Wednesday, November 12, 2014

For the First Time...

This will probably be one of the shortest articles I have ever written for this site. For the first time since we got the Roadtrek, my black tank sensor reads empty. This may not sound like a big deal to most but to RV owners this is a rare occurrence. At the time that I am writing this article it has read empty for three weeks now.

I have written before that we have tried the GEO method of treating the black tank. This is the mixture of Calgon water softener mixed with washing machine liquid detergent. We did this for a year it had no better result in keeping the waste flowing out of the tank and keeping odors down than just using the tank chemical - digester/deodorizer/lube - that we buy in Walmart's RV section and have used since we first got the Roadtrek. Toward the end of that year of trying this I started adding the tank chemical to the GEO mixture to see if that would improve the result. The result I was looking for was to see the black tank sensor go to Empty - the bottom LED. That never happened. I tried cleaning the tank by flushing it with water through a tank wand. I tried pouring ten gallons of clean water down the toilet into the black tank after dumping and dumping again. No change. The sensor would read 1/3 or 2/3 and as soon as we started using the toilet the sensor would read Full. Sometimes each press of the test button with the empty tank would change from 2/3 to 1/3 and back again to 2/3. We knew the tank was empty but the sensor didn't. I pretty much gave up and at the end of the 2013 season, took the bottle of Calgon and the bottle of laundry detergent out of the Roadtrek and stored them away in the basement. Meryl does not use this type of laundry detergent in the washer at home and we don't need to use Calgon so they have been sitting there since last year.

Here is how I achieved the black tank sensor reading empty - and I hesitate to put this out in case it is a fluke and one time thing. And should it turn out to be that, I will come back to this article and let you know that it was a failed hope.  So, before our last trip I saw the bottle of Calgon in the basement and decided that since it was just sitting there, I would try an experiment. Since the trip before the tank sensor was now alternating reading Full or 2/3. It had never read full after dumping before.  I took the Calgon out to the Roadtrek and filled the entire bottle cap with liquid Calgon water softener. This is about three times what is recommended in the GEO method to do. I flushed it down the toilet into the black tank and followed it with a little water to get it out of the drain pipe and into the tank. There already was our usual one gallon of clean water added to the tank after dumping and the usual two ounces of the tank chemical treatment. That was it.

We went on our next trip a week later. When we dumped the black tank and the grey tank, I took the garden hose that we carry for the tank wand, connected it to the campsite water spigot, and added a shut off valve to the end of the hose. I shut the Roadtrek water pump off as I did not want that water going into the tank at the same time.  The hose was snaked into the Roadtrek through the driver's door to the toilet. Meryl turned on the spigot and I pointed the end of the hose into the toilet with my foot on the pedal to hold the flap open and I turned on the water - full force pointing down the drain pipe into the black tank. It took a little while for the tank to fill and for me to see the water coming up the pipe toward the bowl (using my flashlight and "no drop" lanyard). I turned the valve on the hose to off and called for Meryl to shut off the water. The hose and I then went back outside. We dumped the black tank again. The water that flowed was fairly clear.  I went inside and could not believe what I saw when I pushed the test button on the monitor. It read empty. It then went to 1/3 and I thought it was worth a try.

During that day we were traveling around the area before heading home that night and I checked the tank sensor again at the first stop. The black tank read EMPTY. And it has stayed that way to now (now being when this article was written which is not the day it is published). Was it the Calgon or the hose? Since I have done both before but never as much Calgon as this, I think it was a combination of too much Calgon - a full cap - and the heavy rinse with the hose to a full tank.

We have another trip coming up - again, before this article will appear - and I will repeat this. This next trip will be the last trip of the season before winterizing and I want that black tank empty for winterizing after this trip. If it works again, I will be back and share what happens in an addendum on this article. Stay tuned for the end of this cliffhanger.


