Our old lifestyle ended with the sale of our house in Auburn, the two cars we owned, and the A-frame trailer we had been camping in for the past year. Our hopes for the new lifestyle were contingent on whether the selling of these assets along with the money from my Dad’s estate and money in savings would be sufficient to purchase a used Ford F350 or Dodge 3500, a new Excel fifth-wheel, and funds to cover the costs of the transition. Our assumptions were as follows in round numbers: After taking out the commission costs and paying off the mortgages we would clear about $80,000 on the house. My Dad’s estate was about $20,000 and we had about $5,000 in savings. The blue book values on the cars would be about $5000 and the camper was worth about $10,000 as a trade-in. This gave us assets totaling $119,000. We estimated the truck would cost about $35,000 leaving $85,000 for the RV. A new Excel with the options we wanted was listed at over $100,000, but we should be able to get a deal with 15% discount or $85,000. This was going to be tight, especially as this left nothing to fund the transition itself. If we had figured wrong on anything then we were going to have a problem. Something had to break our way for this to work. For the past year, my sister Suzy had been telling me that everything would work out according to God’s time table and we just had to have faith. Even though we still had the IRA as a back-up, we had to have faith it would all work out.
Beginning as soon as we had a firm offer on the house, we contacted Ronnie Ware at Gentry and Ware to locate us a used Ford F350 or Dodge 3500 for less than $35,000, fully expecting to have to exceed this amount in order to get the truck we wanted. The truck had to have a diesel engine and dual wheels along with the towing package to handle a 14,000 pound tow. We didn’t care about the other options, the color, or the size of the cab. After three weeks of no leads on a truck we were getting concerned whether we would have to make a trip to Auburn after selling the house to buy a truck. However, on June 20 Ronnie called us about a 2008 Ford F350 that met our requirements that was at a dealership in Georgia. It was a King Ranch model with just over 60,000 miles on it and he understood it was in excellent condition. Even though we were concerned since we had been warned about problems with the diesel engine on the 2008 models, we would be interested in looking at it. They got it to Auburn on Tuesday of the next week and we took a quick look at it, just before we were packing up the U-Haul truck to move our belongings to my sister’s storage shed in Tennessee. We were certainly impressed with the truck. In addition, to having a turbo diesel engine and dual wheels, the King Ranch model comes with a lot of extras including powered mirrors that extend in and out, heated leather seats, a full sized 4-door cab. This truck also came with one of the largest and best tool-boxes in the back and was a beautiful reddish brown color that Kal and I both fell in love with. It was certainly more truck than we had hoped for and with a price tag of just over $30,000 and low mileage we were very interested. However, we wanted to get the engine checked out along with the repair history to make sure we were not buying problems. So we made arrangements with CT Automotive to give it a good inspection while we were gone to Tennessee. If it all checked out then we would return to Auburn on Saturday to complete the final cleaning of the house, close on the house on Monday, deposit the money in the bank, and then buy the truck, all in one day! Ronnie did not see a problem with this plan and from our standpoint it could not have worked out better with the timing, the price, and the quality of the truck. If you read my previous blog you already know that the house closing was soon delayed a week, until July 7, which also worked to our advantage. The report from CT Automotive on Friday was very positive so we had our truck. However, they offered a service called BG. This involved a detailed inspection of all the systems of the truck, including replacement of all the fluids along with special BG additives that are suppose to improve the efficiency and life of the truck. This also would add a $2000 warranty on each of the systems included so long as we keep to the maintenance schedule and BG products. The systems you could include were the engine oil, transmission, coolant, power steering, differential, and air conditioning. We did a bit of research on the web and the results were encouraging, however the major advantage I saw was to have a qualified mechanic take a detailed look at each of these systems and get a fresh start on all the fluids. After thinking about all weekend I decided the almost $2000 price tag for the complete service was worth it. By delaying the closing a week, this gave CT Automotive the time to complete the work, along with rotating the tires, doing a wheel alignment, and installing two new batteries (yes this truck has 2 large batteries!) and still close on the house and buy the truck in the same day!
We closed on the house on Monday, July 7 after a pleasant week in Tennessee and got our first pleasant surprise. Our net on the house was $84,000, which was higher than our conservative estimate. We deposited the check in the bank and headed directly to Gentry and Ware to buy the truck. Gentry and Ware covered $500 of the cost to CT Automotive for the work done bringing the price down to $29,650 and gave us $6000 on the trade-ins, both of which were better than we had estimated. Therefore, even after paying CT Automotive $2200 for the work they did we came out less than what we had estimated for the truck and trade-ins by $4000. So far everything had worked to our satisfaction and after visiting State Farm to change the car insurance, we were off to Kal’s parents house in Birmingham to get the truck registered and tagged. We were able to complete all these critical tasks in a single day without any problems, except Kal was having to get used to driving this monster of a truck!
