Installing A SoftStart On The Air Conditioner

In case you don’t know there are two ways to power devices in your recreational vehicle. There are batteries for running battery powered devices such as your lights, water pump, awning, and 12 volt TV if you have one of those. Then there is the AC power cord that plugs into the electrical service at the RV park. This runs basically two devices in my trailer: the microwave and the air conditioner. Since we do most of our camping primarily in the western US, we need an air conditioner! This limits us to camping where electricity is readily available.

But there’s another option, a generator! You can plug your trailer’s AC connection into a generator and run your air conditioner that way. There’s just one problem. You have to make sure that the generator has enough power to start the air conditioner, once the air conditioner is started, it uses far less power. It’s just that initial start. This is where the soft start module comes up. You see inside the air conditioner is an electrical motor that basically runs the pump that pumps all the freon around your air conditioner. When motors start, they generally use a ton of electrical current to get them going, and then once started, they use much less current. That initial kick of electrical current is called inrush current and will bog a generator down as the generator struggles to supple enough electrical current to meet the demand. Many smaller generators will just blow their breakers or shut themselves down.

But what if you could limit that inrush current to a manageable level that the smaller generator could keep up with? Then you wouldn’t have to buy that bigger more expensive generator. This is what the SoftStart module does.

Imagine electrical current as water. When you flip a switch to turn on your AC, it’s like turning your water faucet on full blast. When you flip the switch off, it’s like turning the faucet completely off. But what if you could just turn that faucet on slowly until it reaches full blast? This is what the Soft Start does. When you turn your air conditioner on, the fan comes on, and then a few seconds later the compressor comes on with a loud “thunk”. This is the motor responding to a full blast of electrical current, like the water faucet being turned on full blast, and the motor is trying to respond to that full blast of current. It’s hard on the motor and uses a lot of electrical current to FORCE that motor to start running at full speed almost instantly!

So the Soft Start ramps up the electrical current slowly so that the compressor’s motor comes on more slowly, thus using less electrical current and also being gentler on the motor and associated components. THIS means you can use a smaller generator than you normally would because it doesn’t have to supply as much current to start your air conditioner.

(For my sister, you can tell our brother than this device OBVIOUSLY uses TRIACS to limit the inrush current)

Installation was pretty easy. They have detailed instructions for every model of RV air conditioner out there complete with pictures. It’s a matter of mounting your Soft Start module inside the AC unit, finding the electrical box, and start wiring it in. All the wires are color coded and there are only 4 of them to connect so it’s hard to go wrong.

The Micro-Air EasyStart Soft Starter

I used strong, double-sided tape to mount it out of the air flow in my AC unit. I then routed the grey cable containing all the wiring over to the electrical box. I forgot to take pictures of my wiring but I’ll include a sample from the instruction manual.

This was all the wiring that was necessary. Connect a white wire where the other white wires are connected, connect an orange wire where all the red wires are connected. Connect the brown wire to the white wire going back to the compressor, then cut the blue wire (not the red wire, never the red wire) and splice the black wire into the middle. Tuck all the wiring away nicely. Remember you’re afraid of heights. Don’t fall off the trailer.

After it’s all connected up it’s time to “teach” the Soft Start device about your air conditioner. You do this by turning the AC on, wait until the compressor comes on, let it run for 30 seconds, then adjust the temp so that the compressor turns back off, adjust the temp again to make it come back on (it will make you wait 3 minutes before it turns back on but be patient, it will turn back on.) And then repeat this 2 more times. That’s it. The Soft Start module has now learned your AC’s inrush current particulars. You will notice that the compressor no longer “klunks” on. You just hear a gentle humming begin. Very nice.

Then it was just a matter of closing the AC back up and taking a nap! Now to shop for a generator.

Snowflower RV Resort

Snowflower RV Resort is part of the Thousand Trails network of RV parks. We’ve only stayed in one other and it was not the greatest experience. However, we decided to give them another try. Snowflower is located right of Interstate 80 just west of Truckee, CA. It was about a 3 hour drive from our home. We had no problem finding the place but the fun began once we started looking for a camping spot.

