Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Foxwoods Resort Casino, Mashantucket, CT

On our recent up and back Roadtrek trip to Connecticut in one day, we went at night to Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut is near Ledyard, Connecticut. I am not a gambler. I would like to be but it is an extravagance that I really cannot afford. I have been known to drop some nickles in a slot machine or even a few quarters, but slot machines are not what they once were and now are video games that you put five and ten dollar bills into and push buttons to play credits. This takes the psychological factor away of the money actually leaving your fingers as you pull the handle - oh yes, there are no more handles - as you push the button. But I do like the atmosphere of a casino, particularly the tables and pressure and excitement of lots of money being risked, lost, and occasionally won. I get just as much entertainment walking through a casino floor and watching the play, as sitting down and worrying that when I leave, I will not have the payment that needs to be made that month on the Roadtrek. Meryl has never been a gambler. But we do go to casinos.

What I especially like at casinos are the buffet restaurants, and that was what we were doing at Foxwoods on this night. Before I tell you all about the casino, I want to tell you about this casino and your RV - Roadtrek, other Class B, Class C, or Class A - or travel trailer. Foxwoods has a parking lot for RVs - and you are permitted to stay overnight at the Foxwoods RV parking lot in your RV. I was very interested in seeing the RV parking.

We arrived having an idea where the RV parking lot should be as we have been to Foxwoods before and have driven past a lot that seemed to be it. But there are three parking areas at Foxwoods, each connected to the other by a road that runs along the front of the building, and we were not sure which one the RV parking was in. We drove into the middle entrance - three entrances from the road that the casino is located on - and did not see any outdoor lot, just an indoor parking garage. The height clearance in the three garages is not even close - no way the Roadtrek will fit in. We drove along next to the building to the last parking area. This is at the third entrance coming from north to south on Route 2 which is the access road to the casino. The entrance is called on the signs, Rainmaker Parking. The RV parking if you come into the Rainmaker entrance is on the left side about half way to the casino building. There is a large parking lot here for vehicles in general and at the far lower corner is the actual RV parking lot. It is nothing fancy. It is a paved parking lot with large spaces marked out. You are asked to park close to other RVs to allow spaces for others. There are no hookups. No electric, no water, no sewer and no dumping station.

This is what the lot looks like. As you can see there were not many RVs here and it did not change any later that night when we came out. In this lot you are about a five minute walk to the casino building. There is a shuttle bus that seems to run all night to take you to and from the lot to and from the Foxwoods building.

We actually parked in the lot across from the RV lot. It was almost empty. There was a truck camper parked in one of the spaces. I don't think there would have been any objection had we stayed there all night as the Roadtrek took up only one regular parking space - though I parked head in up against a curb with a grass apron and the front hung over the grass and the rear of the Roadtrek could then be completely in the space without sticking out. At the shuttle bus stop there was a large sign that said RVs must be registered with Security and directed you to the security desk in the Foxwoods building. We were not staying all night, and we did not register that we were there. The intent is that the security car that patrols the parking lots will keep an eye on your safety all night. Rather than take the shuttle bus we decided to walk up the path for the not very long walk. When we got to the building we were not seeing where to go in. Later we found that if you turn right at the building and walk to the middle of the side of the parking garage you will see a large entrance there that will take you to stairs that go right up to where the Hard Rock Cafe is inside the building. We did not see this when we arrived and turned left, went around the side of the building and found an entrance - which took us directly into the Poker Room. There was no problem - unless you are coming in with children as there is a sign at the door that says no one under 21 may enter. You will not have this problem at the entrance by the garage. While we are talking about the RV aspects of Foxwoods, I will skip to when we were leaving. It was about 11 pm - perhaps a little later. We walked to the lot and the Roadtrek. The photo above was taken at the end of the night. You can somewhat make out the RV specific lot in the distance with a few RVs still there. You can also see that we only have cars around us. We got into the Roadtrek and I wanted to see what digital television signals would come through the antenna on the Roadtrek and also if there was any wifi service to be found.

I turned on the battery disconnect switch - a miss-named switch that actually connects and turns on the battery power - and then pushed the inverter switch to have 110 volt power in the Roadtrek. Meryl cranked up the antenna while I unsecured the television and got the remote out of the cabinet. I turned on the TV and with the antenna in its start position, I set the TV to scan for channels. After several minutes only two channels were found. We spent about fifteen minutes turning the antenna, scanning for channels, and then repeating the process. With the antenna directed east we picked up 20 digital channels. There was a good assortment of entertainment channels but none of the big three networks. For a one night stay these were good enough, if we come back and want to stay overnight. We closed all of this down, cranked down the antenna - with a small bit of excitement when inside it seemed that the antenna should have been fully down and when I looked outside it was still half up. Oh boy - you can't drive with it up for so many reasons. I went back in and saw that the direction adjustment wheel was not in the correct position to lower the antenna. I cranked up it to full height, turned the arrow to face exactly where it has to be to lower the antenna and cranked it down. I went outside hoping it was down - and it was.

