New Life For An Old RV


By Margaret Lozar #42543, as told to Betty Mulcahy #76334

Sometimes people form a special bond with their house, car or RV, and it becomes difficult to let go of their “old friend” when the time comes.

When Margaret and her husband, Joe, find that their fifth-wheel is no longer capable to support their lifestyle, they struggle with the decision to let it go and buy a new RV.

Should we buy a new rig? If so, when should we buy it?

For some time, as our 15-year-old full-time fifth-wheel developed issues, these questions invaded our thoughts. But we delayed this decision even as we searched RV shows. None of the rigs that our 1996 pickup could handle looked as well built as what we already had. So we figured perhaps our rig had a few years left in her. After all, we had recently installed new tires and performed other maintenance. And because we set up camp for three to four months in one place to volunteer, we assumed this old friend would serve us just fine.

However, while stopped for a bite of lunch at a rest area in Colorado one spring morning, my aerospace-engineer husband, Joe, glanced out the rear-view mirror. “Houston, we’ve got a problem!” he exclaimed, jumping from the truck for a closer look.

Two pieces of fiberglass that encompass the kingpin had separated all along the front of the RV, leaving a horizontal gap nearly an inch wide.

Slowly, we pulled our lame rig 10 miles down the road to an RV dealer, where two servicemen looked between the separating fiberglass and determined we faced a $6,000 to $8,000 repair that would take up to three weeks to complete. It involved tearing up the front end and the bedroom to repair broken welds, reinstalling a bedroom slide, replacing the fiberglass and possibly painting it to match.

I envisioned a monster that needed plastic surgery. This home that we had taken pride in for so many years by faithfully waxing and maintaining it in spotless condition inside and out would be piece-mealed together. Because of its age, the dealership refused to accept it in trade, and we would be stuck finding some way to dispose of a crippled, but beautiful, RV that could serve as a wonderful home if parked. It would be emotionally difficult to throw away. We needed time to think.

Knowing the delicate condition of the hitch, we gingerly towed our home to the closest RV park in town, not far from several dealerships. Before unhitching, we stood back to inspect the truck and trailer. The kingpin box looked like a loose tooth. Would this be the last time we would ever see these two vintage pieces hooked up together? It was like looking at a slow death, but now began the chore of making decisions, gathering information and examining our choices.

Those choices were narrowed by our commitment to a volunteer position that began in a little over a week, as well as by our older truck with its limited towing capacity. Newer rigs, with all their bells and whistles, weigh more than our older one with two slides. Many of the rigs looked fancy with bright lights, fireplaces and giant TVs, but felt cheap in construction by comparison. At the end of each search day, we returned to our beloved home of 15 years to discuss our findings, often more confused than we were the day before.

In the meantime, we needed to locate a welder to patch the hitch well enough to move the trailer. When Kevin and his assistant, Tony, came to inspect the trailer, they separated the fiberglass enough to expose the extent of the problem and verify that major repairs would be needed. But for a mere $190, they managed to spot-weld the hitch in place well enough to tow the trailer a short distance.

When finished, Kevin approached us. “I have a homeless friend,” he began. “If you decide to get rid of the trailer, I’ll buy it for him.”

Shortly after driving away, Kevin called us. “Actually,” he said, “my homeless friend is my assistant, Tony.”

“We’ve got a lot on our minds right now,” we told Kevin. “But we’ll keep you in mind.”

As we continued our search for a replacement fifth-wheel, we honed in on one that met the weight criteria for our truck. Despite its many drawbacks, we purchased this 34-foot fifth-wheel and parked it next to our 32-foot fifth-wheel to transfer contents. Right away, we began making numerous comparisons, most notably that the capacity of the new, bigger trailer was much more limited. We made two trips to Goodwill and one truckload to our storage locker and then left bags full of items for a new owner of the old RV.

When we finished, Joe, the optimist in our family, sat down on the stairs between the bedroom and living area, chin in hand, and surveyed our new home. “What have we done?” he lamented.

But we had made our decision, good or bad, and couldn’t change it. Now we had one more decision. What would we do with a very livable fifth-wheel with enough issues to make it difficult to sell? Then came another call from Kevin.

“I’ll give you $2,000 for your rig,” he said. “My assistant, Tony, is recently divorced, in need of a place of his own.” Kevin had a site to park the RV and was willing to let Tony live there to get back on his feet.

In reality, we didn’t have time or emotional energy to try to find a buyer. But here was a man who had an apprentice who was down on his luck, and this man was ready to pay $2,000 to help him out.

After a bit of consideration, we told Kevin, “Let’s just call it even, your weld job in exchange for the rig.”

Tony beamed when they came to retrieve the trailer. “This is going to give me a wonderful opportunity for a new start!”

Perhaps we would have been wiser to trade in our older, comfy rig before a major problem cropped up. But now, at least, instead of watching our beautiful home hauled off to a scrap yard, it gave us great joy to see Kevin and Tony hitch it up and, oh, so carefully drive it away to its new life.

Betty Mulcahy and her husband, Chuck, have spent the last seven years full-time RVing while volunteering as naturalists at national wildlife refuges across the U.S. They maintain and travel with a collection of snakes and animal skulls for presentations to schools, RV parks and libraries.

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