
We were headed from Florida Caverns State Park to Kissimmee, FL. We had just wrapped up a week of fun in swimming holes, caverns and on trails as we headed down I-75. Brittany was driving Meriwether (our 40′ diesel pusher Tiffin Phaeton) and I was driving Smaug (our trusty Jeep). The boys were with me and Arianna had decided to ride with Brittany.
We pulled off the interstate to get some fuel at a Pilot Travel Center in Ocala, FL when Meriwether started making some strange noises. I wasn’t there obviously, but Brittany described it as a “rough idling that sounded like Meriwether wanted to lurch forward, and it kind of went like, ‘ruuum ca-chunk-ca-chunk.'”
We managed to get into the diesel fill station with Meriwether and put $100 in the tank.
Brittany wanted me to come listen to the engine, so I went on over and tried to start it and…
It was trying to do something, but it wouldn’t turn over. We were stuck. Luckily, there was a Wendy’s at the spot and it was lunch time, so I took the kids and got them lunch while Brittany and I got on our phones to figure out what we could do. We started by calling AAA, to take advantage of our AAA Plus RV membership.
When It Rains, It Pours
So not only were we broken down at this point, but Pilot tried to charge $700 to our card (or at least put a hold on it) because of their normally commercial pumps. This wouldn’t have been a big deal if Bank of America hadn’t tried to protect us by shutting Brittany’s card down immediately (fraud protection). Brittany spent the better part of an hour and a half trying to get a living person from Bank of America on the phone, while I ran in to check on the kids and stuff some food down my throat myself while we waited for AAA to show.
AAA showed up with a huge tow truck. The technician was getting Meriwether all hooked up when the entrance latch to our front door broke and we were absolutely unable to open the door from the outside.
We had a similar issue once at Florida Caverns, but we had someone on the inside who could open it up. I ended up taking off the door mechanism to fix it. This time, however, there was no one inside and no way for us to get inside to open it up. And Meriwether’s parking brake was still on, so we had to get inside in order for it to be towed.
Break a window? What were our options? We had to get inside. Arianna came up with an idea to climb on the roof and take one of the vents apart. Then we could drop one of the little boys through the opening, so they could open the door from inside. Just as I was about to grab my tool bag from the basement, the AAA technician, Chris, found that our bedroom window wasn’t locked and he was able to slide the window open.
So we took “The Badger” (my son Javen’s nickname) and shoved him through the open window onto our bed. He made it to the front door and opened it. Now with the door open and my toolbag out, I proceeded to do a quick fix on the door latch, while the rest of the Highland crew started taking everything out that we’d need for the week and stuffing it into Smaug.
Fixed the door and Smaug was packed. Meriwether was on the truck and headed off to Camping World of Kissimmee to hopefully be diagnosed and fixed. It was fortunate that AAA was taking Meriwether to Kissimmee because we actually had a timeshare reserved for the coming week in Kissimmee, just 6 miles away from Camping World.
We opted for the timeshare for the week many weeks ago because Grandma Lety was flying in from Seattle to be with us, and Meriwether only sleeps 6. With Grandma we had 7, but it was ok because we had the condo until Friday.
The original plan was to put Meriwether in storage for the week, pick up Grandma, drop off Trogdor (our bearded dragon) at a boarder, and then enjoy the timeshare with Grandma. On Friday, we’d drop off Grandma at the airport, pick up Trogdor and head to St. Augustine where we made a resort reservation for Meriwether.
Things Appeared to Be Looking Up
So we followed Meriwether to Camping World. They originally told us there was no way they could get us in for about 2 weeks because they were slammed, but they’d do their best. I gave one of the scheduling techs a little incentive to get us in and out by Friday. He said he’d do his best.
Figure it this way: if Meriwether wasn’t fixed by Friday, we were homeless.
We dropped off Trogdor – half an hour each way – and rush hour had begun. We managed the timeshare check-in process before I pulled up to the door of the condo and got everyone out of Smaug as quickly as possible. Grandma’s plane had already landed and we were behind schedule. I had to get to the airport quickly, so Darius and I took off to pick up Grandma while Brittany and the rest of the Highland crew got settled into our new home for the week.
As if the day couldn’t get any more intense, Brittany’s door key to the timeshare didn’t work. She sat outside the door for half an hour with the other three kids until security came to let her in. Locked out twice in one day! Brittany told me she just had to laugh.
There was a severe lighting storm right over the airport and Grandma’s plane was stuck on the tarmac for three hours after it had landed. Darius and I grabbed dinner and waited. Finally, Grandma got off the plane and we headed off to rejoin the family. Now we were in a wait mode to hear about Meriwether.
A Series of Serious Blows to Our Hopes
Blow #1: “We can’t fix your RV.” These are definitely not the words you want to hear from a shop, especially not when you are under a time crunch. We got the call from Camping World on Monday. They told us they didn’t have the equipment necessary to work on Meriwether’s Caterpillar engine and we’d have to take him directly to CAT. The good news was that Dave from CAT told us that if we could get Meriwether to him by Monday, he’d look at it on Tuesday and try and get us out of there by Thursday. They were closed on Friday for the 4th of July. He said that getting Meriwether done by Thursday would be a stretch, but he’d do his best.
