Sunday, October 4, 2015

When life hands you lemons it's nice when they come with sugar

Well, what an adventure our Winnebago visit ended up being! This is long... and involved and I will understand if no-one makes it through.  It's just an example of the kinds of things that happen and a story that shows that our life on the road is not all merrily driving along seeing beautiful scenery and visiting interesting places.  It is however, also a story of how the bad experiences also contain some of the best of life's experiences.  
*Note: We have no ATT so I am on Verizon.  Once we are back in ATT territory I will use some of my data to upload the pics.  For now think of this as a "Chapter Book" :-)

The last time I wrote, our motorhome, hereafter known as MoHo, had been taken in to the shop. That day the tech was able to clean and re-caulk the roof cove (which solved the leak problem) and other areas that we will now be sure to do regularly, and fix a few other minor problems.  When he brought it out at 3pm he said the electrician would be checking it the next day for our questions about why we could not use 2 appliances at the same time, even when plugged in to "shore power."  In theory, plugged in to 120 V 50 amp power we should have been able to run the fan/heater, toaster and microwave as well as the induction plate but we could not even have the induction plate and toaster on together. If it was hot in the afternoon I could not run the fan while making dinner and we definitely could not run the a/c. Since we don't really like a/c and need to run our generator once a month with a heavy load and since we'd had 1 or 2 hot and muggy days we'd done it then-but on generator, not power, and without anything else running.

Each day my day began with a walk in the dark with Phoenix and Cadbury and then down to Customer Service to see one of the best Customer Service people I have ever met, Rebecca F.  We needed a new parking sticker each day-we got to park for free so getting a sticker was nothing-and I'd check our status.  Rebecca is the most cheerful, organized, helpful person who, in the 2 weeks we were there, was able to help everyone with a smile AND ability to get problems solved.  Everyone there was helpful and always courteous to us but Rebecca shone.  Kudos to her!

So, once again, at 7am the MoHo went in.  An hour or so later that Service Advisor came out and asked us to put on the safety glasses so we could go into the garage bay to discuss "a problem." Clearly, the 2 electricians, our tech and this guy were nervous.  What they told us was distressing to say the least.  It appears our very expensive and 2 week long install of solar power (panels, inverter, controller) was done, not only incorrectly but, dangerously.  It's technical but the bottom line was we were missing fuses where they should have been, had lines tied together that should not have been, had wires wire nutted where there should have been boxes and were, every time we used the inverter (to convert 12V to 110V,) running the risk of a fire.  The last thing they said was "thank you for being so understanding because we were not going to be able to let you leave with the coach like this."  Seems Master Electricians have the same Code of Ethics as other professions: when you see a problem you do not let it continue.  At the end of the day Terry, one of the electricians, had the circuit board relocated and as long as we were on shore power we'd be OK (which we were since we had been anyway) but would have to come in the next day to have the inverter up and going.  He said he should be done by midday the next day, Thursday, which meant we'd be able to make our next destination in KY with only 2 long drives.  Yeah, those best lain plans again...

We drove back up to our parking spot, plugged in and... NO electricity.  Luckily the shop leader, Greg, was still in the office and he came up.  We were fine if the generator was running but got nothing from the pole-even though our voltage meter showed there was power.  A puzzlement! We agreed to go without since our batteries were charged and the lights run off the 12V and we would not need anything else. So, we went back to the Mexican restaurant for dinner and the next morning I ran the 15 amp extension cord out to the pole to fire up our coffee.  The one bright spot was that they didn't have us scheduled to come back in until 9:30am so we got to sleep until 6:30am (Phoenix and Cadbury have their schedules after all!)  

Well, since our ATT service did not work in that area we did not get the phone call saying to come in at 7am but no problem because when we went down at 9am they took us right in.  The rest was Not Good.  The electrician worked on it all day and at the end of the day came out and said he'd had a "devil of a time" but could not get the inverter to work.  He'd been on the phone with the manufacturer and he was sorry but it just wouldn't work. Okaaaaay.  He had tested the pole at our site and it was hot and our MoHo was fine in the shop.  He agreed to come with us when we plugged in that afternoon, he did, everything was fine.  We thought perhaps it had been the rain storm the day before that had created a problem with the pole but our inverter problem was far more of a concern. The nice thing was that as we were heading out, one of the women I'd been talking to, Sandy, said "A bunch of us are going to the all you can eat Ribs and Chicken place if you'd like to join us."  Of course neither of us thought to ask what time and when we got there at 6:30pm the entire group was getting up to leave.  Sandy and Eddie decided to stay and we had a great time getting to know them.

The next morning we went back to speak to our Service Advisor and said, "Listen we can't go back to the guy who installed this and say it was done wrong but now it doesn't work." He agreed and said they would get to the bottom of what was wrong and fix it.  After some discussion we decided that they would test the wiring system by hooking up an inverter they had and seeing if it worked.  It did and we ended up having to buy a whole new system.  The other was packed up for us to be sent to the manufacturer for testing.  Whether the unit was always defective needs to be determined but at least our wiring is safe now.  

