2019 – Project: Our “new” 2017 Ford C-Max Energi

2017 Ford C-Max Energi

Having moved from the 5th wheel/pickup combination to a motorhome our next big move was getting a vehicle to tow behind the motorhome. We wanted something we could pull with all four wheels on the ground, not needing any kind of trailer. There are several candidates, most notably a Jeep Wrangler – a legendary “towed.” We decided that the Jeeps are too high and difficult for us to get in and out of at this stage of life. As I researched I found that Ford hybrids can be flat towed so we narrowed our focus to those vehicles. We found this very low mileage 2017 Ford C-Max Energi and decided this was the one.

The Energi is a “plug-in hybrid.” That means that you can plug it into an outlet and the batteries will deliver around 20 miles of electric only travel. After that the car acts as a regular hybrid, running the engine or using the batteries (or both) as needed. The car is very quiet to operate and drives great. It also has more technology than we’ve ever had on a vehicle. We really like the vehicle and are a bit surprised that 2018 was the last year Ford made a C-Max.

The next step was getting it ready to tow. That is a rather big deal as a front base plate has to be installed. Also, a braking system, tail lights, and tow bar is needed. We went with the popular Blue Ox baseplate and tow bar. Then we got the best braking system available for a car being towed behind a diesel motorhome; a SMI Air Force One. This system uses the power from the motorhome air brakes to operate the car brakes proportionally to the brakes being applied on the motorhome. None of this was inexpensive – but it was all part of the process of moving from a pickup pulling a big 5th wheel to a motorhome pulling a small car.

Later on I plan to do an article comparing the 5th wheel experience with the motorhome experience. I may have more to report on towing the C-Max. For now, we have just one tow under our belts. That through Houston I45 traffic to Conroe. That’s a tough drive in any kind of vehicle.

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2019 – Project: Roof Vents Repair and Upgrade

One of the few things we don’t like about RV Fulltiming is dealing with severe weather and the other night we had a big thunderstorm come through. For a few minutes we had nickle sized hail. Tell you what, having hail beating down on the RV is attention-getting! Our motorhome has three roof vents/exhaust fans. One is covered. The other two, one in a hallway and the other in the bathroom, have no cover over the lid.


We were already aware that one of those lids had a small corner crack so replacing it was on the agenda. The hail storm, though, moved that project to the front burner. The hail broke through that lid, knocking holes in it. The other lid cracked but held. As the storm continued, I grabbed some gaffer tape and taped the broken lid from the inside the best I could. The next morning I got on the roof to survey the damage. Happily, the only damage was to the two lids. I taped them both up some more and ordered replacements as well as new vent covers.


The project was easy enough and in an hour or so I had the new lids plus new covers installed. The covers will not only protect the lids in rough weather and against sun damage but will keep the rain out if the vents are left open. They can also be cracked open when we are traveling to create airflow through the camper.


This is an easy upgrade and I recommend it to anyone who has a RV that doesn’t have the covers.

2019 – Projects – Moving the TV


One thing I really dislike about the floorplan of many motorhomes is the placement of the TV over the driver’s seat.  I know that newer rigs are being designed differently, but motorhomes of the era of our “new” Safari Cheetah are all laid out like this.

With that in mind, one of our first projects after getting moved in was to relocate the TV.  Since there are just two of us, picking a good spot was easier than it would be for a family.  Our rig had two couches facing one another, so we got rid of one of the couches and put our recliners in place of the removed couch.

Then, I mounted the TV over the couch on the opposite side of the rig so that our recliners face it.  My approach was pretty low tech.  First, I put two hooks in the cabinet above the couch.  Then I built a shelf that sits on the back of the couch and is attached to the wall below the window.  The front of the shelf isn’t attached to the couch – it just rests on it and is kept in place by a couple of L-shaped brackets that “saddle” the couch.

The TV, then, sits on the shelf, but is also attached by chains to the hooks.  This keeps it pretty stable.  However, it will not stay there when we are moving the motorhome.  I can just unhook the chains, disconnect the HDMI cable, and lay the TV down on the couch.  This process will take less than one minute.

Meanwhile, we had a big blank space where the TV had been mounted above the driver’s area.  We recovered it will stick on cork shelf liner and attached a much-needed clock there.

Again, this is all low tech and it is also low cost.  We’re happy with this early motorhome project.

Note: happily, the scenes on the TV aren’t our local weather!

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2018 – Project: Wide Angle Lens for hitching the 5th Wheel


I know that there are nifty bed mount cameras for this, but I was looking for a low tech solution and found one that I am sharing with you.

