The RV from Heck

It is said that for boaters, private airplane pilots, and RV owners, that their two happiest days are the day that they buy their new pride and joy, and the day that they finally sell their pride and joy.

RVs are Frankenstein monsters. Ours has a Spartan Mountain Master chassis, rear 8.3 Cummins diesel engine, side-mount radiator, GM truck alternator with a car regulator, with a modified starter, Allison transmission, and lots of off-the-shelf parts.


After having a pull-behind camper trailer for several years with accumulated non-use, the sale of the prime-movers for the trailer, and some time with a good friend with an RV, we decided that an RV would better match our lifestyle. After several months of looking, on a 9/80 Friday, I was sitting looking for RVs. Wife was out shopping. I spotted a good candidate about five hours away, contacted the owners, found out the RV was still available, and rapidly made plans to head out that day to see the RV. The owners were very nice, the RV looked and ran good, and a deal was made. The next weekend, wife and I made another overnight trip, this time to pay for and return with the RV, towing her car home on a rented dolly. Trip home was relatively uneventful other than my noting that the RV seemed slower and didn’t have the throttle response that it should have. But home we made, after a noisy overnight in a truck stop.

We now are the proud owners of a 1994 Newmar Kountry Star 38′ diesel pusher. Very good condition, about 50k miles when we got it.

Then we started using it. I’ve threatened several times to throw a lit flare into The RV from Heck after it’s left us stranded (only twice, and was able to get fixed the next day), but more because it seems to break in some major fashion several days before planned outings.

This list of repairs will be continually updated as things get fixed (A Living Document):

Replaced the fuel shutoff solenoid on the engine. The fuel solenoid was not opening fully, starving the engine of fuel. Diesels don’t run lean, they just don’t run as well when starved of fuel. That’s why the RV was sluggish driving it home.

Replaced the V-band clamp holding the exhaust system to the turbo on the engine. Massive clamp, about 4″ in diameter, very heavy duty. Had rusted through the bolt holding it closed, causing a nasty rattle in the engine compartment and exhaust noise.

Made and installed a wiring harness for the Allison transmission. (This stopped several trips, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I spent Christmas by myself fixing the durn thing) The transmission is electronic and dependent on three speed sensors to decide when to shift gears. When the sensors get RF interference in the wires going to the computer, the computer wigs-out and locks the transmission into the last selected gear. You can drive all day in that gear, but cannot get to neutral or go the other direction without de-powering the computer. The new harness consists of three 50-foot runs of 18 ga. tinned, twisted, shielded, coated wire. If I said that laying underneath the RV in the cold December weather, the RV lifted on its leveling jacks (blocked and braced), cutting the wires on the sensors and the computer, and then splicing and installing the new harness was fraught with concern, that’d be a major understatement. But it worked, the transmission now shifts like it should.

Replaced and subsequently rebuilt the alternator. (This one left us stranded in rural North Carolina). The alternator quit charging, dead regulator. The batteries, while big, will only run the engine, electronic transmission, lights, windshield wipers, heater, etc. for so long before dying. Got the alternator replaced, but noted some quirks. Like the RV wouldn’t shut down, the above fuel shutoff solenoid wasn’t being de-powered when the ignition was shut off. So pulled the alternator and had it rebuilt by a local Mennonite shop. Alternator bearings had flat-spotted from sitting on the shelf so long, and it had a truck regulator, not the GM auto regulator, which changes how the alternator determines whether to charge or not. They did a great job.

Then the starter decided to get wonky, deciding not to work while an hour away from home on a test-hop. I’d just fixed the transmission and wanted to see if it worked. Sigh. Another stranding. The mechanic said that the main power lead to the starter was loose, tightened same, drove it home, re-started many times, and declared it “good to go”. Until the starter decided not to cooperate, forcing us to leave the RV at home and take a car to visit family (again). 55+ lbs of starter got yanked and taken to the same Mennonite shop for rebuild. Bad brushes, neglect, more loose connections. Now works reliably, though.

The shower door is a glass door with metal rim. Old school 1990s design, brass colored. With a broken handle on the outside and a very tough catch on the inside. Probably why the handle broke to begin with, someone got P.O.’ed at the catch. Local hardware stores don’t carry shower door parts any more (thanks Home Depot). A few minutes on found the handle, same color as original, and a new less-tough catch. Few minutes, a couple of longer screws for the handle, and voila, fixed.

