Edisto Beach SP in S.C.
So you are thinking about renting an RV are you?

(Better Think about it VERY carefully)

Join the author as he takes on his first RV Family Vacation. Then you decide if it sounds like fun to you.
Well, before you do, or before you think about renting out your own RV to someone else, come join me on my journey of good and evil - on my first ever RV trip, a trip of fun and joy on the RV from Hell. Actually it's not that bad of a story. There is truly a lot of joy in being able to take the kiddies along on a long drive without the need to have those frequent potty breaks and the endless $30.00 meals at fast food places and truck stops. We rented a motor home, which is a self contained and self-propelled vehicle, an advantage when you have folks that need to get up and walk around, fix sandwiches, or nap while cruising down the freeway.
Three rivers state park in NW Fla.
Three Rivers SP in NW Fla.


Our selection of an RV rental business was based primarily on location. We chose a company close to home. Austin Leisure Rentals Inc. (ALR) was close, (closer then they thought - but more on that later...) and they had some good information on their web page. We took a look at two basic kinds of rigs, Class A, shown in the photo, and Class C which looks more like a small truck with an overgrown camper on top. We signed up for a class A vehicle about a month before our trip, to be sure everything would be ready. This was going to be fun, or at least, an adventure.


I had initially selected an RV with a slide, which makes the living area larger, but when we changed our schedule slightly, our unit was not available, so we had to select another. Kim, at ALR signed us up for another unit.
Before the trip was over, the satellite dish controls fell came off, but were easy to push back on. PS: This thing is useless for aiming the dish unless you have a compass handy.
But when I went to go check it out, it wasn't a good story. Best I could tell, it must had been used to smoke bad hams, as the odor inside was enough to make your legs buckle. I found another rig (shown above) on the lot, which was pretty much ok inside except the carpet was very dirty, and it did not have a slide. At least, there was no odor. I decided we could live with that for 2 weeks, so I signed up, plucking down a $750 deposit. Kim had promised that the carpet would be steam cleaned. I was also assured that the huge crack in the right windshield would be replaced. I feared that the crack, which continued from the bottom, half way up, and around back again to the bottom, would result in a giant piece of glass falling out. Well, to make a long story short, it never got done. But it never came out either. We even took a direct hit with a rock on the expressway in Memphis, which just bounced off. That is one tough piece of glass. Oh, the carpet was never cleaned either. One of my concerns with rig selection, was to have access to either satellite or cable TV, so I was excited to see that the unit had a built-in satellite dish on top. Unfortunately, the owner of the rig (these are rental consignments) neglected to supply the receiver with an access card. Well, what do you expect for $190.00 / day? I replaced it with my own receiver, which worked out fine. The "Winguard" disk worked well, in fact, maybe even a bit better than the disk on the house. Aiming it was easy with the controls inside the RV. (see photo). After awhile, I remembered how many cranks to get the right azimuth and it only took a few minutes to get the signal. Be aware though, that some parks have trees or horizons that will block the signal. Choose your site carefully. We also brought along a DVD player for the kiddies, however, the TV in the rig had no access to the back, and there was no video input available, so we never got the chance to use it.


The $750 I paid up front, which I assumed was a down payment on the rental was actually a security deposit. This is money you are supposed to get back a couple of weeks after you return the unit. It is not a down payment. This seemed excessive to me, but after a week into the trip, it became more obvious why this may be reasonable after all. The rental was $1140/week. Our trip was to last for 2 weeks. On departure day, with tax and misc. extra charges, the total bill was $2600.00. (Plus the $750.00 deposit)


- Surprise!!: A couple of days before the trip, I was on the way home from work and I got a frantic call from my wife. Seems that Gene from ALR called and said that our unit had been in a "wreck", and would not be available. We could however upgrade to a more expensive unit if we still wanted to go on our vacation. As luck would have it, I was only a few minutes away from ALR, so I told my wife to tell them that I would stop by to work out the details. Gene seemed a bit surprised, and so was I when I pulled in and see my unit sitting there, just fine, with the generator running and kids running around inside it! Gene greeted me and quickly explained that my wife had become very confused, and that indeed there was no problem. The rental would go on. I'm still not sure why he called my wife in the first place, or how she got the idea that it had been in a wreck, but what the hay…. Lets go … Oh, but first, lets check the BBB report to see if anyone else has had problems with ALR, sure enough, there was one un-resolved issue. Well, I thought, that can happen, besides, what a dope I was to not check up on these guys before they got my deposit!