Like most campground maps it’s only a rough approximation of the actual streets so we got turned around a couple of times and drove up a road we probably shouldn’t have with only two wheel drive. However, we got back down to where we should have been and started hunting again. Then we got caught in a traffic jam of people looking to park their huge rigs in Snowflower’s modest sized RV spots. It had been going on for 45 minutes at this point and the folks were pretty apologetic but it was apparent they were not going to fit so they finally drove on. A very nice gentleman on a bike told us there was a great spot next to him and that we could fit into it. It was only just up the road and we fit perfectly.

Finally! Camping.

That was really my only complaint with this park is the free for all in trying to find spots. It’s not just this park either. Most Thousand Trails parks are this way. Other than that the park was beautiful and we had a beautiful lake view. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the views and napping. What a way to spend my birthday!

Later just before dinner we decided to talk a walk down by the lake. It was really serene and peaceful. This was probably one of the most beautiful places we have camped so far.

The next morning we decided to drive around the park and try to orient ourselves. We really liked the park so we wanted to take a look at some of the other camping spots and figure out how to find them! We ended up driving up to the “overlook”. It is the topmost part of the park and is just a great spot to hike up to and have a lunch or drive up and spend a few minutes admiring the view as we did.

After admiring the view we took a drive up to Nevada City. We walked around downtown for a short time but they are still opening up after the pandemic so not much to see. We did find a bistro that was open so we stopped in to have lunch. I had a burger and Cristy had a burger salad.

Garden near the bistro

After lunch we decided to head back to the resort to take a nap and unwind. On the way back we pulled off the highway to check out a meadow I had seen on the way up. I’d love to have a house here… if it wasn’t so cold and snowy in the winter.

After taking in the meadow views we headed back to the trailer for a nap. After our nap and dinner the weather started to get a little exciting. It started to thunder and drop first sleet, and then small hail. It was enough to make things exciting but not enough to damage the trailer. The largest hail was only pea-sized.

The storm ended after a couple of hours and we enjoyed a beautiful night sleep. I have to admit that we really enjoyed our short stay at Snowflower RV Resort and will definitely be back. Maybe for a longer stay next time. I really loved waking up to this view…

Morning view

We’ll be back.

Battery Monitor Install

BMV-700 - Victron Energy
BMV-702

I just completed another mod on my Lance 1995 travel trailer. I installed a Victron BMV-702 battery monitor. It’s a simple device that displays the charge state of your battery. Rather than measure the voltage level it measure the amount of current that flows into and out of your battery. It learns over time and will give you an accurate reading of how much battery power you have left.

It was a simple install but getting at all the locations I needed to get to was somewhat of a challenge for my bad back. The first decision was where to put the shunt. A shunt is used by an ammeter (a device that measures electrical current). Normally they are built into the instrument but with the current levels involved with two car batteries it’s just not practical. You install the shunt between the negative terminal on the battery and the trailer’s ground. A wire then goes from the shunt to the instrument head to provide power and current measurements.

Luckily for me there is a convenient access panel next to the bed where the negative terminals of the batteries connect to ground.

The black wire with the blue tape goes to ground. The other black wire goes to the 2nd battery. The black wire with the blue tape goes on one side of the shunt, and then a cable I made up goes from the other side of the shunt to the terminal with the unmarked black cable on it. This places the shunt between the batteries and ground.

First I had to mount the shunt. I screwed it to the side of the access compartment. The wood screws protrude into the wood block that the back of the nightstand drawers secure to. This made for a very sturdy mount for the 1 pound shunt. I also had to find a way to get the cable that connects the shunt to the instrument head down to the baggage compartment where I was going to mount the instrument. I did this by drilling a hole in the bottom of the access compartment down to the baggage compartment directly below.

Here is a photo of the connected instrument cable. The red wire goes to the positive side of the battery to provide power to the instrument. The only photo I forgot to take was of the battery grounds connected up.

The next challenge was mounting the instrument in the baggage compartment. I decided to put it next to the battery disconnect switch. It’s the first switch you turn on when taking the trailer out of storage so it made sense to put the battery monitor there. Why not mount it inside next to the other instruments? I didn’t want to run that wire all that way and if I messed up the install, I’d rather it be out of site in the baggage compartment!