Meanwhile, in the Customer Service Center, where we all waited during the day, the group from the night before was chatting and said we should move down the hill to the area where they were parked. There was spot in the gravel area behind them so when MoHo came out that's where we parked.  It turned out to be noisy but the next morning we moved to one that was next to grass and a tree (perfect for Cadbury) and had a wonderful weekend with a great new group of friends.  Saturday morning we all went over to a local place called the Amish Pantry and had huge country breakfasts and then people got on with their days. We all hailed from different places: CA (Terry and Eddie), MA (John and Joyce), OR (Bev and Joe), GA (Earl and Mary), IA (Bill), TX (Diana and Bill), NC (Tom and Lee) and MI (Dave and Mary) and us from FL. Dave and Mary are younger and joked that they liked hanging out with "old people" better-someday they'll hear the same so it bothered not a one of us.  Other than Don (and Dave) all the guys were 'Nam vets (thanks for your service guys!) and a more jovial, entertaining and supportive group I have rarely seen.  Sandy is also ex-Air Force and thanks for your service, too. We'd gather each day with our chairs in the empty parking lot and have wine, snacks and way too much fun.  By the end of the weekend we all felt like family.  

Mondays are only for people with appointments and most of us did not have them so we went off and did errands and laundry and Tuesday morning, bright and early we went back in.  Ron had told us he just needed to make a box for the new controller to fit in and we'd be good to go. So we figured we'd be on our way to our next KY campground Mammoth Cave. Then in the afternoon we went up the hill to refill our water tank and when we came back the electricity didn't work again. This time it would not come on.  We thought it might be the site so we moved across the lot to a pole with both 30 and 50 amps.  Still none.  We went back inside-apparently saying one has no power yields immediate attention- and for the next hour the Shop Leader Greg and Ron, the electrician, tried everything they could until Ron decided to disconnect the 50amp extension and bam! on came the power.  Yup, it was something easy: a faulty (and new from December) cord.  We'd still have to bring the MoHo in in the morning for him to fix the box though so we had one more night.  Since several couples were planning to leave the following morning we returned to the Ribs and Chicken place and had another wonderful group meal. Finally, on Sep 30, everything was done, and we'd paid our bill by midmorning but I'd asked for some paperwork about the electrical problem.  After waiting until 2pm we decided to wait one more night, hang out with friends and leave the next day.

Poor John and Joyce who'd decided to do the same, left first thing on Friday and we readied our MoHo to do the same.   Within the hour John and Joyce were back with a serially misbehaving infotainment system.  We left with our fingers crossed and made it all the way to our destination: Pikes Peak State Park in the charming town of McGregor IA.  We are high on a bluff above the Mighty Mississippi River and its confluence with the Wisconsin River and now I am working on seeing all the major rivers here in the US.  Our drive from Forest City was lovely with the rolling hills of Iowa, corn fields and farms of all types and brilliant blue skies.
But, at the end of this unplanned adventure I am filled more with appreciation for the chance to have met some great people, to experience great community and support and meet people I never would have if we were sitting in a house somewhere living our daily lives.  We even have plans to all meet back there again in May but this time with appointments so it will be a shorter visit.

UPDATE: When we got to FL I wrote the place that had installed our solar telling him how unhappy we were.  He immediately called me and was quite upset.  First of all, he assured me, he never would have charged us, or given us back the rig,  for work that was not safe.  Secondly, he rightly pointed out, except for the issue with the microwave and kitchen being on the same outlet we had had no problems with the inverter and thirdly, he gave me the name of a technician he used to examine our old inverter (still under warranty) to determine the problem.  After examining the inverter, the technician was able to tell us that one of the circuits was "fried" and that he questioned me about whether we'd plugged in with the inverter on.  I assured him we'd followed the same procedure each time, the one that had been given to us by the installer, and had no problem until at Winnebago.  He could not prove it but felt that this was a problem that they had caused and to cover their tracks were pulling a fast one.  In the end, honestly, I don't know whom to believe.  I want to trust that everyone was honest about what they reported but obviously someone wasn't.  Either a mistake was made and not admitted or perhaps it wasn't known.  We chalked it up to a mystery and in the end ate the cot of repairs that most probably did not need to be done.  However, the most important point our installer made was that at no time were the people at Winnebago correct in telling su we could not leave with our rig before it was fixed and he felt we had been coerced.  So do we. We will not be returning to Winnebago in the future and that is too bad.


  1. You are a marvelous, entertaining writer. Glad you can make the lemonade out of lemons!

  2. I am so glad you decided to do a blog as your writing is entertaining and looking at your situations as adventures and 'fun' does make it lemonade when it might be bitter.


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