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Over The Network

Lessons from a 10,000 miles shakedown cruise

by Tom Jones

In the first half of 2004 we completed a 10,000 miles shakedown cruise in our new Monaco Camelot that lasted a little over 3 months. I thought it might he helpful (for us and others) to make a list of things we learned, what worked and didn't work, what we should have taken along (but didn't), and what we could have left at home. I continue to remember more as I re-live parts of the trip and look at photos, and continue to add to this list.

Photos from our trip can be viewed by clicking here.

{tab=Places} DESTINATIONS
Meeting Framily members at various locations provided several high points on our trip. This included the large group at the Moab, UT rally; Bob & Bev Maxwell at their "Framily members welcome" home in Belen, NM; Steve and Ginette Pally at their gorgeous condo in Ottawa; Gary & Nancy Brinck at their summer workcamping location in Rockland, Maine; Ron & Sam Ruward and Joe & Audrey Darrigo at Sam's Camp, Lewistown, MT.

We left home having done very little planning; We had only 3 fixed waypoints - the Moab rally, our kids in Kentucky, and home at the end of the trip. The result was we visited a number of unexpected destinations, met a lot of friendly, interesting people, and made a lot of new friends. Our route took us from California to Utah (Moab), New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, New York state (Niagara), Ottawa, Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, Maine, Indiana, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, and back to California.

Border crossings (2 in each direction) were painless.

{tab=Coach} THE COACH
Overall, we were pleased with the coach and its performance.

We'd bought the coach off a dealer's lot, rather than order it. In retrospect, had we ordered it we would have chosen a slightly different set of options.

Fuel filling was a craps shoot; The amount of fuel the tank would take varied from my estimates by 10-15 gallons, which threw off any calculations of fuel consumption for a given leg of the trip. Subsequent discussions with other Monaco owners confirmed that most have similar problems. I finally understood the problem when I visited Monaco's chassis factory and saw the very shallow angle of the fuel fill pipes.

The 3 slideouts provide a great living area and usable bedroom, and at no time did we feel "enclosed". A 2nd slideout in the bedroom (making the total 4) would be nice, and would allow for a king bed.

We definitely need a desk/work area and more above-floor storage. So I see a trip to Davis Cabinets coming up.

Getting stuff in and out of the storage bins isn't easy and, when the slideouts are out, can be downright painfull. Full-width slide trays would make access much easier.

Towing the Suburban was a non-issue, after we solved the brake issue (see below). I was concerned the additional weight would slow us to a crawl on hills, but the Cummins ISC-24 350 hp engine and 6-speed Allison transmission proved up to the task.

Steward and Stephenson's large truck service shop in Albuquerque was a convenient place to get the Allison transmission filter changed and the chassis lubed. They allowed us to dry camp overnight in their lot and provided an electrical hookup.

The unplanned visit to Monaco's factory service center in Elkhart, IN wasn't far out of our way home, and the folks there were extremely friendly and efficient. Having their own campground made it convenient, both for the repairs and as a base for some tourist stuff.

The standard HMC foam mattress was replaced with a dual bag air mattress while we were in the mid west.

The A-V system on the coach is unnecessarily complicated, and I'll be rewiring it and replacing some components before our next trip.

I almost forgot to mention tire pressures! The tech at the dealer told me the tires should be maintained at 125 psi. I subsequently came to understand that this was erroneous information. When I first checked the pressures after delivery I found they'd been inflated to 140 psi. We weighed the coach while en route with the help of a friend, and consulted the GoodYear tire pressure table. It turned out that we needed 95 and 100 psi front and back respectively.

The ride was initially very rough, and steering was definitely a 2-hand white knuckle job. But, after adjusting the tire pressures correctly, both the ride and the steering became much more 'normal'.

The microwave/convection oven started squeaking while in transit and, when we hit rough pavement, I thought it was going to come off the wall. The oven itself was secured very well to the mounting plate, but the plate was inadequately secured to the wall. I considered taking it off and fixing it, but realized I might have difficulty lifting the large, heavy oven back in place. I tried hard to ignore it, and crossed my fingers until we got to the factory service center. The tech there knew exactly what to do to for a permanent fix.

The center channel speaker for the surround sound system kept getting looser and looser. This was something the dealer was supposed to have fixed. I went to tighten the mounting screws and the speaker fell off in my hand. Phew! that could have caused some damage.

{tab=Equipment}EQUIPMENT
The BrakePro toad braking system system proved useless and more of a liability. Having M & G in Athens, TX install their air brake system proved to be a far superior and more convenient alternative at a much lower price.

The Roadmaster Black Hawk heavy duty tow bar worked out just fine. Although it's not their all terrain version, Roadmaster provides a widget that achieves the same result on the few occasions we needed it. Installation of the base plate would have been quicker and easier if Roadmaster hadn't tried to convince me that Chevy drilled the holes in the wrong place in the frame of the Suburban.

Custom window screens were a great addition. We ordered them while en route, and they arrived a few days later at our next stop.

Sewer hoses aren't made like they used to be. The freebie we got with the coach lasted 3 days, and even the "triple wrap" we bought in Maine lasted only a few weeks. The 15+ year old one from our old coach is still going strong. But I ecame convinced that Rhino is the way to go, and bought a couple of 10 feet lengths at Camping World near the end of the trip. I subsequently bought a macerator pump and hooked it up with 30 feet of graden hose.

I ran out of time before leaving on the trip, and didn't get the toad tow lights wired. So I grabbed the 19 year old magnetic lights from the garage. They worked fine as a temporary solution, and I completed the permanent wiring/hookup while at Moab.

We left home with only a short ladder and, by the time we reached Moab, realized we needed a longer one. A trip to the local Ace Hardware store resulted in me buying a 7 foot step ladder. However, this one proved a pain to get in and out of the storage bin. Ive since bought one of the 4-way collapsing ones.