Blow #2: “It looks like it’s your fuel pump.” Camping World tells us that our fuel pump is bad. I did some hasty research on the Internet and found that a fuel pump repair on a rig like ours can be upwards of $8,000. I also found that the repair could take a few weeks, which we didn’t have.
Blow #3: “Your RV can’t be towed.” AAA sent out a tow truck on Monday with three men who couldn’t figure out how to get Meriwether onto their tow truck.
Eventually they gave up, claiming that without being able to get air into the airbag suspension, they couldn’t turn off the parking brake and therefore couldn’t tow Meriwether. They recommended we get a Landoll flatbed. I called AAA and they began searching for another tow company.
Blow #4: “We can’t find anyone with the right equipment to tow your RV.” After trying for a few hours, AAA was incapable of finding someone to get us towed to Caterpillar. They informed me that if I wanted to try and find someone on my own, I could go through a reimbursement request process with them.
Down, But Not Out
Monday up to this point was a total bust. No tow truck, no good news from AAA, a potential time sucking and money draining repair cost, and poor Brittany had to do all of our client work for the day by herself.
When I got back to the condo, I called our insurance company, Blue Sky, to see if we had any type of coverage that could help us. With the high probability of an extended repair time, we were going to need accommodations for 6 for the foreseeable future. Blue Sky informed me that we do have a full-timers policy that allows up to $5,000 for lodging reimbursement when there is a mechanical breakdown. Hearing this was like hearing the voice of an angel. It didn’t solve all of our problems, but it was the first shred of good news we had received.
The kids got to go with Grandma to Disney while Brittany took care of client work. I did my best to get Meriwether where he needed to be.
The kids wore out Grandma, but she was a trooper!
We started grasping at straws. There was a lot of family prayer involved and we were doing our best to stay positive in spite of the circumstances. Brittany was going through her purse when she found a Good Sam Roadside Assistance Platinum card that had been given to us free for a trial year. I gave Good Sam a call.
Good Sam Club Roadside Platinum to the Rescue
While AAA Plus RV was unable to locate a provider, Good Sam Club Roadside Platinum sent us one of these on Tuesday…
Now THAT is a Tow Truck! Silas and I took off to go meet the tow truck. A few hours later, Meriwether was on the road to CAT. For the first time in 5 days, I actually started to relax. Brittany again did 90% of the client work by herself on Tuesday while Silas and I were getting Meriwether to CAT.
The only issue was that we had already lost a day with CAT, since we were unable to get it towed on Monday. Like I wrote earlier, CAT was going to be closed on Friday for the 4th of July. The chances of us getting in and out of CAT before Friday were slim to none.
Regardless, it was comforting to have Meriwether at the manufacturer of his engine.
If they couldn’t fix him, no one could. I explained to Dave at CAT that we were going to be homeless as of Friday and that we’d appreciate it greatly if he could at least take a look, so we would know what we were looking at. He said he’d do his best to take a look at Meriwether first thing in the morning.
On Wednesday, Brittany and I were able to have our first workday together, followed by a little time at Disney with the family. All the while, we waited for news.
We Get the Call from CAT
We’re in the line for the safari ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and my phone rings. Tentatively hopeful, I answered the phone…
“Hey Eric, this is Dave from CAT. Your rig is ready to be picked up.”
I about fainted. There was a mix of joy, disbelief, relief and trepidation at what the price was going to be, all at the same time. Dave explained that they had to run a bunch of tests from their checklists to diagnose the problem. They even had to pull the fuel pump, but it was okay. The problem ended up being a sensor.
As of this writing, we haven’t picked up Meriwether yet, but Dave said he’s running fine. The cost for diagnostic, repair, parts and labor was around $775.00, and we are on schedule to depart tomorrow for St. Augustine.
In a little bit, Brittany and I will head out to pick up our home.
We Get by with a Little Help from Our Friends
So many of our friends from our blog and our Facebook and Twitter communities were not only encouraging, but helpful. Thank you to ALL of you who follow us on those platforms and keep us encouraged in times like these. You are the BEST!
I want to give a special shout out to Mark Richardson who, as always, has just been a fantastic friend and encourager. I was on the phone or texting with Mark practically the entire week (as if he didn’t have a life other than to help me solve mine).
Also a shout out to a Facebook fan of our page, Brent Walker, who was instrumental in helping us find the right location for the airbag suspension fill. Without him, we may still be in the predicament we were in. Thanks Brent!
Lessons Learned and Remarks
You know, this week has been a test. A test of how we handle adversity as a family. I have to tell you that Brittany has been a bastion of poise, calm and faith. My children, Darius, Arianna, Javen and Silas, have all been helpful and encouraging. Their attitude of “Hey daddy, it’s all part of our adventure” and “This is a summer we’ll never forget!” has been incredible. My mother has been the wise counsel to lean on. She’s forgotten more hard times than we’ve ever known.
We started this adventure as a family, we continue this adventure as a family.
We stick together and overcome obstacles.
Truth is that we spent a lot of time in prayer as a family. Though our faith was tested (and I’m sure will be again), we drew closer to one another, to our friends and followers, and to God through the entire process.
We’ll see what happens next. For those who have taken the time to read this entire story, thank you. I hope you’ll take a moment to leave us a comment here on the blog. We’d really love to hear from you. ~ Eric (and Brittany, Grandma and the kids)