Last updated Monday, November 28, 2005 . Best viewed at a monitor resolution of 1024x768.

Home Away From Home

Spring/Summer 2004

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.

The "cockpit"

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

Sunday morning, May 30, Pat and I met Hoddy at the Bounder and I drove over to pick up Jack. We pulled into the parking lot of the convenience store three blocks down the street and Hoddy went inside to get a sandwich while I picked up a six pack of beer for my father. “Pop, I’ve got good news and bad news,” I said as I walked back into the motorhome. “The bad news is that since you can’t stop at just one, I’m going to control your beer drinking today. The good news is that I got you the tall cans!” I handed one can of beer to Jack and the remainder to Pat who put them in the refrigerator. “Pat will see to it that you have a can of beer at all times and, should you have the need, he will get you to the bathroom in the back.”

My father was all smiles as he sat in the armed captain’s seat with a small table before him and a picture window to his right. With slightly less than a quarter tank of gas, I stopped at a Chevron in American Canyon to fill up. $122.บบ worth of gas later (52 gallons at $2.32/gallon) we headed out to I-80 and southbound towards Oakland. Jack stared out the window the whole trip, amazed by all that he could see despite the fact that he was legally blind.

The bedroom
My worst fears were confirmed when we arrived at our house and attempted to pull the Bounder into the driveway. The pavement between the two houses is 7’4” wide and the Bounder’s carriage is 8’. Our neighbor John Thomas’ shrubs were scraping along the side and the low branches of a tree at the corner of his house made it impossible to drive any further into the 80’ long driveway. Complicating the matter even more, the motorhome's only door required us to step into John’s bushes to exit. We backed the Bounder out and parked it across the street along the curb. John had already given us permission to cut back his bushes to accommodate our driveway access, so I concluded we would ultimately prevail on the parking issue and avoid $135/month storage fees at some location several miles from the house.

The kitchen & living room
Hoddy and I went into my office to negotiate while Jack and Pat hung out together in the living room. Hoddy had been trying to sell the Bounder for five weeks. I had checked its Blue Book value online and determined its value to be between $34k and $40k, depending on condition. I offered him $35k with me assuming responsibility for any needed repairs. He agreed and I wrote the check, believing any needed repairs would run somewhere between five and ten thousand, keeping me well within my fifty thousand dollar budget.

By the time we returned to Napa, Jack was too obviously under the influence of the tall beers and kept pestering me as Hoddy was trying to show Pat and me how to operate the myriad of systems in the motorhome. I decided to take Jack home and hoped Pat would take notes while Hoddy showed him around the motorhome in my absence. During the five minute drive to Jack’s house I cued him to sober up lest his companion, Pat Laughner, get angry with both of us over his drinking. I dropped Jack off, not daring to come into the house, and hoped he could pull off the sobriety act as I drove back to the RV lot.

The lot belonged to Dean and Sandy Ellena, the owners of Advantage RV Center which specializes in RV repair. Being Memorial Day weekend, the business was closed so I decided to leave the Bounder on their lot until I could call them on Tuesday morning. I wanted the Bounder’s operating systems given a thorough inspection and repaired if necessary. Unfortunately, when I spoke with Dean on Tuesday he informed me that his business was targeted at body work and repair and recommended that I take the RV over to Dan Shavlik’s RV Service on the other side of Napa. Dan had a small business location and couldn’t make room for the Bounder until the following week... which left me with a parking problem: it wasn’t going to fit in our driveway until I at least hacked back my neighbor’s juniper bushes. Even then I still didn’t know if it would fit between the two houses; I hadn’t been able to pull it far enough into the driveway to find out.

Fortunately, Dean agreed to allow the Bounder to stay on his lot until Dan could come over the following week to pick it up. Whew! Problem solved... for now. Friday of that week, with the Bounder still on Dean’s lot, I got a call from Pat Laughner in the early evening telling me my father was having shortness of breath and fainting spells. I told her to get him to the hospital immediately and thus started the last two weeks of my father’s life.