The big day had finally come, Time to go get that big rig and drive it home. When we got there, at 9:00 am, there was nobody to be found. Finally, Bobby showed up to check us out. Seems that someone in Gene's family had come down with meningitis, so his entire family has been quarantined. I had to wonder if this was an occupational hazard of working with those "black-water" "gray-water" dumps. Bobby seemed to be a pretty nice guy, but did not know everything about the paperwork end of the business. I was sure to get copies of everything. The check-out went pretty smooth except for the fact the generator would not keep running. Seems it would stall every time the air conditioner compressor kicked in.
Vent cap repair, never sure if I did the damage or not. They have this putty gunk all over the roof to seal everything.
They told me they were working on it for several hours the day before, and it was ok. Still, I wondered why they were working on it for a few hours the day before. Something wasn't ok. Guess I had to decide whether to abort my vacation, forfeit my deposit or just try to live with it. Terry, apparently, the apparent owner of the place, stopped by and wished us well, and I was off, ready to take that first exciting leg of the journey, from ALR to home, with the wife following close behind. I made the U-turn and was heading down 183 towards home. Stopped at a light, I decided it was time to test the parking break. Bobby had showed me the release lever, so I gave the brake a try. It worked great!, but when I pulled the lever, nothing happened. There I was in heavy traffic, stuck, with a BIG RV blocking heavy Austin traffic, and no way to move. Even with a little gas, nada. This boat wasn't going anywhere! After a few minutes, which felt like an eternity, I found another handle, which did the trick. Oh well, that was exciting! No more experiments in traffic! As I got closer to home, I found out about the low hanging tree problem. Well, I thought they looked high, but the rig hit them. A quick check up on top showed no visible damage, but I did notice that a vent cap had one of it's legs broken. I fixed this later with some epoxy and a screw, never knowing if It was me that did the damage or not. Little did I know that other problems were lurking, that could have turned little events into much bigger problems.

Load UP and GO!

Even the Kids will help out loading all their stuff
My wife had been packing for a month, so everything was ready to be loaded. I took a long extension cord and plugged in the RV to an outlet in the garage. BAM! The breaker pops within a minute. Ok, the RV needs more than 15 amps to get those air conditioners going, but I was able to work around it by turning the thermostat way down to prevent the compressor from cycling. This worked, and we were able to keep it a bit cooler while we were loading. But when It was time to disconnect, the entire cord was quite warm, clearly, I was pushing my luck with this hookup. So much to load, and everyone is ready to go! We got tired of loading, and did not load everything we could have. This rig is big, and can carry a lot. We could have taken much more in the way of clothes, food, cleaning supplies, books and just about everything else. There is a tremendous amount of space under the rig along the sides. We made most of the trip with half the compartments empty. Be sure to take everything you may want!

Off to Houston

Finally, we are off! I opted to take a short four hour trip to my dad's, the first day, to give me an adjustment period for driving this hulk. The trip started off great! It sure was cool to have my 11 yr old son bring me snacks and coffee. Hey, this is pretty good I thought. Then the odor started. What was that? Oh my god, the smell was awful, seems like the toilet was leaking gas. This was terrible! We rolled down the windows. Would we have to live with this for the entire trip? We tried to fill the toilet with a couple inches of water, but that did not help. Finally, my wife went back and figured out that the range had been inadvertently turned on, and gas was leaking into the cabin. Visions of a giant fireball going down the highway passed through my head. But is was not to be, we were safe, if not a little dizzy.
We did NOT end up like this..

