ABQ Arrival, Training Week and Charlie Was Sick
December 15: Okay, I should preface what I am about to tell you with the fact that we have overall been very happy with our current home for the past 2 1/2 years. Our 2016 Heartland Landmark 365 named “Charlie” has treated us very well, with minimal problems. And to be fair, the problem we encountered while trying to leave the Carlsbad area was not really Charlie’s fault. Our problems began when we awoke on the morning of December 7th and it seemed to be colder than normal inside the RV. No big deal, we thought. It had been colder than we were used to and damp and rainy outside. When I went down to check the thermostat I realized the furnace was not coming on when it was supposed to. Time for the troubleshooting side of my brain to kick in. (Thanks Terry Cooper, the Texas RV Professor, for your training! Head to the bottom of this post for more details on the RV tech course.)
My first guess was we were out of propane. With no accurate way to measure the amount of propane in either of our 40 lb propane tanks I had to settle for the old-fashioned way, unhook the tank and pull it out of the RV. One lift of the tank told me there was plenty of propane. A full tank is heavy! Hmmm, this is gonna require some more time and detailed investigation. The thermostat appeared to be working, although I couldn’t get it to kick on the furnace or air conditioners. We were hooked up to shore power from the KOA. All of the 120v appliances and outlets appeared to be working as they should. As for the 12v appliances, not so much. Unfortunately, almost all of the lights in an RV are 12v. As well as things like the thermostats, the control board in the furnace, the control board in the water heater, the fantastic fan in the bathroom, the hydraulic leveling jacks and all five slides. We knew we were onto something when we lost a couple of 12v LED lights in the ceiling, the fantastic fan was making a strange noise, and we even lost power to the carbon monoxide detector in the living room. Yep, even that was 12v! 12v power in an RV is pretty important and it appeared we didn’t have a consistent source of 12v power. So yes, we were due to leave the next day and it didn’t look like we would be able to reliably bring the slides in or raise the leveling jacks.
Both of our brains kicked into Plan B mode. We knew we had to be in Albuquerque to start class on Monday, December 10th. Will we have to drive to Albuquerque in the Pilot, stay in a hotel and leave Charlie behind to get repaired? All signs pointed to the converter in our RV being the problem. What’s a converter you might ask? Well, without boring you with technical information, the converter in an RV takes 120v power from the pedestal and does two things with it; 1) charges the 12v batteries onboard, and 2) “converts” 120v power to 12v power in the RV. It sounds pretty important because it is! Since playing with electrical systems is not in my top ten favorite things, it was time to locate a mobile technician in the area to replace our converter. After a couple of calls I was able to find Outer Limits Mobile RV Repair, who agreed to come to the Carlsbad KOA late on a Friday night on his way back to Roswell, NM. Yes, his van had Aliens on the side of it! Robert, from Outer Limits, and I spent some time testing stuff and decided our converter was definitely the problem. Why did it fail?
Well, after pulling down the basement walls that was the easy part. There was water on and around the converter. You don’t have to be a trained technician to know that water and electric don’t mix. A little more investigation revealed that the fresh water line that flushes our black tank was leaking, and dripping directly on the converter. Problem diagnosed, but not yet solved. Robert didn’t have an 80 amp converter on his truck. Apparently Heartland put a larger converter (a good thing) in Charlie. The bad part is that not too many places carry 80 amp converters. After Robert convinced me that I could replace the converter myself and save a lot of money, the search was on for an 80 amp converter. Side note: Robert was also a graduate of Terry Cooper’s RV Tech School, so when I told him I was a fellow graduate he felt better about me replacing it myself. (Thanks again Terry Cooper!)
We were up bright and early on Saturday to begin our search for a new converter. There were a couple of RV dealers in Carlsbad, but we had no luck finding a converter large enough for Charlie. However, a helpful parts guy at one of the dealers had suggested a potential work around until we could order a new converter. His idea was to buy a good, deep cycle battery charger in order to keep the batteries charged. Along with disconnecting the damaged converter, this would allow the batteries to provide a consistent, clean source of 12v power. Enough to allow the furnace to run, keep the lights on, and most importantly, allow us to bring the slides in and raise the leveling jacks so we could get to Albuquerque. After purchasing two battery chargers (always have a Plan B!), we were back at the RV ready to put our plan into action. But first, I was in need of one last confirmation that this would work. Time to use one of our lifelines, time to text Terry Cooper. And once again showing how good of a guy Terry is, within minutes I received a text back from him confirming that our battery charger plan would work. Thank you for the third time in this post Terry Cooper, the Texas RV Professor. Taking his week-long training has already more than paid for itself!
Sunday was slides in, jacks up and hit the road. The battery charger had worked like a champ. It was a day later than we had planned, but the Sunday drive from Carlsbad to Albuquerque was pretty uneventful. The roads were not crowded and the views were beautiful. We definitely weren’t in Kansas, I mean Port Lavaca, any more! Our first view of Albuquerque was from I-40 as we came through the Tijeras Pass between the Sandia and Manzano Mountain ranges. It felt like we were coming “down” into Albuquerque because we actually were. The Tijeras Pass topped out at 7,200 feet and the City of Albuquerque sits on a high-dessert plain at an elevation of approximately 5,300 feet. The Big Tow’er had no problem keeping things under control during the descent thanks to a hefty jake brake and driver skill. (Ok, it was mostly the truck!) We quickly settled into our new home for the next four months at the Albuquerque KOA. Less than a mile off the Interstate and conveniently located close to everything in the city. Some might call it “Urban Camping”, we call it “Costco is 1.5 miles away” and “there are at least five Starbucks within a three miles of us”. Quite a welcomed change from life in Port Lavaca.
After arriving a day later than planned, we were off to our first day of training the very next day. On Monday morning, along with seven other workampers, we started our first week of in-person tax training. Having just finished online Tax School on Saturday evening, our knowledge of credits, refunds and tax forms was fresh in our minds. The week went by quickly, and the general consensus was that the actual process of interviewing a client while completing their tax return would be easier than the almost 60 hours of Tax School we had just completed. That, and even though we hated to admit it, we were getting tax smarter! I don’t know if that’s an actual term, but we’re going with it. We may have had out doubts during the build up, but after a week of training we felt better about making it until April 15th.
After a week of computer face time, tax talk and listening to our trainer, Nancy, it was almost a welcomed break to start on the task of replacing the faulty converter in our RV. Thanks to the efficiency of delivery companies and the availability of the converter we needed at PPL Motorhomes in Texas, I had what I needed when Saturday arrived. After cleaning out some items in the basement and removing a couple of interior walls, I made my way to the faulty converter. It took some care and a little bit of flexibility (something I don’t possess an abundance of!), but I was able to easily and carefully remove the converter. Of course this all occurred after the necessary safety steps were performed. The RV was disconnected from shore power and the battery shut off was placed in the “off” position. The installation was as simple as connecting two wires (positive and negative), the ground wire and plugging it in. Just like anytime I do an installation or repair, I finished up with cleaning anything in sight, tightening any screws or bolts that may have come loose, and a general look around for anything that may look abnormal. A successful test with the power turned back on was followed by reassembly of the walls. Our electrical system was back in working order and Charlie was happy again.
We are both looking forward to finishing up our training and working with some real customers. But that will all take place after a little break for the Christmas Holiday. This tax thing is all new to us so make sure to follow along to see how we make out!