I had to use a 2 inch hole saw to cut the hole. I then used a Dremmel tool to cut a small mouse hole at the top to run the cable through. I’ll use some clear RTV to secure the cable to the side of the baggage compartment. It took a little patience and some extra work with the Dremmel to get the main hole just right but in the end it all worked out. There is a bluetooth add on that I’m going to get so I can check the voltage from my phone inside the trailer. I’ll add that later. For now I’m just glad I can get a better idea of how the batteries are actually performing and when I need to charge them.

RV Contingency Plans

I’m an avid follower of RV Life blogs, and vlogs on YouTube.  I’m dreaming of the day I can travel full time.  With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic though, I’m seeing a lot of RV’ers getting stranded with no place to go.  They are understandably upset about campgrounds being shut down, public lands being closed to camping, etc.  Mostly back in the eastern USA at this point.  They are now scrambling for places to stay.  I saw one RV’er complaining about people who have homes taking RV trips.  “Uh, you could always buy a home and have a place to go back to”, I reminded him.  He gave me a flip answer about why should he own two homes.  Well that’s all fine and good but don’t complain.  People with homes have every right to be out there as much as he does.

But why do I write all this?  Because so many people enter into the RV lifestyle with no backup plans, no safety nets.  Always have an out.  Always have a plan B.  Sure it cuts into the “freedom” of the RV lifestyle.  There are people out there that earn just enough on the road to pay their bills.  They don’t earn enough to save for a rainy day.  They don’t save for medical emergencies, maintenance emergencies, or living emergencies like we’re experiencing now.  The fact is, private RV parks are open and have MANY open spaces.  But this doesn’t fit into the “cheap RV living” narrative all these YouTubers are selling.

Please, Please, PLEASE!  If you’re going to live full-time on the road, make sure you are completely ready.  Make sure you have a slush fund to deal with emergencies.  The best and most realistic discussion I have seen on this comes from a YouTube channel called Chickery’s Travels.  They posted a video recently with a very honest and frank discussion about RV contingency planning.  I leave you with that.  Travel safe!

 

 

 

Yank’s RV Resort

Friday:

About a month and a half ago, I was thinking of booking us at another Thousand Trails campground.  I was looking at the one in Paicines, CA but after reading the reviews I decided to look elsewhere.  Doesn’t seem the TT’s in California get very high reviews.  I wasn’t very impressed with the first and only one we’ve stayed at so far.  After reading the reviews I started looking for campgrounds near Paicines.  The thought was that we would take a day trip to Monterey, CA.  Yeah, that was a month and a half ago, before the COVID 19 outbreak.

It was a two and a half hour drive from our home to Yank’s but thanks to the pandemic, traffic was very light.  We arrived around 1pm and check in was super easy.  They had our paperwork waiting for us at the front desk.  We were only one of two checking in that day.  They were really hoping the second party showed up.  They were grateful we showed up.   They guided us to our back-in site, one of only about 8 in the whole park, all others were pull-through.  The back-in sites had more room so I requested one.  They backed us in and camp was set up in less than 20 minutes.

We fixed lunch and took a nap. (Naps are mandatory when we’re RV’ing) 🙂  The weather was beautiful when we arrived.  We took a walk around the park to orient ourselves and stretch our legs.

img_20200320_140429936_hdr

The park is fantastically clean, I’m just talking about the grounds.  Our site was bordered with rosemary hedges which smelled wonderful.  They have a pool, workout room, horseshoe pits, and a dog park with obstacles for the dogs (concrete pipes).   They had a nice little convenience store with all the basic “I forgot” items; frozen dinners, candy bars, sewer connections, power cords, RV decorations, etc.  After our walk we went back to the trailer and started on dinner and then watched a movie on the outstanding cable they had at the park.

Saturday:

The next day after sleeping in we decided our mission was to try to find some Kleenex since all the stores in our hometown had been cleaned out of ALL paper products.  We drove down to the Safeway in King City and found two four-packs of Kleenex left on the shelf. Being responsible citizens we only put one in the cart, and a roll of paper towels to be on the safe side.  We bought a few extra snacks as well and then went in search of gas.  Which we located after a brief search; right across the freeway.  As we drove through King City you’d never know that the governor of the State of California had put in a mandatory stay-at-home order.  Folks were in the restaurants, out on the streets, business as normal.  Kind of felt nice to see.