Before we left I wanted to find out about a wifi signal. I have a small tablet that I brought with us and I turned that on. There was no wifi signal to be found. I assumed that since there is a large hotel in the building that there would be a wifi signal that might reach into the parking lot. It does not - then again, I don't know if there is any signal even in the common areas of the building. And I have been in some casinos where even cell phone service was blocked. We did not try the laptop which we did have with us. That has a stronger wifi antenna than the tablet but most likely there would be no wifi found on the laptop either.

While we were inside the Roadtrek doing all of this the shuttle bus passed us maybe ten times making its rounds. There is good as there is someone passing by regularly to see that all is well.

So let me tell you about Foxwoods. The complex is made up of three buildings all connected to each other. At one end is the MGM Grand at Foxwoods - an MGM casino and hotel. This is connected to a middle and the original building of Foxwoods that is called the Grand Pequot Tower. This large complex is connected to the Great Cedar Hotel and Rainmaker Casino. There are more than four casinos including various casino rooms attached to each. There is a non-smoking casino but be aware that there is smoking allowed in many areas of this complex including common areas. The fourth casino is on an upper floor and is for "high rollers".

There are several entertainment venues in the complex. There is a bandstand in the middle of the rainmaker area that is open for all to enjoy and this starts to get rocking at about 9:00 pm or so. There is a theater for concerts. There is a comedy club. On one of the upper floors there is a bowling alley that is open to all. There are many restaurants and restaurant stands. My favorite restaurant here - and the one we came here for - is the Festival Buffet which during the week is $18.95 and on Friday and Saturdays is $19.95. These are all you can eat, all inclusive meals from soup to dessert and includes unlimited soft drink beverages, tea, and coffee. The menu selections change. On Friday and Saturday nights there is an extensive seafood section added with snow crab legs. (No lobster - not for this price up here in lobster country.) There is really a large assortment of things to eat on every night.

There is a game arcade for children complete with a tree house. There is also a little New England street set up with building facades that are actually shops. There is an assortment of nice but very expensive shops. There is a Rolex store here as well. That is across from the diamonds sold at the jewelry shop. There is also an Apple store next to the MGM Grand casino floor. I guess they would like you to transfer your winnings into gifts to bring home.

If you are a gambler, you will find every game you would like to play. I mentioned the poker room and Texas Holdem was being dealt on a room full of tables. There is black jack, roulette, baccarat, and craps - among other table games. There are huge rooms full of slot machines. No one under 21 is allowed in any casino room.

Foxwoods is owned and operated by the Native American tribe, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. In the complex there is a small exhibit room about the tribe and their history. On the grounds of the complex there is a separate building that houses a large museum about the tribe. Admission is charged to visit the muesuem. I have not been to it, myself, but I am told by an historian who has been in it that it is quite good. On some return trip - especially now with the Roadtrek and the ability to stay here overnight in it - we will visit the museum and I will tell you if my friend was right.

If you are visiting Connecticut and want a place to stay for the night, you can come to Foxwoods, park in the RV lot, enjoy the complex, eat in one of the restaurants, and stay in your RV all night. I do not know how crowded this gets in the summer. This was the beginning of April. It may be that there is no place to stay - but your Roadtrek will fit in a regular space and if you park as we did, you probably will not have any problem getting a spot to stay in. If you leave the next day and come back again at night, I don't think there would be any objection. They want you inside gambling or spending money - and this is how they enable you in your RV to do that.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Trip to Connecticut

I wrote about having the Ezee-Lift installed on our Roadtrek. To do this we had to travel to Connecticut which I figured, given the price that shipping must be a heavy package and not having to do the installation ourselves, was worth the time, the tolls, and the gas. Besides, it was an excuse to take the Roadtrek out on a trip.

It is a busy time of the year for Meryl's business, and while she could get away for one day, she really could not get away for an overnight trip. The day that we were going was my birthday, so we decided that we would make the trip a birthday excursion, and just go up and back for the day. We did take clothes and supplies in the Roadtrek to stay overnight, just in case, but that just in case would really have to be big.