I forgot to take along/install a Silverleaf VMS interface and software. In addition to monitoring various engine parameters real time, it would have provided instantaneous and cumulative fuel burn.

The purchase of a portable XM Roady receiver proved to be a boon. I merely laid the antenna on the dash and the Roady came with options for an FM transmitter to the in-dash stereo, a cassette interface, and headphones. Since we already have an activated built-in XM radio in the Suburban, we were able to add the portable receiver under a 'family plan'. This allows me to use the portable receiver in any of the other cars or at home, and so was a better alternative to activating the Sirius satellite radio that came with the coach.

The electric levelling jacks worked well, but I'd have preferred to have had automatic ones.

Thanks to Terry Brewer, we learned something about towing GM SUVs; They don't have a mechanical steering lock, so the ignition key can be removed and the doors locked when towing.

I really wasn't sure what tools to take on the trip. I recall when we had our first coach almost 20 years ago one of the storage bins almost came away from the coach because of the weight of the toolbox and all the tools I loaded on board! This time I had the benefit of experience and was able to be selective. So I packed what I thought I'd need in a tool bag, again thinking of space and weight. It really didn't take too long for me to get tired of emptying the contents of the tool bag so I could find a screwdriver for some simple task. By the time we got to Albuquerque I was in the nearest Sears store buying a multi-drawer tool box.

As for tools, my initial choice appeared to be adequate for most small repair jobs. I bought only a few additional items along the way. One of those was a digital multimeter. I didn't really need another multimeter because I already had two in the coach, but I couldn't resist a bargain when I stumbled across a Harbor Freight store in Memphis.

{tab=Nav} NAVIGATION
Delorme's Street Atlas was quite useful, but the user interface leaves a lot to be desired. Also, the maps have errors; Missing or wrongly placed roads, and even non-existent roads. Unmarked one way streets were an added shortcoming. No maps exist for eastern Canada.

The Garmin etrex handheld GPS, which previously worked flawlessly with the same PC and marine navigation software, doesn't always want to talk to the PC and Street Atlas via a serial/USB adapter. This took several minutes every morning to get the handshake to work, then it would be fine all day. Having a USB GPS receiver would eliminate the daily hassle.

The Garmin StreetPilot was a good backup to SA, but their maps also have some errors. One goofy thing we experienced repeatedly in the northeast was reversed "right" and "left" audible directions; I initially thought it was positional error, but subsequently noticed the same problem when the GPS showed us in the correct place.

Dropping by the AAA office to pick up paper maps and tour books before we left proved to be a good backup.

{tab=RV parks} CAMPGROUNDS
The fact that we made no reservations was only an issue twice, and in both cases we had alternatives.

There is clearly a wide spectrum of campgrounds. The accuracy of ratings, descriptions, and directions in campground directories often left something to be desired.

50A hookups were far more prevalent than I expected, although we still needed the 50A/30A adapter at a number of locations.

{tab=Comms} COMMUNICATIONS
Coverage for my t-mobile air card far exceeded my expectations. I was able to get online in most states and much of eastern Canada. A few campgrounds offered WiFi, but results were mixed and prices ranged from $2 to $8 a night. A couple of campgrounds offered phone hookups at our site for $2-$3 a night. WiFi to Ron Ruward's Direcway dish saved the day at Sam's Camp. A dish would be a nice, albeit expensive, addition to the coach.

Our t-mobile GSM phone had even broader coverage than the air card (the latter requires GPRS service, whereas the phone requires GSM service). Our 4-band AT&T phone worked in some areas where t-mobile didn't provide service and vice versa.

Some campgrounds offer WiFi internet access with prices ranging from free to $8/night. The combination of inadequater antenna and poor choice of antenna location meant that most of the WiFi setups don't work.

Our satellite TV dish worked almost everywhere except the far northeast. A number of campgrounds offered cable TV hookup, some free and others for a fee.

{tab=More} ACTIVITIES
I won't attempt to recall all the sightseeing places we visited, at least not in this first cut. Suffice to say we saw lots of wonderfull places.

Being an avid fisherman, the basement of the coach was stuffed with all kinds of fishing gear, expecially for fly fishing (trout) and bass fishing. Early in trip (e.g. in NM) water flows were quite high, limiting the amount of fishing. The latter parts of the trip (Maine and Montana) provided the best fishing opportunities.

As I mentioned to several folks on our trip, I wished on several occasions that I'd towed the bass boat behind the coach. This would have made local driving tough without the toad, but we were at or close to a number of lakes where I could have used the boat to fish.

Chris likes all kinds of crafts and is always busy sewing something. Thanks to Nancy Brinck and Sam Ruward, Chris learned the basics of quilting.

{tab=Misc} MISCELLANEOUS
Rolling Stock (http://www.sashasoft.com/) proved to be a great software tool for storing all kinds of records related to trips and vehicles.

We didn't use a formal mail service, and relied on a friend/neighbor to periodically pick up mail held at the post office and forward it. Overnight mail proved to be the only reliable forwarding method. An added complication was not always knowing where we were going to be &/or the fact that we stayed only one or two nights at a number of locations. Unsure of what weather to expect, we prepared for all eventualities and packed too many clothes; Sweaters, rain gear, and overcoats were, for the most part, unusued. Where do you store all the keys? In addition to a set of keys for the coach, we had a couple of sets of keys for the toad, keys for the electric awning, and keys to bypass the surge protector in the event of failure. I initially stored them in a drawer, but it soon got old trying to find a specific key. I didn't want to install permanent key hooks, so I opted for some of those removable self-adhesive hooks made by 3M. They worked just great and were easily removable and relocatable. {/tabs}