A week before our next trip I went in and put another full cap of Calgon into the black tank. Before I did I noticed that the black tank monitor was no longer reading empty but now was at the 1/3 LED. When we started using the tank the first night of trip the monitor went quickly up to 2/3 and was at Full by the start of the next day. The tank was far, far from full. At the end of the the trip I flushed and emptied the tank and the monitor went no lower than 2/3. Back to the same old reading and it did not go down to 1/3 as it had been. When we winterized - and the tank was definitely empty - the tank was still at 2/3 and will likely stay there until the Spring. SO - it was nice while it lasted but perhaps this was a one time thing, not to be seen again. I did purchase another bottle of Calgon and it will be used through the new RVing season when it comes> We shall see if we ever get to see the monitor say the black tank is empty again. Until then don't jump to try this.   At least I can say now that I once saw the black tank monitor read empty.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Better Way to Level a Roadtrek

Anytime we are heading to a new campground or even a campground that we have been to before the big question in my mind is will the campsite we are assigned be level. Too often campsites are not even close to level. They are sloped up or sloped down or sloped to one side or the other. We have the Nova Kool all electric condenser refrigerator so we don't need to be level for the fridge as some three way absorption fridges require. For me it is how I feel inside. I am sensitive to being on a slant and it is uncomfortable. If we have to be off, being higher in the back is better for sleeping than being higher in the front, but it is still something that bothers me. When a site is very off, we ask for a new site and that happened twice this year. The new sites we were given were not much better but doable - one by spending 30 minutes moving around in the space trying to find the best the most close to level position and the other by resorting to the "Lego" type blocks that we carry for leveling. Those blocks can be a pain in the neck and I have resisted using them unless there was no way to getting the RV into any position that was close including trying positioning diagonally as much as possible.Large RVs, so equipped, push a button and an automatic leveling system levels the RV - legs come down and adjust to the correct heights. Nice! There is no room under a Roadtrek or any Class B to accommodate the mechanism required to do this. The leveling blocks are the most common way to level a Class B. We always ask for a level site when we are making reservation and also when we arrive at a campground. We are always told that the site is level and have been told that we are getting their most level site - and that most level site is often not level. On the campgrounds that we go back to regularly we request certain sites that we have been in that we know are level (and even that can change when the sites are gravel), but often those sites are not available. I kept thinking that there had to be a better way.

During this past summer I learned about a new type of leveling device that can be used with a Roadtrek or any RV or travel trailer. They are called Camper Levelers (3604) and are made by a company named Andersen Hitches. When I first saw these on the Internet and the company video about how they work (video link) I thought how great this seemed. I wanted to know though would this work with a Class B RV like my Roadtrek. I went on various forums and asked about these and found out first that the company's claims were true - they worked as described. I then learned that those who have them like them and they like them much better than the blocks - and I also learned from a few Roadtrek owners who have them that they work just fine with the Roadtrek. I showed the video to Meryl and she was skeptical but when I explained how they worked and showed her the video more than once she agreed that they were worth a try, especially after our last trip where we played with the blocks every day to get level.We decided to order them.

I have not seen these in any camping/RV store. Some store may have them but they are easily purchased on the web either at the company's website , other RV accessories sites, or Amazon. They are not cheap - they cost $40 each - each as in $40 for one wheel. You need to buy two packages. We bought ours on Amazon through a company called Tweety's RV. There were several sellers on Amazon with the Andersen Levelers. I chose Tweety's because of a huge number of positive ratings. We bought two sets - one set for each tire needed to level side to side or front to back. On Amazon there was free shipping (given the price of these). Andersen's website was charging shipping. At $80 they are expensive, but if they make life easier $80 is not much to pay.

So what makes these levelers different? The Andersen leveler is a curved ramp - curved to match the curve of the tire on the top and slightly curved on the bottom allowing the ramp to rock.

It is made of a very tough material. I contacted Andersen while I was considering these and asked about their ability to take the weight of the Roadtrek and if they can stand up to gravel or paved surfaces. They told me there would be no problem at all. They can support up to 30,000 pounds. They will raise the wheel from 1/2" to 4" in height.