The trip to Connecticut where we had to go to have the Ezee-Lift installed, according to the GPS, was three hours and fifteen minutes. We wanted to arrive at about 1 pm and we also wanted to try to avoid some of the rush hour traffic (ha ha). It is a funny thing about Connecticut. Connecticut is about 23 miles from our house. The problem is in that 23 miles is an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean named the Long Island Sound. There is no bridge. That has been an ongoing fight for more than fifty years, and while there has been willingness to build the bridge no one has really been able to find a place for it, as the attitude of the people on Long Island always tends to be "not in my backyard" or as it is actually called around here "NIMB" pronounced nimby. There is a ferry out on the east end of Long Island, but the ferry has a set schedule, is quite a distance from where we are, and costs a lot of money. (I have no idea if it would even take the Roadtrek.) So the way to go to Connecticut is to travel west into Queens County in NYC, cross the Throgs Neck Bridge into the Bronx and travel up and around to the start of the Connecticut border, and travel back east - all the time, if you could see across the Sound you could see where you just had been. So what you are doing is driving a U if you put that U on its side to the right. It is not so funny when you put our location into a store locator map on an internet site and have it come up to say that there is a store just 25 miles away - in Connecticut (if you have a boat car).

We have made this trip many times before - but never in the Roadtrek. We know that in Connecticut there is a major route that we cannot travel on with the Roadtrek, as it is not permitted due to its height. This is the Merritt Parkway or Route 15. I have software on my computer at home to program routes that can then be saved on either a Garmin or Tom Tom GPS. I always start planning a trip with this software because with the Roadtrek, you cannot rely upon the car-type GPS to not put you on roads the Roadtrek (or any RV) is not allowed on. The name of the Software is TYRE and it is free. It uses Google Maps and will route you much as a GPS does BUT then you are able to look at the route and find the roads that you are not allowed on (using other websites) and then basically route yourself around them - using waypoints that your drop on the map on places on the roads that you can travel on. This must be done very carefully in zoom mode to make sure the point you place is on the correct side of the road. It will then re-route and you can review the new route and continue with more waypoints if necessary to get to your destination if the software decided to send you on more roads that you can not travel on. (A truck or RV GPS would do this for you - they are expensive, but a possible new toy to buy at some point in the future.) Websites that I have found to do this only print out a readout of directions and from what I saw, left out exit numbers, etc. So - I create a route to Connecticut that works. I transfer it to the Roadtrek's Tom Tom - and the route in the Tom Tom goes out of its way to send me on the parkways that I cannot travel on. What happens is that TYRE is sending not the route, but the series of waypoints that you set for the route. The GPS then takes those and does its own routing which, if you have not put enough waypoints to make absolutely NO OPTION for the Tom Tom to go another way. I worked between Tyre and the Tom Tom for several hours until I had a route I could take the Roadtrek on. I should also add that we needed to change from Route 91 North to Route 84 East and the access road from 91N to 84E is on Route 15 - an extension of the Merritt Parkway. I worked another hour in frustration looking for a route that would not take me north and then back south to get on 84E from 91N. When I showed this to Meryl, she said that she did not think that the restrictions on Route 15 went that far north - and that we might be able to take the Rt. 15 access to 84 East. We decided we would see when we got there.

We started the trip on the driveway finding out that the walkie-talkies that we use for Meryl to guide me backing out into our street full of traffic did not work. Well, mine turned on and Meryl's turned on, she went down into the street to watch for oncoming cars, and I heard nothing. I looked down at the walkie-talkie and saw the power light out. Batteries don't last a year. OK. I stopped, opened the window and let her know. She tells me I just missed one of the few clear opportunities to pull out. We proceeded with her shouting when it was clear. I pulled out, she got in, and we were off!

Traffic in NY is not good. It does not seem to matter what time of the day. If there is not a tie up for an accident there is some construction going on. We got to the Long Island Expressway to start driving west and the road was heavily congested. This eventually came to a bumper to bumper stand still - well beyond rush hour. The problem was that there were three construction trucks in the left lane way up ahead - and the rear truck had an arrow flashing to move all traffic into the middle and right lane. But there was no construction. All that was happening was that the traffic was being moved right to go around these three moving trucks! Once around that traffic was not too bad in NY but that wasted quite a lot of time. Over the bridge and around through NY and into Connecticut where we got on I-95, the Connecticut Turnpike, not able to go up the Merritt Parkway which is an alternative.

No matter when we have been on the Connecticut Turnpike in the past several years - day or night, no matter what hour, there is construction going on. I am not sure what they are working on but they are always working and it is never finished. We lost an hour on the trip stopped in traffic, moving a little head, and stopping again, until we got off I-95 to the next part of the route which was north on I-91. Remember that the trip was supposed to take just over three hours total. We also added in a stop of lunch but we were well off schedule.