We drove back to the trailer with a full tank of gas and a full grocery bag. We watched more TV as there was not a lot else to do.  It had rained all night and most of the day.  Just before sunset the rain had stopped and we went out for a walk to breath the clean air.  We also took this opportunity to check out the little store in the resort office.  I hadn’t really looked at it when we checked in.  We chatted with the woman at the front desk who was bored out of her mind.  She told us that Yank’s RV Resort was built in anticipation of Yank’s Air Museum which was being built next door, along with some shops and restaurants.  Good to know.  I bought a magnet to commemorate our visit and then we headed back to the trailer.

More movies that night and then an early bed time.  Love the RV life!

Sunday:

We tried to sleep in on Sunday morning but a local crop duster had different ideas.  At 7am sharp he made his first turn over our RV park and spent the next several hours dusting the field around the RV resort.  Ah well….  We got up and set up the iPad so we could watch church online.  After church it was time to clean up.  We would just be ready to go right at the 11am checkout time.

Cristy started cleaning up the trailer, putting things away, etc.  I went out and started dumping the tanks.  If I do it right it usually takes me about 30 minutes with prep time and proper clean up.  I don’t normally put the hose out until I’m ready to dump so this counts as part of the prep time.  I got that dirty deed done and then pack up all the hoses, cable TV connection and stabilizer pads.  We hitched up and then headed home.

It wasn’t a big awesome adventure or anything but it really helped to clear our heads.  Especially with everything going on in the world.  There is just something about RV’ing that slows us down and let’s us breathe and think.  I love it every time I go out.  Time to start planning the next boring adventure. 🙂

img_20200321_185356253

Cleaning Up

I whiled away the minutes this morning by cleaning various parts of my garage.  It was a very random selection process.

What’s in this box?

Whatever caught my fancy this morning is what I decided to clean up, throw out, or organize.  This all in preparation for full-time RV living.  I have a little over six years to go so there is no rush.  I just do little bits at a time when I have time.  Today’s mission was books.  We have tons of books left over from homeschooling our children.  We picked a few favorite books and set them aside.  I think this process is harder for the parents than for the children.  There were a few books that our daughter wanted to keep for the sake of that nebulous concept of “her children.”

The kids have long since stopped reading the books and playing with the toys, so why is it so hard to throw that stuff out?  It’s hard to let go of  what has taken up most of your life. It’s hard to let got of the memory of who your children were when they were young and looked up to you for everything.  But they grow up and you have to let them.  Which means you stop holding onto those things which still makes them small children in your eyes.  You have to let them become adults.  This is the goal anyway…

So now, off to the library to donate books!

Thousand Trails – Ponderosa RV Park

This past weekend we decided we needed to get away in the RV.  We’ve been planning on doing this for a couple of months now but things kept coming up and preventing our planned trips.  This weekend there was nothing to stop us so  planned a trip to Ponderosa RV Park.  Ponderosa is part of the Thousand Trails resort chain.  This was to be our first trip to a Thousand Trails park so we didn’t quite know what to expect.  We’d always heard mixed reviews.  Late last year I bought a camping pass from Thousand Trails which is good for a year.  This means I can stay in any of their parks in this region for free for up to 14 days.   You can bet we’re going to stay in a lot of Thousand Trails parks this year! (That’s what I thought when I got there.)

ponderosa-rv-map

The drive up to Ponderosa was a little exciting.  I wanted to take mostly back roads and avoid the freeways.  This was a mixed bag.  Most of the backroads were nice but a few got VERY narrow lending some excitement and adventure to the trip.  I ave to admit I’m not a fan of excitement or adventure while towing a trailer.  But we finally arrived (after missing the turn and having to turn around). Check-in was pretty easy.  I showed the gate attendant my membership card and she checked for my reservation.  Gave me my paperwork and sent us on into the park.  She was friendly enough but only JUST friendly enough.  She seemed mostly bored.  Not like the super-friendly welcome we have received at other RV resorts.

