Pilot Knob State Park

We were informed of a van service issue (a recall before it is a real recall) with the heater that keeps drinking water from freezing. This meant another trip to Forest City Iowa was necessary. Our appointment was 7:30 Wednesday morning, so we drove down to the area Tuesday evening and stayed overnight as the sole occupants of Pilot Knob State Park.

Panorama of where we camped. A still frozen lake is visible in the background.

We self-checked in a few minutes after 7pm in the rain. The appointment was only 7 miles away and lasted only 30 minutes the next morning. We were back home by noon.

What type of town is Forest City, Iowa where our van was made and purchased? What is the over all feel, flavor or aura of the community?

Nuff said

Our trip is roughly March 20th to April 5th. Coronavirus has the potential to greatly affect our upcoming travel plans, but realistically we could probably contact fewer humans during our van trip than if we stayed home. We’ll see. A good cooler used in coordination with our van fridge means we could really travel with almost a two week supply of food, limiting stops to refueling, waste dumps and water fills, most of which require no human contact. Most of our campsites are prepaid, and most other sites now have self-pay ability. So if we continue with our upcoming trip, we will nix the “stay at a campground and tour the local community” stuff for the “stay at a campground, chill, hike and bike ride” stuff. As I’m in my 27th year of kidney disease and 26th year of immunosuppression, I’ll be sure to take things seriously.

I hope all readers are doing well.

UPDATE: After serious discussions, Ensie and I have cancelled all of our trip reservations. She’ll still take a week off to relax around here. We’ll attempt a big trip after this stuff passes.

All Systems Go

A whirlwind of activity happened since my last post. Without going in to detail, I discovered additional problems, both dealership and manufacturer caused, to the ones itemized in my last post. I made contact with both and within 12 hours we were in Forest City Iowa with the van, getting everything taken care of, by both dealership service people handling after-market problems, and 2 people from Winnebago handing insulation problems. We’re all done, and for the first time since we bought it, the van is in the condition it should have been at purchase. No doubt I’ll run in to future failings, but everything is a-ok now, and there are currently no unaddressed concerns.

Pilot Knob State Park: The spare carrier installed with the spare in place

The installation on the spare tire carrier was successful and I’m very happy with the end result. Drilling a hole in a new RV door was a bit spooky, but ended up being fine. It doesn’t stick out too far nor does it interfere with the warning sensors in the back bumper. After installing it, I wanted to see if I could use my current (old) bike rack or if the new spare would be in the way.

Thumbs Up!

The bikes fit well my rack, mostly because this type of rack allows movement of the bike to the left and right quiet a bit, so I am able to avoid contact between the spare carrier and the ladder rungs with the bike seat and handlebars. This is a great plus. In years to come, we may want hitch that allows the bikes to swing away, but they stick out the back of the van another 12-14″. When the bikes are off the rack, it folds up upon itself enough to allow the back doors to fully open. We may never need another rack.

The end result of all this recent success is that we are now ready to plan our first extensive trip. Nothing specific is in the works at this time, but I’ll post updates soon.

RV Reality, Shake Out & Mods

Before Ensie and I bought an RV, we consumed as much info as we could for more than a year. After I was forbidden from self-building a van (a great idea that I would recommend to anyone with tools, space, time and health), we had to get over a few truths before purchasing.

Truth #1:

Almost everyone who buys an RV has problems with it. Luckily a lot of these problems pop up in the first year, when almost all RV’s are still under warranty. This “shake-out” period is very real, and a reason an RV should be used as much as possible in this period. Reliability of the manufacturer and dealer determines how much hassle you’ll encounter trying to get warrantied issues resolved. Even ardent RV enthusiasts may love their RV but hate the whole manufacturer/dealer/buyer relationship post-purchase. There is no such thing as an RV lemon law. Buyer beware. Buyer test things out right away. Buyer be tough. Buyer trust no one.

As we purchased at the beginning of winter, testing things has been a bit difficult for us. The RV is complex and has many features. The RV manual as a rule only touches on some things and is only 80% reliable. The individual component manuals (furnace, fridge, battery, pumps etc.) are great but don’t have specific info on how they all relate to each other. Only by use, reading, communication with the dealer/manufacturer and other owners can one end up with a degree of comfort about how these things work. (In a self-build, you built it. You know it. Another plus.)

I “think” everything is working OK. We haven’t had the van out in enough sun to know if the solar charging is working, but the charging from the alternator and when hooked up to power works fine. All water systems seem OK. We had a mild day or two when we felt comfortable with water in the tanks and used hot and cold water for showers et cetera. We’ve used the toilet & sinks. Everything seems OK.

But we did have a major problem from Day 1. Several of the rear body panels seemed ill-fitting or warped. In the excitement of our initial inspection (compounded by the open sliding door covering the panel in the worst shape), we missed this problem.