We decided to stop for lunch off of I-91. I-95 has Route 1 running alongside with many places to stop to eat, but I-91 has markings at exits of what is at that exit and it is less congested to get off and back on again. Be aware that I-95 does have rest stops with fast food restaurants, but triple the prices of the food at your local fast food restaurant and that is what you will pay at any of the rest stops on the Connecticut Turnpike. We saw an exit sign that said McDonald's and Wendy's and we pulled off. A sign at the exit told us to turn left to the restaurants and we did.

One of the big features of a Roadtrek is that you can "park anywhere". Well, that really needs to be "park almost anywhere" as there are a lot of little parking lots with little room for a large vehicle to maneuver. We saw the Wendy's and pulled into the lot. It was a very small lot. There was no spaces really large enough to put a 21 foot van and there was a drive through line of cars that extended almost to the entrance of the lot from the road. We could see that up where that line turned to the left to go under the drive through that NO WAY the Roadtrek could have fit under (I have yet to see a drive through that the 8'9" Roadtrek can fit under) that there was an exit to the right that would take us back to a side street and back on the road we came on. We could also see the McDonalds almost next door with a much larger parking lot. We waited on the line of cars, and moved up until we could get out of there - and did.

We got to the McDonalds lot and it was not much better, but a car had pulled out of a space near the exit and I could just pull the Roadtrek right in. Lunch was quicker than getting from I-91 to finally parked. Happily, the road back was easy to get on and the entrance to I-91 was directly on. We headed north again.

When we got to the cut off on Route 15 where the access from I-91 North to I-84 East was, we could see trucks pulling off onto Route 15. There were no signs of any kind with any vehicle restrictions and we just followed. Now, let me tell you a little problem with routes transferred to Tom Tom with waypoints. No matter what it wants to go to those waypoints in order and will take you in circles until you go back. We had to stop Bedelia as I call her from telling us to get off and go back, get off and go back. Meryl cannot see the GPS screen from the passenger seat - a problem in how the GPS/radio is designed and set right in the middle of the dash. I could not and would not try to do anything to change the route while driving, so I pulled off I-84 on an exit and looked for a place to pull the Roadtrek over - which was not easy to find. Eventually, I was able to pull off the road, clear the route and tell Bedelia to go to the Ezee-Lift address directly as there were no longer any roads we could not drive on. We got back to I-84 and headed to our first destination of the day.

I told you about the trip to Mr. Jone's home, the inventor and maker of the Ezee-Lift, already in my article about the install. The very much country roads are scenic, narrow, and in some places one lane. There were moments when we were very close to the edge of the road that just dropped off into the forest about ten feet below. Slow and easy is the way to do it. And we did. The trip that was supposed to take just a little over three hours was almost five hours.

We got to Mr. Jones and he put in the Ezee-lift and as I told you then he gave us a way to get back to I-84 without the twisty, single lane road. Nice. What we did need now was gas.

I had been watching gas stations along the road from and to I-84 and the gas prices were ridiculous. Connecticut has one of the highest gas taxes in the country. NY is not much less but it is less. Where at the time gas was $3.99 at home for regular, gas here was ranging from $3.13 to $3.35. And all of the stations next to those prices said "CASH". Credit prices were fifteen cents higher and up. We saw a Sunoco station up ahead with a large sign that said $4.02. I never thought that I would ever be happy to see a gas price at $4.02, but I figured that even with a credit card charge added on top of that it had to be better than what I saw. Unless you carry a LOT of cash on you, the Roadtrek takes 35 gallons and that means at these prices of say $4.25 per gallon cash that you will need almost $150 in cash in your pocket for just that one fill up. I don't carry anywhere near that much cash. It has to be credit. I got really excited when I went up to the pump and saw that the $4.02 was the cash OR CREDIT price! Eighty dollars later on the charge card and we were back on the road.

So where were we going? There is a chain of outdoor stores called Cabellas. The stores are few and far between. There is one in Pennsylvania between Allentown and Harrisburg off of I-78, and there is one in Connecticut in Hartford. We have been to both before, and the Pennsylvania store is larger and much more fun, but the Hartford store is OK for a Cabellas fix. This is a store that is referred to as "shoppertainment". There are things to see and do in addition to things to buy. The stores have a large, walk through aquarium with floor to ceiling fish tanks containing large, local game fish. At the Hartford store, the tank is about half as long as the one in Pennsylvania. There are local wildlife - stuffed - all over the store in natural habitat displays. If you are opposed to hunting do not come into any of these stores. There is an electronic shooting gallery, an archery range, a "gun library" to look at antique guns - all for sale, and a restaurant that serves game and common food items as well. This is where we were going.