img_20200207_152255336Then the great hunt began.  You see, Thousand Trails does not assign you a camping spot.  You have to drive around and find one.  We drove the entire park (not that it was very big) and finally circled back to a spot we had driven past earlier.  It was in a small cul de sac and had no neighbor one side and nothing on the other side of us because this was the end spot.  Nice!  We got set up and then just settled in for a quiet afternoon recovering from the drive up.  Later I set up my Blackstone Griddle and grilled some meat and vegetables that Cristy has prepared earlier and put in plastic bags for our trip.  It was good but let’s just say I need to practice with the griddle some more to really get the hang of it.   We watched some TV on my laptop and then called it a night.  And thanks to the electric heater we brought along…

We slept good.

The next day we drove into Placerville and shopped a bit.  Well, Cristy did.  I mostly just followed her around.  It’s urban hiking after all.  The we had lunch at The Farm Table restaurant.  Always one of our favorites when we’re in Placerville.  The we drove over to historic Coloma, site of Sutter’s Mill where gold was first discovered in California.  Coloma is a town that is a state park much like parts of Columbia.  We walked around and enjoyed the sites for a bit and then headed back to the trailer.  When we got back we discovered a HUGE 5th wheel trailer 20 feet from us which brought 2 parents and 9 kids.  Oy.  There goes our peace.

And that is what we are finding is the downfall of this particular RV park.  If it is like this in the off-season I can’t imagine what it would be like in the summer.  Everyone here is “camping” meaning, the have to put out ALL their camp toys, even if it means completely surrounding our campsite with their stuff.  There are no clear boundaries and there is little to no enforcement of rules.  Again, probably because this is the off-season.  I won’t judge the entire Thousand Trails system by this park, but I certainly won’t be back to this park.

Sunday morning after a quick liquid breakfast I kicked the next-door neighbors’ toys out of the way so I could start packing up and making the trailer ready for travel.  We got everything stowed, the slide pulled in, and everything locked.  Cristy stood guard to make sure no children (who were literally 3 feet away) got run over.  Although there were no sewer sites available there was a dump station on the way out.  We dumped our tanks and hit the road for home.  It turned out to be quite the exciting drive because the winds were 30 gusting to 40 mph.  Luckily for us the winds were mostly at our back coming home so we had incredibly good gas mileage.

So all in all our stay at this Thousand Trails was a mixed bag.  The area was beautiful but the park itself was cramp and noisy (for us).  We’ll try a few more TT trails parks before passing judgement but as of last night those 55 and over RV parks were looking pretty good!

img_20200207_150407323

 

 

The Obligatory New Year’s Post

Happy New Year 2020!

Wow, 2020.  Seems so futuristic.

Sealab 2020 (1972)

When I was a kid in the 1970’s 2020 seemed so far away with it’s underwater cities and moon bases.  Here it is and we don’t live underwater or on the moon.  Instead we’ve expanded to living in tents on sidewalks or under freeway overpasses.

But I’m not going to turn this into social commentary.  I am, however, going to take a look at the past 10 years and how much things have changed for my family.  Way back in 2010 I was building my second airplane with the help of my kids.  I did the majority of the work but they did help on many components.

We were attending church at Central Valley Presbyterian where I was a deacon.  Also, Cristy had to make an emergency trip back home to the Philippines because her father passed away. That’s how the decade began.

In 2011 I sold our pop-up tent trailer in which I had taken the family on several camping trips.  The most memorable of which was Zion Canyon National Park.  I also flew the Rans S6 to Oshkosh, WI for EAA Airventure.  My oldest graduated high school.

In 2012 we took a family trip to Maui.  Yep, all of us, mother-in-law included.  However, my daughter had broken her ankle just prior to the trip… and then came down with a cold!  She didn’t get to have much fun in Hawaii, poor thing.  But she made up for that later.

In 2013 life was pretty much on auto-pilot.  Going to work, going home.  Home-schooling our daughter was coming to an as we put her in a private school so she could get some socialization and a real-live high school diploma.  Two kittens named Jovie and Truffles showed up in my son’s pockets one day when he came home.  Truffles still lives with us.  Jovie moved on shortly after he came to live with us.  Cristy and I also took a trip to Oregon to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

   

In 2014 I was beginning to explore full-time RV living.  I started coming up with a plan to travel from property to property for my employer to do network work.  However 2015 would put an end to those dreams, temporarily.

