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The Humor Side of Fixing Up An Old RV Camper Motorhome

Updated on September 22, 2017
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Dan is a long time camper, from tents to pop-up trailers, to camp trailers to motorhomes. He has also done repairs on all of these.

The mechanics trap, just waiting to close the jaws on an unsuspecting worker.
The mechanics trap, just waiting to close the jaws on an unsuspecting worker. | Source

Our old RV Needed Fixing Up

Several years ago my wife and I decided to trade in our motor home for something else. We eventually decided on a 20 year old 35' motorhome. It seemed to be in good mechanical condition and cosmetically was very good, but there were problems inside. Some cosmetic but most were due to malfunctioning electrical systems, particularly the 12V ones. I've always been rather a handyman around the home, and figured I could do the work myself, allowing us to purchase far more motorhome for the money.

Some of the work turned out to be easy, some quite difficult and some had a funny twist to it. Following are some of the more humorous incidents encountered in fixing up our old RV

Starting with the Dashboard

Some of the dashboard guages didn't work, and I wanted to repair them. Gather the tools, matey, and lets see what we can do!

It didn't take long to figure that I did not have all the tools that I needed inside with me, so out to the shop to find more I went. On the way out I discovered that the electric step on the outside operated in and out each time the door was opened; as I would be going out several times I turned it off. That way the steps would remain out for use and not be going in and out whenever the door opened. Gathering more tools (you can never have enough), I went back to the drivers seat and resumed work. Drat! No voltage tester! Back outside I went, opening the door and stepping out. Out and down - the steps had retracted again. About a two foot drop, slamming into the ground hard. Just as I began to regain my balance, WHAM! The steps came back out, thumping me hard in the back of the leg. Cursing, I hobbled to the shop and got the tester. Before again entering the motorhome I turned the step on and closed the door. Steps go in. Open door - steps out. Closed - in, open - out. Turned off the steps again and closed the door. Steps remain out. Open door - steps out. Close - steps out. Open - steps out. OK - ready to proceed again, and I gingerly climbed into the RV and, carefully smashing my head on the overhead console, sat down in the drivers seat and proceeded to work. A few minutes later the tool devil again raised his ugly head - I need pliers. More cursing as I headed for the door - SLAM down the 2' drop to the ground (which didn't do a damaged leg any good) - WHAM out came the steps onto the now giant bruise I call a leg! Groaning loudly, I crawled into the shop and found some pliers. Returning to the RV I re-tested the steps. All is good - the step genie is on vacation, at least for now. Carefully ducking my head, I returned to work, but shortly I need more tools. Reaching for the doorknob, a dim recollection of prior events percolates through my throbbing head and I jerked back from the door like a frightened cat, very neatly bashing an elbow on the sink cabinet. Through the tears I gently and slowly opened the door and watched as the step popped out from its cruel hiding spot. Hah! Missed me this time!

The evil step genie lives somewhere behind this "automatic" step.
The evil step genie lives somewhere behind this "automatic" step. | Source

Eventually I discovered that if the steps are left out with the switch turned off and the ignition key is turned on they will retract - a neat safety feature. Once that specific process is followed and door again opened they will come out even with the switch off. Working on the dashboard guages I continually turned the key on and off, causing them to retract, and again magically reappear when the door is opened. I had discovered the step genie, and never again would I repeat the wonderful experience of falling to the ground to be hit by moving steps (at least till the next day).