In order to take advantage of a free hookup at my Dad's place, I decided to pick up a heavy-duty extension cable, which would let us plug into his house without creating a fire hazard. Home Depot has some real nice yellow cords that have #10 wire, which did not even get warm. I only popped his breaker once. The wife and kids decided to sleep in the RV that night, while parked out front. I opted to sleep inside.
Electrical tape won't ever replace sealant
It was a rainy day of travel and the next day we found out that many of our clean clothes had gotten a good soaking. We had piled them on the floor in the rear bedroom, just under the left rear window. Well, it appears that someone had attempted to fix a water leak on this window with electrical tape. It didn't work. Oh, well, its just water. The clothes dried. Hey, this is camping, we can deal with this...

AVOID ARKANSAS AT ALL COSTS - Especially if driving a Coachman RV

Our final destination was the SC beach. The thought of yet another dull trip across Louisiana on I-10 made us decide to take a northern route through Arkansas and Tennessee. This turned out to be a bad decision - at least as far as the RV is concerned. As the family settled into their new home away from home, we found out that I-30 in Arkansas is without doubt the worst Interstate I have ever experienced in the USA. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but constructing a road with concrete slabs is apparently fundamentally flawed. Apparently concrete bends (or wears down) over time, which creates a road shaped like a washboard.
My first of many repair jobs. The table sits like this for a day, while the epoxy putty and screws harden, in a successful attempt to re-attach the table leg and the hinges.
The vibration was so bad that the entire RV shook at each seam. The state is trying to re-pave but they have a long way to go. One construction area created a traffic jam that was convenient for us, as we just took the opportunity to crank up the generator and brew a fresh pot of coffee. (Don't do this while under way). When you are in your house, being stuck in traffic is not so bad. You might as well be here as somewhere else. The dashboard in the Coachman is really a piece of junk.
The radio AND the bracket just fell out of the dash. There was nothing holding it except the thin plastic dash plate. Note the crack on the right side next to the "secret" compartment.
All across Arkansas, it bounced, squeaked, and finally cracked, causing the radio to fall right out. These fine folks at Coachman decided that this thin piece of plastic would support a heavy radio simply by the bezel. I was amazed to see that there was absolutely no other support for a heavy radio/CD player. I spent much of the remainder of the week trying to patch this up with epoxy putty, trying to add some support so it wouldn't happen again.
I was really glad I noticed these exposed screws from the couch front panel before my kids stepped on them.
I needed a piece of wood to help support the glue job, and easily found some under the couch, where the front panel had come apart (from a previous trip), splintering the mount wood and exposing long screws, creating a real safety hazard for children feet, I wonder what would have happened had we not caught it before their feet did. The small splinter of the wood provided a good piece to add behind the dash to provide some support to the cheap plastic. One interesting note is the "hidden" compartment next to the radio. The panel easily comes off, providing a pocket big enough to hide your 45 or other valuables. Not a bad feature, however I opted to not carry any heat on this trip. While I was at it, we also re-attached the AC duct hose that had come loose during a previous trip, from the passenger side. The table is another Coachman disaster. When we picked up the RV from ALR, the table had a leg that was not attached. The screws had been ripped from the particleboard, so Bobby showed us how to just prop the table on the loose leg to hold it up. He explained that he couldn't fix it since he did not have any screws that were short enough to not go through to the other side. Well, it wasn't long before the vibrations of the trip caused the leg to fall and the table was ripped from the wall, tearing the hinges from the table. Once again, the Epoxy putty and a trip to the hardware department of Wall Mart allowed me to fill in the holes in the board, and re-attach everything, including the leg. I was even able to find screws that were not too long… It was apparent that the table had been repaired several times already, since there were lots of holes where people have re-applied the hinges. I wondered how much I should charge ALR for the repair … Yea! right.