Cabellas caters to RVers with RV parking and an RV dump station including fresh water. At some of their stores you may stay overnight in the parking lot. You always ask the store manager for permission to do this. The Connecticut store does not permit this and there were signs in the parking lot that stated no overnight parking. There was an RV parking lot and there is a dump station in the rear of the parking lot, near the RV parking lot.

We pulled into one of the large RV spaces big enough for a Class A and parked. We were the only RV there. We walked into the store past a display of kiacks hanging from the overhang for sale. Inside the store there is a large camping department, a small department for trailers and some things for RVs, a large gun department, a large fishing department, a boat department with boats on display, and a large camping department. If you have any interest in camping or outdoor activities, there is something here to look at. We had no intentions of buying - just looking and we had a great time. There is even a display of taxidermy wild animals from Africa including an elephant. (I already gave you the waring if you are anti-hunting.)

Dinner was to come next - my birthday dinner - and we were heading for Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut which is further east. Look for a coming article all about Foxwoods, as there is an RV connection there.

I will skip past Foxwoods and tell you about the way home. I would love to say that leaving at 11:00 pm would find clear roads all along the way but no, in Connecticut that just does not happen. I will say that the delays and construction was much less than we encountered during the day on the Connecticut Turnpike, but it was there. Any thought about staying overnight was put right out of my head when I saw how tied up the return roads were during the day. The trip would be much better at night - and it was. On much of the route in Connecticut, we were one of only two or three vehicles on the road. It was pretty good considering what it was like during the day. When we got into NY however, even at almost 2 am, the roads were congested - no construction, just traffic. Yes, the "city that never sleeps" really never sleeps and they drive. It was quite late when we pulled the Roadtrek into our driveway. But we had a real good time!

I know that this has been a really long article, and I hope not too boring, but I am sure some of you are wondering how did the Roadtrek do on the trip?

First, it is still winterized as there have been some near freezing nights in March and into the beginning of April. There are may things inside that are out of place and the cabinets are not stuffed and made noise-proof as they would be when we are packed for a regular trip. There was a lot of banging inside on rough roads - nothing new, but noises that were silenced by full cabinet were there with partially full cabinets. There is a new noise that we cannot yet figure out. It showed up at the end of last year - a hollow sound - and it happens when we first start to drive and quiets as we keep driving, but comes back again if we stop and start again - but like most noises in vehicles, it does not happen every time.Tires for the trip were 60 psi in the front and 80 psi in the rear and the ride was pretty smooth, away from potholed roads. I think that I will leave the tires at this for the next trip - maybe experiment at some point with the max recommended psi in the front which is 65. But so far 60 seems to work. The Roadtrek behaved and the ride was comfortable. Oh yes, and the audiobook on my mp3 player played so nicely through the dockboss on the Ipod connection to the Eclipse radio!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012




The spare tire on the standard Roadtrek is stored in the storage area under the bed and accessed through the rear doors. This pretty much takes up the main storage area that the Roadtrek offers. Roadtrek - as an option - offers an alternative called the Continental Spare Tire Kit. This places the spare tire on the exterior of the van over the rear bumper and in front of the driver's side rear door.

The Continental Spare Tire Kit is attached to the Roadtrek with a second hitch receiver. The "tire kit" and be taken on and off the Roadtrek, but if it is off and you are traveling, unless you have moved the tire under the bed, you have no spare. For some reason, the Chevy van rear cargo doors cannot support the weight of the tire on the usual spare tire carrier that swings to the side on a hinge. With the Continental Spare Tire on the Roadtrek, if you want to move the tire out of the way to open the left rear cargo door you must lower it down on a hinge that swings down toward the ground. Getting the tire down, you have the weight of the tire to move it - though you really want to hold on and slow it down or it can come down with a bang if you move it to the point where gravity will take over. The tire is very heavy, and of course, is on a steel rim along with the support bar, the decorative back-plate that matches the paint of your van, and the chrome ring that surrounds the tire and locks it to prevent theft. One strong person can lift it back into place. For the average person or older person, to lift the tire back into place without straining it takes two people. Since we have gotten the Roadtrek we have avoided opening the left rear cargo door as much as possible because moving the tire out of the way takes too much effort - and the two of us to do.

Not long after getting the Roadtrek, I learned about an invention from a Roadtrek owner called the Ezee-Lift. The Ez-ee lift is designed with a spring and pulley system that makes the tire easy to lower and put back up into place. With the Ezee-Lift, the weight of the tire feels like only 20 pounds to lift rather than the 70 pounds that it actually weighs. Meryl and I both knew that we needed to have one of these, as it would greatly improve the ability and convenience to have both rear cargo doors open. We decided to wait until this new RVing season to get one.

