Winter Get-a-way 2018

 Traveling with a TOAD!!???

We have been busy the last few months preparing for our winter trip.  It is so exciting to begin another journey in our motorhome, Minnie Pearl!  The biggest change this year is that we will be towing our car with us – commonly called a TOAD.  Our friends in Florida gave us their Blue Ox tow bar and Brake Buddy and we were able to use those pieces to get everything ready to go.  We had to buy a base plate to install on the front of our car so that the tow bar could attach to it.

Base Plate Installation

While we were at the RV shop, we took some pictures of the installation.

Towing installation inside Starr’s Trailer Sales

Here’s the rig in our driveway after our first trip home from the shop.

Tow bar set up

5-Star Tuning

In preparation for towing our car one thing we did was install a 5-star tuner.  This is a custom tuning to the engine chip to enhance performance.  The stock tuning for our E-350 van is for a lightweight van.  Our motorhome is around 12,000 lbs., and it dogged going up hills.  We were concerned that it wouldn’t have enough power to pull the car in mountainous areas.

The tuner was pretty easy to install.  The tuner came in the mail and I followed the instructions to obtain some information from our engine, which is the Ford Triton V-10.  I then sent the information to 5-star Tuning and within a few days we had the software program specific to our vehicle.  After installing the software onto the tuner, we took the tuner out to the motorhome and plugged it into the OBDC II port under the steering wheel.  It walked me through installing the new tune software and then backed up the original factory tune.

The test drive around the area proved that we had a little more pep and the shifting points were better.  When we towed the car home there was no lag or slowing down in the steeper hills.  We will have to see the overall performance, but so far, we are happy with it.

 Installing a New Macerator System

Minnie Pearl has a macerator system for dumping.  For those who don’t know what that is: the macerator grinds the black matter (poop!!!) and disperses it through a hose at the dump station.  We really like it.  It makes dumping effortless.  It’s all self-contained and there is no setting up, unhooking and cleaning a large hose.


The drawback of the macerator on Minnie Pearl is that there is a rather low ground clearance and we have damaged it twice.  Now we are extra cautious while making a left turn going up hills or when going over areas with lots of ruts.

The first time we damaged it, I installed a new macerator system.

New Macerator System

It was a bit labor intensive as the electrical wiring had to be re-configured for the new pump.  It worked great until not too long afterwards, we damaged it again.  The second time I was able to order a specific part for it under warranty and it was much easier to fix.

I asked Phoenix about this design flaw and they said that for some of the models of motorhomes, the rear placement of the bathroom necessitated the macerator being very far aft.  This causes the potential of a bump of the macerator pump when backing up or going over bumpy areas.  The suggestion to prevent some of the potential for damage is to install skid wheels on the back bumper.  We may get this done next time we visit the factory.  For now, we just intend to be super cautious when backing up or going over bumpy areas.  As a backup, we do carry the standard “stinky slinky” 4” hose and can use it without the macerator pump.

Restringing the Blinds

It’s really annoying when the blinds in the motorhome won’t stay up.  Last year towards the end of the trip, there was a large blind that would not stay up.  We used Velcro to wrap around it as a temporary fix.  We considered buying new blinds, but researched it and saw that they could be repaired, even though it could be a tedious task.

Thanks to the RV Geeks instructional video, the job wasn’t too difficult.  Now the blinds are in good working order.   We had purchased a blind repair kit at Camping World over the summer which had enough material in it to repair 5 blinds.  The key thing in repairing the blind according to the RV Geeks blind tutorial is to document how it is currently strung while you take it apart.  They suggested drawing a diagram – we did that and used color coding as the strings crisscross numerous times.

Diagram of the blinds


Pleated Blind Re-Stringing Installation

We had to replace the strings in a large blind, it took about one hour and was not bad!  The blind is only about 18” long and it took about 6’ of string for each of the 4 lines!  We had another blind that also needed attention, and we were able to adjust the tension on the knots on that one because the strings were not worn.  Yeah!  One repair down…. many more to go.

Reflectix Window Coverings

Last year while camping in Quartzite and the Chiricahua National Monument, there were mornings it was downright cold!  Even with our Mr.Buddy propane heater, when you wake up with an inside temperature in the 30’s, it takes a while to get the inside of the RV warm.  We talked to one of our RVing Women friends, Susan, and she showed us the inside of her rig.  She uses Reflectix panels cut to size for the windows to provide insulation over each window.  Reflectix is a foil insulation with packing bubbles inside of it!  Then  she covers the window area with a wool blanket pinned to the curtains around the sleeping area.  We have cut Reflectix panels for all our windows and added some pieces around the bottom edge of the bed on the outside walls.

Picture shows Reflectix on bedroom windows

It was not hard to cut, and we hope it will add a lot of warmth to the RV this year.

Chair Carrier

We bought new camping chairs for this year’s trip!  Believe me, it was not an easy process – you won’t believe how many chairs we tried out!  While camping with RVing Women friends this summer in Ohio and, we tried out all their chairs along with many others at stores.  We liked one chair our friends had, and it was from Camping World.  On our trek to the Camping World in Akron, OH this summer, we found the same chair and bought two of them.  They are full size, light weight (7 lbs.) folding chairs.

Another item we bought was a ladder chair rack, so we can stow the chairs on our outside ladder while driving.  We didn’t want to have the chairs exposed to the elements and get dirty during our travels so Kathy came up with the idea to create our own chair cover out of a tarp!  To escape the cold weather, we brought our folding ladder into the house, and hung the ladder rack on it.  Then we began the design process of covering our chairs.  We used industrial strength Velcro to allow us to fully enclose the chairs – like a package!  Here is a picture of the completed project:

Custom Chair Cover

Counting the Days

We are looking forward to getting out of the winter weather soon!  It is frigid here in northwest PA and the cold weather is making it difficult to pack our things for fear of freezing!  We can’t take numerous things out to the camper yet so the last day or two will be busy.  A couple of days ago we ran two space heaters in Minnie Pearl prior to going out and in a couple of hours the inside temperature rose from 11 degrees to 31 degrees!  Still to cold to stay out for very long!

We will be heading to Florida soon and seeing friends and family, enjoying some kite flying and watching, and camping with our Florida friends for 2 weeks!  Then we will be heading west to enjoy some time in Texas and New Mexico.  We will keep you posted!

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