We arrived at the courthouse in Bessemer, Alabama early the next morning to get tags and registration. After standing in line for about a half hour and getting near the front of the line we were informed that we had to have proof of insurance to get it registered. We had our old State Farm cards for the cars we traded in, but the State Farm agent did not give us any proof of insurance. After confirming that this was not going to work, we left the line believing we had run into our first roadblock and would have to wait for the insurance cards to come by mail before making another trip to Birmingham in the next couple of weeks. However, Kal was not going to be denied and refused to accept the situation. We found a local State Farm agent not too far from the courthouse and went to their office in the hopes they could help us out. Sure enough, a quick phone call to our agent in Auburn and they received a fax of our proof of insurance statement that we should have gotten in Auburn the day before (our oversight!). So now it was back to the courthouse and to the back of the line, which had grown to over an hour, and we had our registration and tags. The only confusion was our old tags, which we brought with us, were for Lee County instead of Jefferson County. Once we explained we were “moving” to Birmingham, we were issued new tags for the correct county. We then proceeded upstairs to update the address on our driver license, which did not take very long to have new temporary driver licenses. The only problem is that they would not allow us to renew our licenses which are due to expire in February, which means we are going to have to return to Birmingham this winter. We were planning on visiting Kal’s parents at Christmas time anyway, so assuming we can get them renewed in January (you are supposed to be able to do it up to 30 days in advance) we should be able to combine the trips.
Wednesday, it was time to head back to Tennessee with our new (used) truck and begin the process of buying a fifth-wheel RV. The constant roar of the diesel engine, which in truth is not as bad as I expected in the cab, and the sheer size of the truck is going to take some time to get used to. Kal is also having to learn where the dual wheels are on the road and the play in the steering wheel. Suzy and Shannon were impressed with the truck and could not wait to put it to work on hauling stuff out of their garage, but this would have to wait until we found an RV.
On Thursday, Kal and I drove up to Bulls Gap, TN to the Tri-Am RV Center which is the closest RV dealer with Excel fifth wheels. We had visited Tri-Am over a year ago when we started the our research into RVs. After reading a lot of reviews and comparisons I am convinced that Peterson Industries, who makes the Excel, makes one of the best RVs you can buy for full-timers. However, you do pay a premium and as noted before, the 34 IKE model with the options we wanted listed out at over $100,000. We were hoping they could be willing to sell us a new Excel Winslow 34 IKE for $85,000 and give us $10,000 for the trade-in. Upon arriving at Tri-Am we found that they had an Excel Winslow 34 IKE in stock since they had just brought it up from their dealership in Florida. It happened to be the same unit we had seen at the Florida dealership that they had on sale for $82,000 since it is a 2014 model and the 2015 models are now available. We were certainly interested in this price and thankfully the unit was already in Tennessee. There wasn’t much room for negotiations on the price. Our paperwork shows a sale price of $85,000 with a $12,000 trade-in, so the difference was $73,000. We had estimated $85,000 with a trade-in of $10,000 for a difference of $75,000 so we came out ahead by another $2000. We also found out it was fortunate we arrived when we did because they were getting ready to send the unit back to Excel to have some modifications made and we would not have had a chance to look at it. In 2014, Excel tried out a new roof on their units made from the same material as the spray-on truck bed liners. While this sounds like a great idea for a tough roof and I believe may some day be the standard for RV roofs, this first attempt was not very successful. It not only took longer to apply, causing major delays this past year, but the units sold are already having issues with cracking and leaks. Not good. Therefore, they were sending this unit back to the factory to replace this roof with a rubber roof that has been used for years. They had also found out that an additional ram on the large slide-out would make a huge difference in smoothness of the slide-out, a change they had already made in their manufacturing earlier in the year. Finally, the zebra pattern on the lounge chairs was to be switched to a white leather cover to match the couch, a change we certainly approved of. Therefore, it was going to be about a month before the unit was ready for delivery. Since this was much better than the 6 months minimum delay in ordering a new unit (much less the additional price for a new 2015 model!), we were more than happy to wait for a month. Besides this gave us an opportunity to stay with my sister and help her with a number of projects and to get our ducks lined up for the transition.