The challenge is backing the pickup up to hitch the 5th wheel. In our setup, the only way to see out to back window down to the hitch is to prop yourself up at a strange angle in the seat, twisting around while keeping your foot on the fuel peddle, ready to switch to the brake. My neck and back don’t work very well for that kind of Jujutsu move anymore so I looked around for a cheap alternative.

My solution was a wide angle lens that sticks to the back window of the truck. The lens “bends the light” letting me look through the rear-view mirror and see the hitch. To help things out, I put some fluorescent tape on both the edge of the hitch and the front of the hitch.

Once I put the wide angle lens on the window and tried it out, I took scissors and cut it in half, using only the bottom half on the window. That kept the lens low enough that I can look through the rear view mirror when driving without the camper and not see much of the lens at all.

This setup has been surprisingly helpful. I line things up without turning around at all, just looking in the mirror as I back up to the 5th wheel. Admittedly, there’s a bit of a learning curve, but this set up works well, especially when you consider the low cost.

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2018 – 5th Wheel Service in Chanute, KS

We’ve fulltimed in our 2007 Hitchhiker II for five years now and have been pleased with how well it has held up. Last year we decided to keep it for a few more years and upgraded to a Bigfoot hydraulic leveling system. We love it. This year we had a couple of bigger repairs to do so we made our way to Chanute, KS, where our NuWa Hitchhiker was built, for factory service. We dropped the camper off early on Monday morning and moved into a nearby motel for the duration. While this isn’t a review of the motel, I will mention that we were very pleased with the helpful service we received at the Chanute Knights Inn and recommend it.

The big ticket item on the 5th wheel was the big slide out that had some water damage and needed to be completely removed and basically rebuilt from the floor up. Another job was replacing the rider’s side lower-front panel that had an unfortunate run-in with a big boulder in North Dakota last summer. Also, it was time to replace all the slide seals on the camper; a bigger job than you might think. All that plus a few other minor projects were on the schedule.

On Thursday the service center, true to their word, reported repairs complete. Happily, no other big problems were found during the work. After deflating our bank account we were ready to move back in. All in all it was a positive experience and we are pleased with the service we received. When I thanked the service manager for their work I commented that I hoped not to see them again for a long time. He laughed and said he hears that a lot.

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2018 – Project: Dish Tripod

I’ve written about my satellite TV setup before, mostly in reference to the Winegard Carryout I used for a few years. You can read those posts here.

As I mentioned in the later reviews, I finally decided I was happier using a regular dish rather than the Carryout.  The reasons are in the final review so I won’t rehash them in this post.  All this to say that for the past few years I’ve used the home style dish and intend to keep on using it.

One of the weak links in this setup, though, was my tripod.  I inherited a small very basic one that is rather flimsy.  If the ground is unlevel, I put something under one leg to attempt to level it.  I also stake it out with guy wires to hold it steady in the wind.  It works but is far from an elegant solution.

I looked at the TV4RV tripod for some time.  However, it is pricy and I had a hard time pulling the trigger on it.  Finally, though, I went for it and I’m glad I did.

The tripod is actually a modified surveyor’s tripod; each leg can be adjusted independently.  A compass is supplied that fits right into the top of the tripod, and you are supposed to aim the direction before you ever mount the dish onto the tripod. One key is getting it perfectly level, something that is easy enough to do using a simple bubble level and the individually adjustable legs. The other key is getting it tall enough to “look over” any trees, etc. that are in the line of sight to the satellites. In some locations the sky is clear and I just leave it low to the ground. In a few places, though, I need all the height I could get.

Generally, the whole setup is less than 15 minutes. I describe the process here.

You can anchor the tripod using a screw in doggie stake or, if the ground is rocky I just use a five gallon bucket of water. I think this is the Cadillac of portable dish tripods, and in spite of the cost, it’s a good investment for those of us who need to set up a home-style dish on a regular basis.

Reflecting on our 2017 Adventure

Our 2017 Adventure had both ups and downs.  It was a year with several unexpected expenses that included a broken windshield and various camper repair projects.  Later on we decided it was time to put new tires on the camper.  At four and a half years they still looked good but camper tires are notorious for failing at about that age.  We also ended up putting new tires on the truck, but, sorry to say, that came after a major tire failure that did damage to the truck.  Not long after that the truck ended up in the shop for a bigger repair.  After working through the issue with the warranty company, the repair ended up costing us hundreds rather than thousands of dollars.  Still, it was an expense that hit the bank account pretty hard.  The lesson learned wasn’t a new one, but still hit us in the wallet: when it rains it pours.

2017 also brought some medical issues our way, some are still ongoing.  That reminds us of another old lesson made new: life happens, even when you are living the RV dream.