2015 was a harbinger of change for our lives.  Our daughter graduated from high school and we changed churches.

2015 was also when I had an accident in my airplane.  I landed up in the Sierra Nevada foothills and took the landing gear off.  Hey, it could happen to anybody!  Unfortunately, it happened to me.  We got a big insurance settlement and everything was good.  I was putting the airplane up for sale anyway.  It was at this point Cristy and I were seriously looking at RV’s so I was looking for a more portable form of aviation.  I found it in the form of powered paragliding.

2016 was a gut punch.  I was told that my entire department would be laid off that year.  Also my son was going through some extreme behaviors.  It seemed like my life was about to hit rock bottom.  SEEMED.  We started putting my son in group homes which he kept getting kicked out of due to his behaviors.  But 2016 was the year God truly moved in our lives.  He found a home that was able to really work with my son.  And He found me a job.  This is when I started working at San Joaquin General Hospital.  To celebrate my getting a job we took a family road trip to SoCal.  I also got a Ham radio license so I could legally use a Ham radio on my powered-paraglider.

 

In 2017 life started getting somewhat better for us.  My son was living in a home only 5 miles from where I worked.  My daughter was getting very involved in church and starting college.  Cristy and I also celebrated our 30th anniversary in Hawaii.

 

 

 

 

 

Also, Angela finished the Spartan Race

By 2017 I had sold my powered paraglider and had bought my powered parachute.  Cristy and I had also started walking more, trying to get in shape.

2018 was another year that brought a lot of change.  Mostly in me.  Through walking and intermittent fasting I was able to lose about 50 lbs.

This is me just prior to losing weight…

And this is what I looked like post weight loss…

2019 was a sad year.  We lost my sister Sheila to cancer.  We lost my wife’s cousin Jaime to kidney disease.  I was diagnosed with invasive malignant melanoma.

2019 was a happy year because we became part of a small group at our new church.  We received a lot of support from them and they came along side us in prayer many times.  The doctors were able to remove all of the melanoma.  I also sold my powered parachute and began flying rental airplanes.  I got back into regular airplanes after a young man from my old church took me for a ride to pay me back for all those times I took him for rides when he was learning to fly.  Now we fly together whenever we can.

2019 ended with my son being removed from a bad living situation in the group home he was in.  He now lives back in town with us, which, he has been asking for quite some time.  My daughter also bought a poodle this year.

It’s been a tumultuous decade.  We’ve covered a lot of territory in the last 10 years.  Who knows where we’ll be 10 years from now.  Not sure but I sure like where we are now.  I wouldn’t trade a second of the last 10 years for anything.  I’ve seen God’s faithfulness and Providence countless times.  I see God’s love in those around me every day.  I don’t expect that to change much.  I’ll keep doing what I can to reflect God’s love to those around me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More 5th Wheels

Today Cristy and I drove to a near by RV dealership who carry Grand Design RVs.  We wanted to check on the build quality in their latest models.  I also wanted to check out their newest model.

Solitude 310GK

While we had really liked the 344GK from my previous blog posting we decided that the dinette being on the driver’s side of the coach was not what we wanted.   We prefer the dinette on the passenger side.  This is the side of the coach which, when you are parked, becomes your “front yard”.  With the dinette on the driver’s side you overlook your neighbor’s “front yard”.  It makes for somewhat a lack of privacy.  We are also less enthralled with the small desk of the 344GK.  If we wanted to add a desk we could do so in the 310GK by removing the rear couch.  The dinette could also make for quite a useable desk.  The 310GK is also somewhat shorter which makes it easier to tow and maneuver.

Solitude 390RK

The Solitude 390RK is the newest model to roll out of Grand Design’s doors.  From the standpoint of livability this one suits us best.  Dual his and her bathroom sinks and a HUGE rear kitchen are what really appeals to us.  The kitchen has an amazing amount of counter space; almost as much as my current house.  There is also a lot of cabinet space in the kitchen.  Not to mention the HUGE under kitchen storage bay.  The only drawback is the length; almost 42 feet long.  Anyone can learn to tow a trailer this long but it does limit your destinations.  We would be pretty much limited to newer RV resorts.