The automatic entry steps quit extending reliably. I tore them apart, cleaned, tested, adjusted, and they seemed to work correctly. Till the next time I moved the RV. Then they refused to extend. Making the leap into and out of the RV when two steps are missing isn’t too bad for me, but a challenge for the height-challenged wife. After lots of research, I found out that the motor drive for the steps is nothing more than a automotive electric window motor. Visiting a local parts emporium, I was able to select and order the optimum replacement motor, one that fits a late-eighties/early-nineties Ford. The next day the part arrived, and following some more cleaning and judicious grinding of the center pivot pin, the motor was installed, wired, and successfully tested. Joy.

From the time we bought the RV, the main cabin door didn’t want to open and close easily, had some external damage from the door stop, and showed wear marks near the handle. Not a tough fix, but intricate. Removed the door and totally disassembled it. I mean DISASSEMBLED. Removed the locks, handles, metal trim frame, all the way down to the wood and styrofoam core. The wood supported the lock and handle parts, and a small piece for the external door stop. Dry-rotted wood that was all cracked and broken. Spent several hours fashioning, cutting, trimming several pieces of pressure treated 2×4 I had laying around, removing foam to add a larger support area and reinforce the door catch. Some contact adhesive glued the new wood blocks in place, followed by the inside fiberglass panel. Put the window back in, reinstalled the external trim with more screws to make it stronger. Another good day, the door now works beautifully. Till this happened: I goofed up and let the door slam open several months later and it popped the inner panel loose on the door, and re-damaged the outside just below the handle where the outside catch resides. Loosened some trim screws and popped the interior panel back into place and gently hammered the trim tighter. One piece of diamond tread aluminum later, there’s now a protective plate to prevent further re-damaging of the door.

21 years is pretty hard on plastic parts. The slide was leaving orange plastic chunks underneath every time it was run out to the extended position. Originally, I thought that some child had left a small toy on the floor to get crushed under the slide rollers. But in reality, the plastic is the cushion over the metal rollers. Sigh. Had to extend the slide halfway out, pry the inner surface about three inches off the floor, pry the rollers out. Four new rollers from Newmar later, the slide doesn’t leave plastic chunks in the carpet any more, and the rear rollers don’t rattle on the hardwood floor while driving down the road.

While driving home, the electric window in the driver’s door worked fine. Yes, I have a door of my own to get in/out of in the greatest of F-15/F-18 hidden-step fashion. After getting home, the window decided that it no longer wanted to roll down. Tore the door apart, nothing wrong with the motor, switch, or regulator. The window is firmly jammed in the Up position. No amount of tugging or degreaser would get the window to break loose. What to do??? Inspiration struck – dental floss. I literally dental-flossed the window loose from the felt gasket that kept it from leaking and vibrating. Something had gummed the window into the felt. Liberally cleaned and lubricated the window, regulator, and felt. Window now rolls up and down nicely. Now I don’t have to open the door or get out to pay at the toll booth.

At some point in the RV’s past, there was a recliner chair just forward of the cabin door. And it appeared to have been replaced with something more akin to a video game playing chair. Narrow, curved back, with recliner. No back support and poor head support. Eyed some chairs from RV supply stores but didn’t want to pay the $$$. So… While “up the road” with Wife at the Starvation (Salvation) Army outlet store, I spotted a nice La-Z-Boy recliner. Right color, right size, right wear (next to nothing) and right price. Wrong car! We’d driven my Mini Cooper to the store. An hour from home. Believe it or not, you CAN fit a La-Z-Boy recliner in a Mini Cooper. In two pieces, which La-Z-Boy designed into their products. I WAS able to fit the disassembled chair in the Cooper, along with my bug-out-bag, med bags, and the other stuff we’d gotten that day. No pictures, it never happened. But there’s a video on Youtube of me unloading the chair at the end of the day. Personal information in the video that I cannot eliminate, so comment or email me for linkage…

To be fleshed out soon: Replace TVs and VCR, new overhead running lights, replace thermostat for heater, fridge door handles, de-stink water heater, replace dash console, replace backup camera, 12v water pump, battery charger and crossover cables, blown hydraulic line, minor water leaks (sink drain, faucet, shower, hose reel), low-fuel generator set, LED lights

2 Responses to The RV from Heck

  1. “Thank You” Honey for all that you do!

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