Over the next three weeks we took on a number of jobs to help Suzy out before school started for her grandchildren, Elijah and Kaytlynn (Shannon’s children) and Austin, Joey, and Taylor (Sonya’s children). This included using our truck to clear out the garage and storage unit with multiple trips to the dump, used book store, habitat restore, and recycle centers in Maryville. We also cleaned out her gutters, painted and installed new lattice around her front porch, and made some replacement shelves for Kaytlynn’s bedroom. Along with three of her friends, we had the unique opportunity to participating in Kaytlynn’s birthday party. We also had time for Kal to order a WiFi Ranger that would boost wifi signals once installed on the camper, to get a quote for full-timers RV insurance through Good Sams (National Insurance), and to close out my Dad’s IRA. For some reason it was not possible to have the money transferred to our bank account (something about it being a Beneficiary IRA) we had our friend Rick Theobald with Waddell and Reed send us checks to my sister’s address. Somehow this was not communicated correctly with the check writing office at Waddell and Reed, since the checks showed up in a couple of days to my sister’s address, made out to Suzy Adams, my sister! This was not going to work as it could mess up my sister’s taxes if she were to cash them and write us a check, so we had to have Waddell and Reed reissue the checks. It also turned out that the IPad App to digitally deposit checks to our Wells Fargo Bank has a monetary limit that was less than the checks from Waddell and Reed. Therefore, we had to physically deposit the checks at a Wells Fargo Bank. We changed our bank accounts to Wells Fargo with the belief that they would have branches all over the United States, which I suppose is true except for eastern Tennessee at least. The closest branch in Tennessee is Nashville and the closest branch for us was just south of Chattanooga in Georgia! So we had to spend the better part of a day driving to and from Chattanooga to deposit our checks. It was good that none of the individual checks from each of the funds was small enough that Wells Fargo did not have to put a hold on the money, so we were good to go. Thank goodness we had plenty of time before we needed the money at the end of the month. After withholding money for taxes the IRA was over $23,000 which was $3,000 more than we had estimated. Everything was certainly breaking our way with $4000 more for the house, $4000 less for the truck, $2000 less for the RV, $3000 more from the IRA, and $5000 in savings left us roughly $18000 to make the transition! Of course about $2500 of this would be needed for the sales tax on the RV and $2000 for the full-timer insurance but this still left us with more than we had any right to hope for. I guess my sister was right after all and with good planning and conservative estimates, everything was going to work out without breaking the bank.
We also made a visit to the Toqua Campgrounds, about 10 minutes from Suzy’s and the storage unit with all of our stuff. After explaining our situation with not knowing when we would get the RV and wanting a two week stay with only a couple of days notice to the park, they assured us there would be no problem except for Labor Day weekend when they were booked. If it took a full month before the RV was back we would only have a few days before Labor Day and this could be a problem with accepting delivery before the holiday. We also found out from the park manager, that they knew of a case of someone from Alabama that bought an RV locally like we are doing, and having to drive the RV to Alabama in order to get it registered. We already knew that motor vehicles purchased from out of state had to be inspected before they could be registered. We were not sure what this inspection included, but since our fifth wheel was not a motorized vehicle, it made no sense that they would need to inspect it for things like emission controls. It was possible that they only verified the VIN number, but surely a picture would suffice. I certainly did not want to have to pull the RV to Birmingham and I could not imagine where we would park a 35′ motor home at the downtown Bessemer courthouse. The website was no help as all it recognized were motorhomes, which had to be inspected and the email I sent asking about the requirements for a fifth wheel were not answered. We got the usual run around with finding the correct government official to talk with since very county in Alabama handles their own vehicle registration. After more than a day of worry we finally got someone to answer the phone and verified that it was only a VIN verification and a picture of the VIN should suffice. Feeling a little better, we were now ready to accept delivery of the RV. Finally, Kal and I had the opportunity to play World of Warcraft again with my sister. We had let our accounts expire over a year ago when we decided to stop on-line gaming in anticipation of selling our house and being dependent on RV park wifi connections. It was great to be able to play the game again, even though we had to start new characters, and we can now pay for access on a month-to-month basis if we decide we can do it on the road. If not, then it was still worth if for a couple of weeks.
By August 4 it had been 3 weeks and we had not heard anything from Tri-Am, nor did we expect to for at least another week. Since the grandchildren had started back to school the previous week and Suzy had started her school year as an Art and Keyboarding teacher for Steekee Elementary, we decided to take Shannon on a trip to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Kal and I have been to the park a number of times over the years, but this would give me a chance to get the lapel pin that I am collecting and to spend a day outdoors. We enjoyed the morning at the stops in the driving tour of Cades Cove and the Visitor Center, for which you can get more information on the attached pages. We surprised Shannon by doing something she had never done before. We took a one-way dirt road out of Cades Cove to US Highway 129, an 8 mile trip of very narrow roads, very tight corners, and sheer dropoffs. I know Shannon was “thrilled” with the trip and vows she will never do it again! I must admit there were a few places I was not sure the huge truck would make a turn without hitting a tree, make it up a steep slope, or losing sight of the road as we top a rise or exited a low water bridge. We found out that the truck could handle this type of adventure better than the passengers. When we got cell phone coverage back, we found out we had missed a phone call from Tri-Am. Our RV was back from the factory and ready to be picked up!