I asked on one of the forums if the claims were really true and I was told they are. I also learned that the gentleman who invented and manufacturers the Ezee-Lift, Mr. George Jones, would install the system for you if one can get to his home in Connecticut or if he is selling his system at a Roadtrek rally. The system is actually easy to install, but I was looking to get the Roadtrek out on a first trip, and I have physical difficulties that prevent me from getting down and under the van, and the system needs to be bolted to the frame of the Roadtrek in the rear. Since Meryl would rather not be in charge of putting the bolts on - though she certainly is capable and willing if necessary, we both decided to take the trip to Connecticut with the Roadtrek to have Mr. Jones do it for us. We decided to go on my birthday as a birthday excursion. Because of work commitments that Meryl has at this time in the year and with the holidays at the end of the week, this would be a one day trip - up and back the same day - with a couple of other destinations thrown in for fun. There will be a separate article coming about the trip to Connecticut itself, and another article about one of those destinations.

Mr. Jones' home is located some distance east of Hartford, Connecticut in a very hilly (maybe it is better described as mountainous) area. Once off the Interstates we drove on several winding roads that climbed up and down through very beautiful terrain. There were homes interspersed along the route, but when you look at the route with Google maps set to satellite mode, you do not see a road - you just see trees. And indeed, you are driving through a roads that wind their way through a forest. I would not want to attempt this drive at night, on ice, or in the snow - though we I commented on this to Mr. Jones, he told me that in Connecticut if it snows, the plows clear the roads by the next morning. That does not always happen where I live. There are ponds, streams, and a few places that if I could have just pulled over to the side, I could have taken some very nice photos. I will tell you right now, in the event that this all concerns you, that Mr. Jones gave us directions directly from the road that he lives on that went straight and fairly level back to the Interstate. Another lesson on not relying on one's GPS. Often the best route is not what a GPS will send you on.

Anyway, with traffic in New York and the never ending construction and traffic on the Connecticut Turnpike it took us four hours to get to Mr. Jones. He had asked if we would call when we were thirty minutes away, and we did. When we arrived at the turn to the road that he is located on, we could see a man in the street waving at us. It was Mr. Jones. He helped guide me to back up into his driveway. When we got out of the Roadtrek he told us that his wife had seen us pass her on the road along the way, and called him to say that a Roadtrek was heading that way. There are not a lot of Roadtreks that are commonly seen on a lot of roads, so she knew it had to be us.

Mr. Jones had the Ezee-Lift installed on our Roadtrek in about thirty minutes. The job requires that a powder-coated square tubular bar containing a large, heavy duty spring attached to a plastic enclosed metal cable be bolted under the back of the Roadtrek. On most Roadtreks there are already two holes in the frame to place the bolts through. If the holes are not there, Mr. Jones provides a template to use to drill them. You can contact Mr. Jones through his website, to find out if the holes are there - and there are photos there to see exactly what to look for if you look under your Roadtrek. Once this is bolted on, a bracket is bolted around the top of the Continental Spare Tire support arm. There is a pulley that is an integral part of the system and that is placed on the side of the bottom of the support arm and is bolted through the hole that normally holds the bolt that serves as the hinge pin. That original bolt and nut are removed (which did take some doing - due to the weight of the tire above), the pulley plate is put in place, and a new bolt is put through the pulley plate and through the support bar to the other side to now become the new hinge pivot pin, and locked into place with a locking nut. With all of the parts in place, the last step was securing the metal cable to the bracket that went on the top of the support arm, just under the tire. The cable is installed so that it will hold the tire tightly toward the van which eliminates the shaking the tire did on the back of the van before the Ezee-Lift was installed. This is a nice bonus. The only tools necessary where a pair of ratchet wrenches. Mr. Jones installed the system with the tire still on the support arm. If doing this myself, I would have removed the tire first to take the weight off the hinge pin to make it easier to remove. He has installed many, many of these and I am certain that he knew the tire did not really need to come off.

Once the system is installed, to lower the tire, all that is necessary is to take hold and give a slight push down, guiding the tire easily down without really feeling its weight. To raise the tire, you just lift and put it up. Mr. Jones recommends giving a little oomph on the first pull up and it will just follow up on its own. He had us both try it! Wonderful! There is also a bar included that you use when you have the tire off the support. This bar is put into place using the original hitch pin that holds the support arm up all of the time that the tire is not lowered. The bar then holds the tire carrier down and prevents it from springing up. Without the weight of the tire to hold the spring down, this is important. The whole system is very well designed.

