Last updated Monday, November 28, 2005 . Best viewed at a monitor resolution of 1024x768.
Barely squeezed between & under two roofs, the Bounder fits...just!
Back in 1998 we bought a Jayco pop-up camper trailer
which over the intervening years served as our home away from home in
Yosemite, Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon, Colorado, San Diego, and
along the northern California coast. With two large beds, a 3-burner stove,
fridge, toilet, and shower, it was a dandy way to see the country. Compact
when packed down, it pulled easily behind our van. But it had to be opened
up to be used and we were constantly looking for the next campground.
I don’t recall that we ever took the Jayco out of the driveway last year. We love hitting the road but wanted something that was easily usable when we just felt like pulling off to the side of the road. A fully contained motorhome was our ultimate goal, but at $150k to $250k new, we presumed it would wait until Pat retired from Penneys in five years or so. The tide turned as a result of my weekly trips to Napa to visit my father. Two blocks from his house was an RV repair shop with used RVs parked on his front lot facing highway 29 for sale by their owners. For the first few months of 2004 all I saw were fifth-wheel trailers and truck units parked there, but in late April, two Class A motorhomes appeared on the lot.
After the second week of driving past them, I decided to stop and take a look. The Fleetwood Bounder got my attention. Though it was a 1997 model, it had only 21,000 miles on the odometer and the owner had already marked it down from $45,000 to $41,500. I quickly realized that an underperforming stock that I had dumped $50,000 into should be liquidated and replaced with something that could provide a more tangible return on my investment. Yes, I know that the value of such things always goes down, never up. But, after three years of taking a beating in the stock market I didn’t see how having a motorhome could produce a more disappointing return. And, frankly, Pat and I were in a rut; having a motorhome would push us out of it. I called the number on the For Sale sign in the Bounder’s window and made arrangements with the owner to see and test-drive it.
No one could have been more excited than my father. Jack envisioned the motorhome as the perfect vessel to tow his boat to inland lakes for fresh water fishing coupled with deluxe accommodations! Not exactly what I had in mind as fishing has never been my cup of tea. But, what the hell... if I did end up buying it, we could probably set aside at least one or two trips a year for my father’s fantasy.
Hoddy, the Bounder’s current owner, had owned it for just five months and had used it as a temporary home until he, his wife, and new baby could get a house in the upper Napa Valley. When the three of them drove down from Angwin to show us the Bounder, Hoddy had trouble with several of the motorhome’s systems and blew it off to lack of experience due to having owned it for such a short time. Given the pristine condition of the interior, I was more concerned with whether the 8’ by 34’ motorhome would fit in our Oakland driveway. Hoddy and his wife had an engagement later that afternoon and didn’t have the time to make a roundtrip to Oakland, so we agreed to meet the following Sunday for the test drive. In the interim I did get to drive it a few blocks to an Exxon station where I paid $24.บบ to fill up the propane tank.
The kitchen area
The kitchen & living room
The hack job on John's juniper bushes
With Jack in the hospital and me spending a lot of time in Napa, I
had the opportunity to stop by Dan Shavlik’s to discuss what I
wanted done to the Bounder. And once it became clear that Jack was terminal,
I asked Dan to slow down on the work so that I wouldn’t have to
worry about where to park it in the middle of a medical crisis. I gave
Dan a $5,000 budget to go over the Bounder with a fine-toothed comb:
brakes, electrical, engine, shocks, generator, etc. The week after Jack’s
death, I called Dan to tell him he could resume work full speed ahead.
I finally got around to acquiring John Thomas, my next-door neighbor’s
permission to cut his juniper bushes back about 18 inches to get into
Dan put all new shocks on the coach, hydraulic in back and gas in front to smooth out the ride. He determined that the generator was putting out 60 volts instead of the 120 volts needed and replaced a rotor. After paying $2,900 to the State in sales tax and for a new title and registration, I received a notice back from Sacramento that the Bounder needed a SMOG check which Dan took in to have done.
A few other less serious adjustments were made here and there, but we hit a road block (pun intended) with towing my car. The Bounder came with a tow bar for pulling a vehicle, but the vehicle to be towed required a tow brace of its own installed in the grill for the Bounder’s tow bar to attach to. The tow brace package for my ‘99 Chrysler LHS had been discontinued and Dan was unable to locate one in anyone else’s inventory. So, we ordered a car-towing trailer.
The trailer arrived at Dan’s late on Tuesday, so Pat took Wednesday, July 14th, off from work and we headed up to Napa to bring our new baby home. Bastille Day: how appropriate! Pat and I fired up the Bounder’s now working excellently, thank you very much, generator and sat in air-conditioned comfort during a hot and windy Napa summer afternoon while Dan installed the brake light wiring on the Chrysler. Six weeks had elapsed since our purchase and while I was excited on one hand to be finally bringing our new coach home, I was also having a panic attack wondering if it would fit in our Oakland driveway.
With the Bounder on Dan’s lot for five of those six weeks, I wasn’t worried about insurance. In the interim I called my agent in Albany to be informed that he had dropped dead in May and that his agency was in chaos while his widow decided whether she wanted to keep or sell the business. I called another State Farm agent in Oakland, much closer to home, to get a policy written up for the Bounder. Both our cars and our home are insured by State Farm, but the new agent couldn’t access our policy records because the parent company had frozen the accounts of all of the dead Albany agent’s clients! All the same, the new agent’s office assured me that the motorhome was covered.
Two weeks earlier I had asked Dan over the phone if he had an idea of what the final bill for his work was going to be. He estimated $10,500, double the five grand budget I had originally given him. But that now included the unexpected $2,500 for a tow-dolly and a $1,500 rotor repair on the generator. And my original total budget for the Bounder was 50k, so I was still within budget. We hooked the tow dolly up to the Bounder, drove the LHS up onto it, secured everything with chains, belts around the tires, etc., and tested the lights. With everything ship-shape, Dan and I went into his office to settle the bill: $8,696.95. A pleasant surprise brought on by the fact that Dan had accidentally figured in the cost of the tow dolly twice in his estimate.
We thanked Dan for his work and pulled out onto Napa’s Soscol Avenue during rush hour at 5:30 p.m., arriving in front of our house on Seminary Avenue in Oakland at 6:45. I had checked with CHP the previous week to see if a motorhome pulling a car was subject to the “cars pulling trailers” speed limit of 55 mph; it was. Our first surprise was the discovery that the belts around the Chrysler's front tires which secured it to the tow dolly had slipped completely off during the journey. Although there were also chains over the car’s tie-rods, I felt like we had just dodged a very serious bullet. We drove the car off the trailer, parked it on the street, then rolled the trailer into John Thomas’ driveway since he wasn’t home. Let the games begin!!
With Jack’s passing we had inherited his walkie-talkies which we knew would come in handy for backing the Bounder up into the driveway. Pat grabbed one and headed over to the driveway while I kept the other within easy reach on the Bounder’s doghouse, waited for traffic to die down, put the baby in reverse and started steering backwards in hope of threading an elephant through the eye of a needle. Ten feet into the driveway was enough to realize that John’s juniper bushes were going to require a lot more hacking. We still weren’t close enough to determine if the Bounder would squeeze between the eaves of the two houses hanging out over the driveway.
John gave up and removed all the juniper bushes.