On Tuesday we called Tri-Am back and set up their walk-through for Friday afternoon with plans to stay at their center Friday and Saturday nights before pulling the unit to Toqua Campgrounds. A quick call to Toqua Campgrounds reserved us a site for two weeks starting on Sunday, August 10. Kal also called Good Sams and started up the full-timers insurance and we were ready to go. We packed food, clothes, and bedding for two nights and headed to Tri-Am Friday afternoon. Our initial impression of our new Excel Winslow was breathtaking. We began to realize what we were able to buy with the cash we got from the house and my Dad’s inheritance. The pickup truck is a King Ranch and is a much better truck then we were hoping to get. The RV had the options that we wanted; power jacks, fireplace, and TV in the bedroom. It also came with a lot of other options that we would not have bought if we had order a new unit. It has the premium carpet (which should hold up better), french doors (glazed windows in the bedroom and bathroom doors that do look nice), a pillow-top and box spring mattress (sleeps like dream), second air-conditioning unit in the bedroom (very nice on these summer nights in Tennessee), a hide-a-bed couch (instead of the standard air mattress), a convection micro-wave, a coach-wide water filtration system, a Dust Devil central vacuum system, premium tires and disc brakes (instead of smaller tires and drum brakes), a swing-out tube for the sewer hose (cleaner and easier to use), and a large residential refrigerator with large freezer and ice maker. These options would easily increase the value of the RV by $15,000. Let’s just say we were more than pleased with what we just purchased. After their extensive walk-through when I asked a lot of questions, we were left to begin living in our new RV with instructions to try everything out and keep track of our questions. After reading through the Owner’s Manual and trying out all the systems I had a number of questions for the following day. Unfortunately, a lot of the following day was taken up with the final paperwork on the RV. One problem was with our Flagstaff camper. In Alabama, these size trailers are considered to be in the same category as a utility trailer and are not titled. Therefore, we did not have a title for the camper but the original MOS, the manufacturer’s transfer of ownership. Since we were wanting to make the trip to Birmingham as soon as possible in case we had to actually take the RV itself to get it titled, we wanted to obtain the MOS for the Winslow immediately. This meant we had to have a cashier’s check for $73,000 which in turn meant another trip to a Wells Fargo branch, which now was closer to go to Bristol, Virginia since we were about an hour north of Knoxville. So after they finished installing the goose neck hitch in the bed of our truck, we set out for Bristol. We followed the GPS unit to downtown Bristol on State Street only to find the road blocked off and no direct access to the bank! So we found a parking place and walked a couple of blocks to the bank, which thankfully was open even though there was no customers in the bank. State street was closed off for an upcoming parade of 300 antique cars and the spectators were just beginning to show up. It was lucky for us as it took just a few moments to get our cashier’s check and we were on our way out of town. This side trip limited our time to spend checking out the RV, but the people at Tri-Am were all great and very helpful. We showed them our appreciation by giving them each a bottle of Hi-Wire Bed of Nails, which I suppose was shameful advertisement of Bryna and Chris’ brewery, but it seemed to be appreciated. While I was asking questions about how to override the hydraulics if I need to raise the jacks manually, they noticed one of the hydraulic lines was dimpled. While this may not be a problem, it could leak in the future, but they needed to order the part to replace it. Therefore, we adjusted our plans to return in two weeks to have this and any other warranty issue dealt with, along with installation of the antennae for the WiFi Ranger. While Saturday was raining on and off all day, Saturday also threatened rain. While this gave us an opportunity to inspect the RV for leaks (we did find a window that was bubbling along the seam indicating a leak) which were fixed immediately it made Kal very nervous about pulling the RV on the Interstate in a rainstorm. We had hooked up the RV once on Saturday to see how the process worked and on Sunday we closed up the RV and hooked it to the truck in preparation for leaving. The personnel at Tri-Am were on hand to make sure this process went smoothly and Kal drove it around the parking lot a few times to get a feel for it. She then tried to back the RV back onto its pad and get totally frustrated with the process. Since I had done all of the parking with the small camper, it was obviously going to fall to me to learn how to back the 35 foot RV. Everyone said a fifth wheel is easier to back up then a trailer on a hitch, but all I can say is it is different. You have to turn the truck a LOT more to get the fifth wheel to turn, which will be a good thing as it is easier to back it straight back. Also the pad we were trying to back into was at right angles to the road, so the turn was extreme. It took a couple of tries to get it turned enough, except then I could not see where I was going. Looking backward only shows the front of the RV. The right mirror was looking way out into a field and the left mirror only showed the side of the RV. There was no way to see Kal unless she wanted to stand way out in the field. This made it difficult and I don’t know if I am going to be able to back the RV and hope we can get a pull through site. By now it was past time for us to leave and we just had to go. Thankfully, the rain held off and Kal did not have to drive in the rain, but having to immediately drive on the Interstate was nerve wracking. Here we go on our Plan A!!!