The Broken Heater

Next on the list of some 5,000 items to be looked at was an electric heater, "conveniently" buried under the bed. In my RV the engine is in the rear, under the bed. The bed is hinged to raise for access, and a wooden "box" built around the motor for electrical panels and the non-working heater. I raised the bed and set the small catches holding it up; revealed was the largest engine I had ever seen. Crammed into the area under the bed was an 8.3 liter inline 6 diesel that looked more appropriate for the giant scrapers used to build roads. The heater forgotten, I got a flashlight and bent over into the engine compartment to examine this monstrosity more closely. Unfortunately, I brushed the raised bed as I did so and the catches I had so carefully set decided they didn't want to carry the weight of the bed any more. The flashlight hit the ground and went out as I found myself pinned between the bed and the wooden box. Face and chest pressed hard against the dirty, oily engine and belly button about 1" from an obviously crushed spine I could hardly breathe in the blackness surrounding me. Somehow I managed to weasel my way out, leaving bits of skin and flesh behind as an offering to the gods, and stumbled my way back into the house where I was met by gales of laughter from my oh so loving wife. I didn't understand why, but the huge grimey black streak up my chest and one side of my face seemed to be cause of her humor. A two hour bath later and I had decided that a new support for the bed was actually a little more important than the heater and designed and installed a new system.

With the bed now held up good and solid I proceeded to trouble shoot the heater. There seemed to be 5 wires protruding, with other wires hooked to some of them. Twisting myself like a boa around its prey, I managed to briefly short one wire to a "hot" wire from the battery. A tremendous HONK! as a flock of about a 1000 geese flew overhead brought me upright just about that time, raising the bed another 2" using only my head. Soundly cursing (my jobs seem to involve a lot of that!) the geese, I carefully twisted my body back into the boa configuration and again shorted the wires. HOOOONK! Again with the head to bedframe, but not from geese - this time I figured out that the large twin airhorns on top of the RV were going off. Dogs are barking, children are running wildly, neighborhood doors are opening and out of the window I see my lovely wife headed my way with fire in her eyes - apparently panicked children and dogs are not humorous - and I quickly disconnected my shorted wire. Eventually I found which wires to use and got the heater running, but that left the 2 wires that were apparently causing the air horns to go off hanging loose. They disappeared into the engine compartment, so I headed outside to try to trace them and hopefully find out just what they were supposed to be doing. SLAM into the ground and WHAM as the steps came out into the bruise I now called a leg - I had forgotten the step genie again. Additional cursing as I crawled under the motorhome and yet even more (remember, cursing is necessary to complete a job!) as I couldn't find the wires. Eventually I simply capped them off inside, only to have the evil genie laugh at me; the steps no longer worked at all, and I very nearly fell out of the RV once more. It turned out that splicing the two unidentified wires together by themselves did the trick - both horn and steps now worked properly. I never did find out why; thinking about it just hurt my head even more than the bed had.

In conclusion, I would pass on some of the wisdom I have gained from my limitless hours working on the old RV:

1. Empty the workshop of tools, selling them all on eBay or craigslist.

2. Never trust a floating bed

3. Keep a good stock of new and novel curse words on hand - it's more interesting than always using the old ones.

4. Never buy a used RV

Seriously, I have (mostly) enjoyed my work on the old girl, and we have certainly gotten our moneys worth out of her. A new hardwood floor adorns the kitchen area and a 2.5 KW RV inverter now powers our electrical devices when camping. Much of the dashboard plastic was repaired or replaced using epoxy putty and sanded down with a dremel tool; the results are great! The ice maker was repaired and produces more ice now than my home refrigerator. The backup camera now shows where I am when backing up. Even my better half has spent some time "remodelling", with new curtains, decorations and a fleece blanket for when the grandkids go camping with us. With our camper running like a top and looking good we are ready for another trip to the redwood forests or perhaps back to Yellowstone Park.

© 2010 Dan Harmon


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    • profile image

      jw 4 years ago

      as long as that engine and transmission are good...

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 6 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      An old RV can save you a lot of money, but only if you are able and willing to spend some time on it. I've (mostly) enjoyed my time fixing mine and probably saved $20,000 by buying something in not too good of condition.

    • HubbyHubberton profile image

      HubbyHubberton 6 years ago

      I'm thinking about getting one. Thanks for the information - really enjoyed your story!

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 7 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Actually, it was mostly funny. After the pain went away, anyway. That's the way working on old equipment is, though.

      Thanks for the comment - I'm glad you liked it.

    • Dorsi profile image

      Dorsi Diaz 7 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

      Very funny (but not for you I bet) We had a 24 ft. Trojan wood boat like that...ahh,....the memories...