To secure the ramp once the wheel is in the correct position, there is a second piece to the ramp that wedges under the section that will raise up as the tire moves up the ramp to where the RV is level.

Together under the tire, the two parts will be like this -

So how do you use these? Simple. You set the ramp in front of the two tires you need to increase in height to get level and drive up the ramp. You stop when your level bubbles are in the middle and you are level. Get out - or have your partner as in this is Meryl's job - put the wedge under the back of the ramp and you are done! Of course, you set the emergency break and put the van in park before going near the ramps to set the wedges in place.

The ramp is slightly smaller in diameter than the tire, which gave me some concern at first but it is a fraction of an inch on each side if you put the ramp in the center of the tire. This was easy to determine as the ramp has a dimple in the middle from the mold and the third thread on the tire is the middle of the tire. I lined the two up and set the ramp just at the edge of the tire. You can see that the front of the ramp is moved up when the rear is just under the tire and looks in the photo like it is hitting the Roadtek's ground effect in front. It actually is not and does not touch.

Now that there is one of these set on the two tires - either the two front or the two rear or the two on the passenger side or the two on the driver's side depending on which way it is off-level - you get in, start the van, put it in First gear (this was easier than doing it in Drive), take off the emergency brake and move SLOWLY up the ramp making sure before you move that the front tires are pointing straight ahead. As you move you watch the level bubbles on your levels. I have a side to side level on the dashboard and a front-back level on the passenger door. As you start to climb the ramps you will see the bubbles move to level. I quickly found that if I went to brake to check the levels, the van would slide slightly back down the ramp so I used one foot on the brake and one foot on the gas pedal and moved the van into level. Once there I stopped, set the emergency brake and put the van in Park.

I got out to guide Meryl in putting the wedges in place which turned out to be very easy. Just slip the wedge in place and give it a push under the ramp.

That is all there is to it. Level!

When it is time to leave it is just as simple. The company shows in their video just pulling forward and off the edge of the ramp. I tried this and the Roadtrek came off with a slight thud. All was well but Meryl suggested trying it by removing the wedge and rolling back off the ramp. This worked. It was not hard to pull the wedge out from under the ramp and then I just put the van into Reverse and rolled back and off. The two ramps and wedges get picked up and put away and you are off.

Storing the ramps in the limited space of the Roadtrek took some doing and Meryl rearranged the outside storage cabinet to accommodate the two ramps and two wedges. Taking the tall stack of leveling blocks out helped a lot. The Andersen levelers are heavier than they look but stack easily and we got them in for storage without a problem and easily accessed to get out when they are needed.

We tried this out on the driveway at our house. The incline of the driveway is steeper than any campsite that we have ever been in - though I am not sure if the off-level campsite two years ago at the Yogi campground in Hagerstown, MD was not very close. The Andersen levelers level to four inches. The driveway drop was just more than that and I was on the very edge of the front of the ramps to get the level bubble to just inside the front level line. The van sat on the ramp in that position with no problem and we set the wedges and it was solid. I even went inside and jumped around to see what might happen. As I did that Meryl sat in the front and watched the bubble on the level. It stayed where it was.  That would be good enough and likely we will never encounter a site that far off. And if we do, we would still ask to for another site.

I would rather I always have a nice level site, but I know from experience that getting that every time just does not happen. As soon as I have an opportunity to try these out at a campground I will come back to this article and add an addendum on their first field trial. I am sure it will be fine and even better than on my driveway. (This may take awhile as our first campsite after getting these was nicely level all on its own. Nice that it was but I was looking forward to trying these out at a campground.)

Consider these. I don't get anything from the Andersen company. I am not a paid spokesperson. I bought these and paid full price.  I just want to share what I find to solve some of the things we all encounter when RVing. This one is works. I would say that this is the next best thing to pushing a button and getting automatically level - though if that were possible on my B I would still like to have that!

I am putting the table of contents link to this article on both the Living in the Roadtrek/How Tos page and the Modifications/Gizmos page as it is really more than a gizmo and an important thing to know about if you hate having to level your Roadtrek, trailer, or RV.