During the year we tried a bit different approach to travel.  Rather than moving every 1-2 weeks during the months when we aren’t volunteering we decided to slow down in the early spring while we waited for warmer temperatures up north.  We spent a month on the Alabama coast, then another month near Knoxville, TN.    The result was mixed.  The month in Alabama wasn’t bad at all.  We were in a park that had lots of winter people and lots of interesting activities.  The month in Tennessee, so close to the month in Alabama, seemed longer.  The campground was crowded and the weather was wet.  All this added up to a less than enjoyable stay for us.  Lesson learned: be careful when scheduling longer stays to be sure the campground/area is worth the lengthy stop and don’t schedule longer stops too close together.

While we were in Indianapolis we were joined by our son and family for a few nights.  The camper was really crowded.  Still, it was fun seeing our loved ones and accommodating our “guests.”  None of us would have enjoyed this set up for a longer stay, but for a few nights it was great and we would happily do it again.   The lesson learned is that changing things up for a special occasion can be fun even if it is inconvenient.

We enjoyed family a couple of other times during the Adventure, spending a week near Jackie’s brother and his wife, Jim and Phyllis. This was followed by a couple of stays near Jackie’s family in Iowa.  Then in the fall, my sister Susan joined us and traveled with us for a couple of weeks.  These family times are a real bonus and make traveling even more fun.  Same lesson: it’s a real bonus being with family and friends.

We always enjoy worshiping with the various congregations we visit in our travels.  This year we especially enjoyed the Church of the Nazarene in Summerdale, AL.  Being that this was one of our longer stays we got to know the folks a bit rather than just being one or two Sunday visitors.  Then, we finished the year by filling in for a month for a pastor friend of ours in Denison, TX and then accepting an interim assignment (still ongoing) at Baytown, TX.  A good lesson is that while being a perpetual church visitor is always interesting, nothing takes the place of being part of a worshiping community.

During 2017 we towed the camper nearly 5000 miles, visited 17 states, and stayed in 34 different places.  This year, when we arrived in South Dakota we completed visiting all 50 states (although not all in the RV).  We started and finished the year volunteering on Battleship Texas.  This marks our fourth season of wintering in this unique location on the Houston Ship Channel.   We are still working on our 2018 Adventure and expect to continue our journeys in this New Year.

2017 Project: Bigfoot Leveling System

We really like our Hitchhiker II LS 5th wheel. However, we’re missing a few extras that the newer rigs have. A couple of months ago we decided that for the foreseeable future we’d like to make a few upgrades and keep our current 5th wheel. The biggest upgrade for us was adding a power leveling system. We found that the Bigfoot Leveling System by Quadra was highly regarded by most everyone. This is a powerful hydraulic system. They make a fully automatic system – just push the button and it figures out what is level by itself. We opted to save nearly $900 and install a single pump, manual, four jack system. With this system you have a remote control and using the bubble levels already mounted on the camper you level the camper. The guys at the factory told me our 5th wheel was a bigger project than many and it took a day and a half to do the install. The good folks at Quadra were nothing but helpful and professional. They even let us sleep in the camper while it was parked overnight inside their facility. This is a new system for us, but we found ourselves on a rather un-level site our first night out with it. It took just a minute or so to bring the camper perfectly level. Jackie and I were both all smiles watching it work!

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2017 – Water Alarms

Here’s an inexpensive add on that might save some money by detecting water leaks early. We put one of these alarms in the bay of the 5th wheel. The other is under the kitchen sink. Hopefully, they are unnecessary and will never be used. However, just one event in which we are given early warning will make these water alarms worth every penny. We got them at Lowes.

2017 – Project: Replacement Propane Alarm

About 5:00 AM today we woke up to our propane alarm going off. It seems that propane, carbon monoxide, and smoke detectors are all programmed to die or at least run out of battery somewhere between 2:00 and 5:00 AM – at least that’s been our experience!

Seriously, we change out the batteries on schedule and seldom have that happen. However, the propane detector is wired into the RV batteries so it is generally out of sight and out of mind. That’s my motivation for writing about this now: since the propane detector is wired in it doesn’t start chirping due to batteries dieing it’s easily taken for granted.

Here’s the thing – these vital safety devices have a limited lifespan. Depending on who you ask they are intended to last 3-7 years. Ours was about 10 years old and it still tested okay when we thought to check it or set it off accidentally when cleaning next to it. That is until around 5:00 this morning.

I got up, pulled the ground wire off of it so it would be quiet and closed the propane tank valves just to be safe. Today we headed out to the RV supply store and bought the replacement. They aren’t cheap by any means and if yours is nearing the end of life you might want to shop online and save some money.

In our case, it seemed wise to spend the extra money, support the local supplier, and get the replacement. Swapping the units out took all of 3 minutes. If you haven’t checked your safety devices in a while this might be a good day to do it…and don’t forget the easily forgotten hard-wired propane detection alarm.