At this point all I can say is that I’m glad we have more time to decide!

5th Wheel Comparisons

Right now we are considering a few different 5th wheel floor plans from a few different manufacturers.  I’ll list them here and what we like and don’t like about them.  Our tastes are changing and so the floor plans we are entertaining are also changing.  I’m glad we still have several years to consider all our options before we commit.

Solitude 344GKR

UVW 12600 lbs
Carrying Capacity 4200
Hitch Weight1 2500 lbs
GVWR 16800 lbs
Length2 36′ 11″

So what do I like about this unit?

I like the shorter length at 37 feet.  Not too big, not too cramped inside.  It has generous kitchen counter space and huge basement storage.  It has a place for a washer and dryer and most of all, it has a desk.  Cristy loves to study and would love to have a desk to do her reading, do bills, a place to put the laptop, etc.  I also love the huge cargo carrying capacity; over 2 tons!  One detail that I really do appreciate is the telescoping TV in the living room.  It can retract behind a cabinet when not in use thus revealing a window making it more light and open inside.

So what do I NOT like about this unit?

The bathroom sink and counter space are somewhat cramped.  And it’s a little weird having the dinette on the driver side of the coach.  Traditionally they are on the passenger side.  It’s not a deal-killer, it’s just weird.  The pantry is also a bit shallower than other Solitude models and doesn’t have the pull out drawers as in the other pantries.  That’s pretty much all I don’t like.  That’s why this one is near the top of the list.

Montana 3561RL

 

Shipping Weight 13071
Carrying Capacity 3429
Hitch 2560
GVWR 16500
Length 38′ 5″

What do I like about this unit?

Well, in short, the desk.  This model has what they call an “executive desk” in the rear living area.  It is incorporated into the TV cabinet such that the TV can be used for a large computer monitor.  This is something Montana has done in several of their models for several years.  I’m happy to see it back.  I also like that it has a somewhat larger bathroom sink and counter than the above Solitude model.  Also the washer/dryer closet is somewhat larger and square with the closet rather than angled as in other manufacturers.  It also has a more standard floor plan layout.

2020 Keystone MONTANA 3561RL2020 Keystone MONTANA 3561RL

What do I NOT like about this unit?

I haven’t been in one.  I really need to check out Montana’s build quality.  I have also heard dubious reports of Keystone’s product support.  Some manufacturers go out of their way to make sure you get repairs and parts in a timely manner, I have not heard of this happening with Keystone.  They are more “traditional” in their support model.  I’ll have to learn more about them.  It’s also slightly larger than the Solitude and carries slightly less cargo.  Not a huge deal but still something I think about.

Vilano 385RD

385RD Floorplan

  • GVWR : 18,500
  • Dry Weight : 15,100 *
  • Cargo Carrying : 3,400
  • Length : 42′ 4″
  • PIN Weight : 3,500

What do I like about this unit?

This coach has better color schemes, better furniture, and better interior design.  The Franklin couches and recliners are SO comfortable.  There is a lot of counter space in the kitchen.  We like the well laid out bathroom.  I also like the telescoping TV in the living room that retracts to reveal another window.  I’m not a fan of the “TV wall” that some 5th wheels have.  I really like the open feel of this one.  I also love the HUGE storage space and pull out storage tray under the living room.  If you look at the floor plan above, the area under the living room is ALL storage.

What do I NOT like about this unit?

Frankly, the construction seems like it could be a little better.  The walls sound very hollow and cheap when I knock on them.  It doesn’t come with dual pane windows.  Much is made about how the cabinets are all built at the factory.  Frankly the cabinets seem somewhat cheaply made.  Not bad but I think they could be better.  On other coaches the drawers are very solid and firm as compared to the Vilano where they feel light and shaky.

So where do we stand?

At this point it’s still hard to beat the quality of Grand Design units.  We’re certainly going to keep our eye on the other coaches we listed here but when it comes down to build quality, cargo carrying capacity, and even tank capacities, Grand Design still comes in at the top.