The van is delivered unfinished from Mercedes to Winnebago. The panels in question are primed by Mercedes but painted by Winnebago. At first I thought they were put on after final painting without all of the clips. Three trips to a Mercedes dealer and half a dozen phone calls and emails, at times heated, revealed the panels arrived warped to Winnebago from Mercedes. This had happened on more than one van. Winnebago had complained to Mercedes but Mercedes told Winnebago they were within specifications. So Winnebago caved back then (all before any Boldts were sold) and put these vans on the market. I took pics and made videos available on a Facebook user group to show the ill-fitting panels. One of my emails mentioned I purchased the domain DontBuyaBoldt.com, which I still own just in case. Well worth the $.

Showing the gap, with 1/4″ facing down toward the road. Hard to tell, but the panel is bowed out about half an inch to make the 1/4″ gap.

Eventually, Mercedes took responsibility and I had four panels sent from Germany, painted and installed at the local Mercedes dealership. Huge difference. It wasn’t a pleasant six weeks or so while this was happening, but I ended up satisfied. And we had been prepared. We knew shit happens and it did.

Truth #2

The RV as designed and built will have shortcomings that don’t show up until you begin to spend time in it. These aren’t warranty issues: these are usually things that could or should have been designed or built better. The issue is usually how long to live with the problem before you decide to do a modification.

We have one thing that needs a mod, rather quickly: the galley countertop. For a van, the countertop is large. A part of its length is against a window. A gap is left along the back, in part to allow some ventilation for the fridge and microwave/convection oven below the counter. Unfortunately there is no lip on the countertop. This means food and liquids can easily run off this back edge. As it is right next to the sink, this will happen. Making matters worse, by sticking your fingers in the gap, you can feel the back edge of the Corian and then an exposed edge of particle board under it. Not a good design at all.

This is a rough image – capture from a video, showing the back countertop edge along the window.

I already have a few fix ideas for this, and it will be fixed. We were prepared for these issues. No problem. A modified piece of white trim plus some caulk will solve this.

Another mod/fix involves the body again. Sprinter vans are notorious for allowing water behind some lower body panels. As designed, this water is supposed to pass under them out, above the lowest panel. It works well, usually. In past years though, water would get into the van through the body clip mounting holes. In 2019, Mercedes put round o-ring gaskets on these clips to prevent this. However, the priming of these panels for Winnebago resulted in these gaskets becoming stiff. Combined with our real world use on dirty/gravel/salty slush, this system isn’t a good fit. Luckily there is a gasket material that can be forced in the gap, preventing the water from getting behind the panel. This is good also to prevent ice buildup behind the panel below the furnace exhaust’s condensing vapors.

Truth #3

There are mods you’ll want to make for your own personal use. These are really customizations. Some of these you’ll want to do fast. Some will take time. Some will be utilitarian. Most will be fun to do, as long as you are brave.

Many people will be mod-shy because they want to sell their RV in a few years. I couldn’t treat the RV like this. We plan on using it and will change it to suit our needs.

Customization #1 is the Cell Booster. This is the first hole I drilled in the RV, through a roof access port designed for this purpose. It went on well and worked for a few days, then didn’t. I won’t go in to details, but I have some troubleshooting ahead of me before I decide on the next step. The company has worked well with me so far, but (quietly) I’m not sure it’s their fault.

Customization #2 is a spare tire carrier from Owl Vans Engineering. The van was originally designed with a spare tire and carrier. Winnebago decided to nix it when its placement interfered with the warning system that beeps and flashes when the van gets too close to things. We wanted a full spare anyway so bought one with the van, and it has been in the back of the Suburban since we got it. The carrier is well designed and will hold the spare in a way that doesn’t interfere with the warning system. It will, however, require me to drill a (my second) hole in the van – this time NOT in a place designed for that purpose. I have removed the back panel off a back door in preparation for the carrier which should get here Tuesday Feb 4th. Wish me luck.

This covers the install of the carrier on a similar Sprinter.
Back Door without Panel – Hole for mounting spare will be in the upper left part of this door, below the window.

Future mods planned include wedges for the ends of the beds, bedding that is attached via the same snap system that holds the cushions in place, and a back shelf/hanging system that utilizes space between the back door and back wall. The list is really endless and is quite fun to consider.

Rear of Boldt – Shelf/Rack system will be on the left, under the light

The Final Truth

Most RVers are able to separate the love they have for their RV and the experiences it enables from the hassles of purchasing, maintenance and ownership. We are no different, and love every minute we spend in the Boldt whether camping or driving.

So if people have been wondering why we haven’t been driving cross country from Day 1, the above are the reasons. We knew about likely problems and really had no plans during these first months or more. I would not be surprised if we had to make a few trips to the factory or dealer in Iowa over the next 8 or so months. It’s just RV reality.