On the 2012 Roadtreks, Roadtrek started including its own version of a lift system to make raising and lowering the Continental Spare Tire. I tried this at the Roadtrek display at the RV show that we attended in Hershey, PA last Fall. I was not impressed at the time with Roadtrek's system. It involved releasing a latch to raise the tire back up and it required a hand on the latch and a hand on the tire - and then some juggling - and it still required quite an effort to raise the tire. No. This was not a good solution. Roadtrek may still be offering this on new Roadtreks. The apparently offer a replacement kit for older Roadtreks, but that kit costs well over a thousand dollars and requires that you replace the tire surround and other parts in addition to the new lifting system. No, that is ridiculous - and it does not make lifting the tire any easier.

The Ezee-Lift costs $287.00. If you don't go to Mr. Jones directly, shipping is, of course, additional. You can order the system from Mr. Jones' company through his website, This is money well spent and really a must for every Roadtrek. Get easy access to your cargo doors. No need to strain with that tire any longer!

The time that we spent with Mr. Jones was very pleasant. We were so lucky that the weather was perfect. And Mr. Jones gave us such great directions to get back on the Interstate!

Below are photos of my Roadtrek with the Ezee-Lift installed. Above are the before photos. Here are the after photos!


ADDENDUM:  For awhile the Ezee-Lift website has been unavailable and there has been no response to calls to Mr. Jones, the creator and seller of the Ezee-Lift system. I am happy to report that as of Feb. 2013, the site is up and running again. There are some glitches on the website that will not allow one to put in an order online, but there is a phone number (860-933-6949 M-F 9-5 ET) and if you call Mr. Jones, you can purchase an Ezee-Lift from him. (Thanks to one of our readers who shared this with us!)  The website requires that your browser have Java enabled to be able to place an order online. This is easy to do with the add-ons/extensions for your browser depending on your browser.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

ROADTREK MODIFICATIONS: Getting an Mp3 Player to Work with the Roadtrek's Eclipse II Dash Radio

The Chevy series of Roadtreks since 2010 have included an Eclipse II In Dash Radio/GPS/etc. The one thing that this radio cannot do, despite it having a setting for an AUX input, is attach to a standard headphone cable on an audio device. There is no AUX jack actually on the front of the radio. There is a place in the back for a special cable - which is no longer made by the company that makes the Eclipse II - that will add a AUX jack on a cable that would end up inside the glove compartment. The input that this cable must be installed in on the Eclipse is already being used by the SIRUS satellite radio unit that comes with the radio in the Roadtrek.

Since we have gotten the Roadtrek, I have been very disappointed that I can no longer plug my mp3 player into the radio as I did when we traveled in the car, and listen to audiobooks and podcasts as we travel. We do not use SIRUS as it costs money annually to receive broadcasts. I had hoped to be able to plug my mp3 player into the USB connection that is in this radio, but that did not work. I do not own an Ipod so that connection was out as well. I just wanted a simple AUX - standard mini-headphone jack input. Mp3s could be played on a USB flash drive but every time the engine starts the USB connection must boot and there is no way to save the last place saved. Mp3s can be played if burned to a CD, but if that CD is ejected again the place will be lost. Where music is concerned this is not much of an issue, but when you are two hours into a three hour mp3 audio file you need a way to bookmark where you left off. My mp3 player has such a feature. In fact, I can have several audiobooks with different bookmarks with my little, outdated, mp3 player.

On the Sirus box there is an input to daisy chain other what they call "e-lan" devices. This is the same connection that the AUX cable would use. I have tried since almost a year ago to find out if I could connect the AUX cable to that jack. I tried all of the companies involved with this radio and there are several including the manufacturer, the distributor, a repair and parts dealer for this radio, and Roadtrek. It took until a few weeks ago in March to find out that the port on the Sirus box is not functional on the Eclipse II model, so even if I could find the discontinued AUX cable (there are a few copies on Ebay), it would not work. That was that. No Mp3s. I was told my option was to pull out the SIRUS cable from the back of the radio and install the cable - if I could find one that actually worked.

To get to the back of this radio, one must pull the dashboard panel off. This requires removing clips and screws and I have been advised that it is easy to break the clips which would result in needing a new dashboard panel. This is not something that I would risk. A car radio installer could do this, if one was willing to do this for a fee without having purchased a radio. I am sure there are some who would do that - maybe all, but I would not take the risk that something Roadtrek related was damaged in the process.