Pat and I drove up to Napa and met Pat and Jack at Queen of the Valley’s emergency room where my father had just been admitted with pneumonia. During a break, she chewed me out for having brought him home drunk on Sunday evening. “I didn’t realize he was drunk until we went out to dinner and he couldn’t finish his beer!” I apologized but went on to admonish her that Jack looked forward to my visits just so that he could have a few beers and that in the future she should assume that he’d had a few when he and I got together. With the exception of one day, he never left the hospital after that night and in retrospect I was glad that I had allowed him to have one last party.

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 the driveway.

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.
John wasn’t home to ask. Screw it! I’ll make my apologies later and offer him some professional landscaping in hope that he’ll be satisfied. Mentally I estimated $2,000 and figured at $135/month for storage fees elsewhere, I’d have my money back in less than two years if he was willing. Pat and I proceeded to hack away at the junipers and our neighbor Herb, across the street, joined in with his pruning shears. We pruned, we snipped, we sawed and by the time we were done, John’s juniper bushes were a total disaster area. I knew John was going to kill me!

By now it was quite dark and Pat was an emotional basket case as I started to back the Bounder up further into the driveway. With my walkie-talkie I asked him to hand his unit over to Herb in hope that Herb was a little less freaked-out. Big mistake. Herb was in worse emotional shape than Pat and neither could grasp the concept that when the front goes right, the back goes left. It was utter confusion for me as their instructions failed to specify whether it was the front or back of the coach that they wanted me to finesse. Plus Herb had a bad habit of pressing the walkie-talkie's transmit button while he was conferencing with Pat, but would release it when he tried to talk to me.

Add to all this confusion that the side-view mirrors had to be pulled in once I cleared John’s bushes, hence blinding my rear vision along the sides of the coach and leaving me to rely entirely on whatever directions Pat and Herb were giving me. Three inches backward, eighteen inches forward. Left an inch. Right five inches. Back three feet. Scream!!

It was Pat, who along with Herb had been focussed on the coach’s sides clearing our chimney and John’s vertical pipes extending out from his house, who noticed too late that the Bounder’s roof had just been peeled six inches off by one of our eaves. Upon inspection we realized it was only the rubber coating on the roof of the coach that had been damaged. The Bounder was driven back to the front of the driveway while we got a ladder and skill-saw to cut off the triangular last six inches of the offending eave. Let the circus of backing up start anew!

Eventually I figured out that the side mirrors and the obstacles they had to dodge (our chimney and John’s pipes) were more readily visible to me out my side windows than to either Pat or Herb thirty-five feet behind me. Once I started ignoring their directions concerning the folded-in mirrors and simply corrected my steering as needed by myself, the Bounder quickly arrived at the back end of the driveway in one piece and without further damage. The whole parking procedure had taken just over three hours.

Though exhausted, we weren’t done yet. The three of us rolled the trailer out of John’s driveway and in the process destroyed his neighbor Kathy’s pop-up lawn sprinkler head when we overshot the concrete. Eventually we got it into our own driveway, figured out how to fold it up, and parked it directly in front of the Bounder. We pulled both of our cars in and despite the fact that Pat’s Town & Country van stuck out over the sidewalk by a few inches, we decided to call it a night. But not before John Thomas arrived home and came over to see the damage to his juniper bushes. “Yeah, I’m a bit upset,” he said, then went on to add, “If I had been home at the time I would have given you permission.” I kept apologizing and he seemed happy with the landscaping offer coupled with a flagstone border along the driveway.

Next day I hired another neighbor, John Montgomery, to cut the junipers back and make them presentable. I was startled when John Thomas told him to remove all of the juniper bushes between the driveway and his sidewalk. John 1 then hired John 2 to take out a bush along his driveway and trim back a tree. And John 2 wanted an additional twenty bucks to repair Kathy’s sprinkler head. Ultimately it cost me $400 to have all the juniper bushes cut down, removed, and their roots dug up. Still waiting for John to tell me what he wants to plant in the empty patch, but either way, I’m way ahead of my off-the-top-of-my-head instant landscaping budget.

We now know the Bounder will fit in the driveway and that knowledge made all the difference when we returned from our first weekend trip. This time it took just five minutes to back it in... and without any help from Herb!