Graceland, The tour was actually quite interesting, but all inside photos are not to be published.
After the compulsory visit to Graceland, we spent a couple of nights in a very nice park in Gatlinburg TN. Twin Creek RV Resort. It should have been nice, the place cost over $90.00 for two nights. Seems like selling $1.00 worth of electricity, 10 cents worth of water, and access to the city sewer for this kind of cash is a pretty good racket. I was considering opening an RV park somewhere and retiring while we walked through Gatlinburg. The night before our departure, I decided to check the lights, since I had thought it strange that some folks on the road did not give way when I had used my blinker. Surely an intimidating hulk like this has more clout than I was experiencing. So, surprise - surprise, No brake lights, and the right blinker was not working either. The kind folks at ALR had put me on the road as a menace to society.
The owner and ALR put me on the road with an expired tag. I spent a lot of time driving looking in the mirror, especially after findind out I had no brake lights either.
Behind the RV, there was a tangle of wires hanging below the trailer hitch, where several different attempts to hook up lights had gone awry. I cut away all the extra wires, and re-attached the wiring restoring the blinker, but not the brake lights. Apparently, something more fundamental was wrong with them, as the bulbs were ok, and the blinkers worked. I was never able to get into the engine compartmant to look for anything awry there, since the hood release mechanism was broken. (Remember the lever I was using during the emergency brake incident?) Being an electrical engineer, this wasn't rocket science, but I guess most folks would have been just out of luck. Fortunately, most of the trip is on the interstate, so the brake lights can wait. Most people don't hang behind a slow moving RV for very long. The times it seemed necessary, I simulated the brake lights by turning on the headlights (thus taillights also) to warn the folks behind. It turns out that I later had to do this a lot, especially when driving through Houston. Oh, one other minor detail, I also notice that the tag has expired. Great! When I get stopped, I'm really going to make some cop's day.


So easy, any common rocket scientist can do it.
The high tech control center for dumping, filling tanks and hand washing.
The one question every astronaut is asked at every guest appearance is how do you go potty in space. To the un-initiated, the same question applies for the RV. There are two waste tanks on the RV, one for the sink and shower, known as the "Grey" water, and another for the toilet, euphemistically known as "Black water". Two levers open the tanks to the hose, which is put in the dump pipe. When parked, you can leave the valves open, and the hose in place, with a big rubber gasket.
The disfunctional nerve center of it all. What you see is NOT what you got...
On this model RV, they conveniently included a shower hose to use to wash away accidents. It was also handy to wash sand off of the kiddies at the beach, that is, until the handle broke at the hose fitting. Well, we did that damage, so we can fix it. A replacement hose was found for about $8.00 on the way home.. Also on the Coachman, is the handy dandy master LED indicator, which gives status on LP gas, fresh water, gray water, black water, and battery charge.
You can see right down to the grass below. (A last resort dump option?)
This is conveniently located at the one place it matters the most, in the bathroom. Unfortunately, this one never worked right, as we always were ¾ full of wastewater, even after dumping. We just dumped every couple of days just to play it safe. I never wanted to find out what happens when it finally gets full. The hot water heater and water pump switch are also located here. Another feature on the Coachman was the hole in the bottom of the dump compartment that allowed the dump pipe to just vent to the ground below. I am not sure exactly why this was there, but it could come in handy in a pinch, pity those poor drivers behind...

The Destination!

Reservations are not accepted at Edisto Island State Park, but we were lucky enough to get one of 3 spots on the beach starting on the second day. The ranger told me that these 3 spots are the closest to the ocean in all of South Carolina.
Gatlinburg TN is a pretty cool family destination.
Edisto beach has great shells and you can find sharks teeth and other fossils.
A very few RV sites are right on the beach

What else can go wrong?- Tornados!

Tropical storm Allison flooded Houston and followed us to Edisto. When it arrived, we were on the beach watching local TV to find that there was a tornado on the island. I spent an hour or so wondering what it was about mobile homes and tornados. The sky was black, and the wind picked up. A bit scary. The only structure we could go to was a nearby bath house. We all imagined how far we might have to swim to get back to shore after the tornado picked up our little RV and droped it into the ocean. Luckly, the storm passed to the west of us, and was over by morning. The storm was the one time I bothered to raise the standard TV antenna. Watch Those Antennas! Despite reading about dumb folks forgetting to take down their antennas before driving, I was confident that that could never happen to me. I was in a rush the next day to get out to the dump station, and sure enough I forgot to lower the TV antenna. The park at Edisto Beach has a lot of low hanging trees, so the trip halted abruptly when I heard a crash on the roof. Before I left, I read about this, and laughed about the idiots that were so forgetful. Funny thing too, because the sound of the crash sounded just like Homer Simpson yelling out "Duhuhya".. On inspection, I could see that the satellite dish was ok, the Winguard TV dipole was bent and the mount was busted. A plastic cam that attaches the pole to the crank screw broke, a designed in failure mechanism, to drop the antenna. Unfortunately, the aluminum support mast was also damaged. I assume that this is common damage. I later was able to find a replacement cam for about $4.00 and was able to repair the damage for the most part. The guy at the RV store showed me the little signs that you can hang up to remind you about the antennas…. Too late for me I thought.