I tried a little external, battery run speaker, but the sound was terrible. I then started looking on the Internet for something that I had not thought existed. A connector to the Ipod docking connector that had a headphone jack connector on the other end. This seemed ridiculous to me. Go figure, I found exactly that. And in fact, I found two different ones. 

What I found was the DockBoss by a company called CableJive. This is a small box shaped connector that plugs into a standard Ipod docking connector. This box is connected to a cable with a stereo mini-plug that will attach to a standard 3.5mm audio out connector on any audio device including radios, mp3 players, most cell phones, tablets, etc. I did not know if it would work. The company states in their description that it has "smart" circuitry that will make the docking unit (in this case the Eclipse II radio) think that an Ipod is plugged in. I decided to take a chance and order one for the selling price of $22.95. It would be well worth it if it worked. I ordered it through just in case it would be necessary to return it.

My anticipation of its arrival was great. It took a week and a half to arrive. It made an odd journey per the tracking information from Massachusetts to New Jersey to New York. I am not sure why it took this odd route but was shipped by FedEx SmartPost which is FedEx shipping that uses both FedEx travel and finally the post office. It would have been here in three days had the padded envelope it was shipped in just been put in a mailbox, and likely for a lot less than half what FedEx must have charged. Anyway, it finally arrived.

I went into the Roadtrek and started the engine. The Eclipse comes on automatically - whether you want it to or not. I pressed the input selector to find Ipod. There was no such selection. I eagerly plugged it into the Eclipse radio's Ipod Connector (which is in the glove compartment with about four inches of cable). It clicked in and I plugged the other end into my mp3 player. I went again to select Ipod and there was still no selection. Hmm...

I shut everything down and pulled the DockBoss out of the Ipod connector. It was in very tightly and it was very much a struggle to get it out. I was sure I had damaged something. I looked to see if I had put it in upside down. I had not. I plugged it back in and this time it was easier going in. I had gotten out the Eclipse manual. Still there was no Ipod selection to choose. The manual said there should be. I looked to see if there was some setting that needed to be set to "enable" the Ipod connection. There was only a setting for "AUX" which was already enabled and "VTR" - the video player (yes this radio has a video player). I enabled VTR, got the player connected again, started the audio, and I could hear the mp3 playing through one of the Roadtrek's front speakers. It was not coming from both and was low in volume. I adjusted the volume on the radio and it got better but the volume control was up very high. This could not be correct.

I then tried plugging and unplugging the player from the cable with no change. I then moved the DockBoss connector and momentarily I had sound from both speakers. Ah Ha! I pushed the Ipod connector and the DockBoss tightly together and success! Good volume now came from both speakers. I tried a music track and stereo sprung forth into the Roadtrek! Finally, I had an AUX connector. This may not sound like much, but to me it was a big deal - and saved me from having to purchase an Ipod that I really don't need.

After I had the whole thing up and working - with the Roadtrek sitting in the driveway. We got in our car and headed out to a restaurant for dinner. I started to tell Meryl the whole story of getting the DockBoss to work with the Eclipse. As I was telling her, she asked, "What does the VTR setting do?" I told her that it plays videos on the display screen. She then said, "Don't the video modes lock out when driving?" Oh boy! I had not thought of that. I had never put the Roadtrek into gear when I was testing this all out - it had not occurred to me that VTR mode was going to lock out, if I did. I could not wait until later that night to find out. I turned the car around and headed back home. As soon as we got home, I put the car on a part of the driveway that would allow me to move the Roadtrek.

I got into the Roadtrek, started the engine, connected the mp3 player to the DockBoss and turned the mp3 player on. The sound came out of the Roadtrek's speakers. I put the Roadtrek into reverse - the display screen turned automatically to back up camera and the audio continued to play. I backed down the driveway with the sound of the book still coming from the speakers. I stopped and put the Roadtrek into Drive and the sound continued - thank goodness - and I pulled up the driveway. Success! Later that night, after getting home from the restaurant, I looked in the Eclipse manual. The VTR mode does lock out video when the vehicle is in gear but the sound remains playing. No problem.

(I have no idea what VTR mode is. In the world of video electronics, VTR stands for Video Tape Recorder. There was no recording that the Eclipse can do. It is usually a setting on camcorders. I can only assume that it is used to play video through the USB connection or it is implied in the manual that there is some type of VTR device that can be connected somewhere - but where?") As I noted above, the VTR mode must be enabled and it can be disabled. If you decide to get a DockBoss, make sure it is enabled on the setup menu of the Eclipse.

So here is a link to the DockBoss. If you want an AUX connection for your Eclipse II Roadtrek radio, this is the only way to get it.