The Return Experience

We got home the afternoon before we had to return the RV, so took the time during the cooler Austin evening to clean out the unit and make the antenna, shower head, and radio repairs. Home sure did look good. The unit was without any doubt much cleaner going back to ALR then we got it. I also took the opportunity to do a final dump in the neighborhood sewer. Take my word for it, this is one way to get the neighbors out of their houses to chat. For some reason, lifting a manhole cover brings out the fun times for all. Just before the return, I made a point to fill up the tank to exactly ¾ full, right where it was when I got it, then pulled into the ALR lot. Gene had apparently gotten over the meningitis incident, and was there to greet us. First thing he did was take the rig over to the dump station to see if I had really done the dump. (There was a $75.00 dump fee of pure profit to be had if he could literally drain any profits out of the system. He tried and tried, but only got about 1 pint of brown water, not enough to claim I had not dumped it. Interestingly, he was wearing a set of disposable gloves when he handled the dump pipe. I wondered if that was a new procedure forced upon them by caring executive management. He did a quick inspection of the rig and noted on a sheet of paper that there was no visible new damage to the inside or outside. I asked him for a copy of this document but he said that they don't do that. After I insisted, he did give me a copy. Something about that "wreck" story made me think that I needed to have copies of everything while dealing with these folks. He asked if I had any problems with the rig. Not wanting to open up a can of worms, and just wanting to just get out of there, I held my tongue, but I did mention the extreme vibration problems on the road, and that I was very unhappy about being put on the road without brake lights, blinker, and a legal tag. I also mentioned that I had done the table repair, but received no thanks for that. I recommended that they never consider adding any other Coachman products to their fleet, as sort of a hint that they should look at this rig a little closer. Gene mentioned that they were waiting for the tag sticker, so he knew the tag was expired, but offered no apologies whatsoever! Gene, a message for you, "sign up for a class in business ethics". I went inside to finalize up the bill with Kim, but she just said that the accountant would figure it out and send me what was left of my deposit. Not the way I would have preferred to do it.
The total cost of the 2 week vacation (excluding optional fun activities, and food):
   RV Rental: 		$2600
   Extra Miles charge	$400
   Gas at 8.25 MPG	$510 
   RV parts 		$11
   RV Sites		$361.77
   Total 			$3882



The bottom line is whether I would do this again. Well, there are pros and cons. On the good side, the trip was a lot of fun, a great new experience, and provided great family time. On the bad side, it was expensive, the drive was hard, and the RV problems were a pain in the neck. We were all quite happy to get home after 2 weeks on the road. I might try this again, but not anytime soon. I definitely would consider another source for the RV, perhaps a private owner.

Final Advise

1. Choose a reputable dealer and check up on them before you give them any money. 2. Talk to someone who has rented an RV before. 3. Read the contract carefully. 4. Take your time on the checkout. Develop a list before you go. Check the safety equipment. Do all of this several days before your trip if possible to give the dealer time to fix the problems. Don't give the dealer a deposit until you have checked out the vehicle you will be traveling in, AND ARE COMPLETELY HAPPY.


   1.	Fly Swatter.
   2.	More complete tool kit.
You can buy anything Elvis at Graceland. The Elvis Fly swatter (Shaped like a guitar) came in handy
The handy bus takes you all the way across the street to the house. What a value!
Elvis is Dead, but not gone...
The Post Office at Adams Run S.C.
That long bridge on I-10 thru the swamp in LA. The lady at the state information desk called it an "Estuary", but the road sign still calls it a "Swamp"
3 rivers SP park in FLA is Gator country... NO SWIMMING HERE
All photographs were taken with a sony DSC-P1 Cyber-Shot digital camera. Which I think is terriffic!