Updated on June 6, 1999
Our tow vehicle is a 1998 Dodge 2500 RAM Quad Cab with Cummins 5.9B turbocharged diesel. We purchased it in Texas in January at DeMontrond Dodge in Conroe TX. We had the experience of doing the transaction by phone starting with a reference from Edmunds.com. It was a very good way to go for us, and we recommend using their database to define the rig you want and then getting a reference for a dealer to work with.
There are three basic choices for full-timing RVs: motorhome and towed runabout (car or small pickup), "tag-along" travel trailer and tow vehicle (possibly a truck with shell or camper), and fifth-wheel trailer and tow vehicle (full-size pickup or mid-size truck). We have owned versions of all three and chose the latter for full-timing.
Alice and I planned from the beginning to sell our real estate in California and live full time in our RV traveling throughout the USA. It had to be big enough for the two of us and our dog to live together and to hold the essential comforts of life. There was to be no home base or storage shed to hold any hobbies, standby furniture or keepsakes. Since our home would be the RV, we could afford to invest in a reasonable, good quality home on wheels that met our needs, but we could not afford to be too luxurious.
We looked at many new trailers, fifth wheels, and motorhomes. We ordered catalogs, read through magazines, and attended RV shows. Motorhomes seemed cramped by the driving area and reluctance to use slideouts. Travel trailers tended to be lower and had less storage space. For our needs fifth wheel trailers with triple slideouts and plenty of basement storage offered the best space combination at the most economical price.
However, we found that none of the fifth wheel trailers we could find had the right combination of weights, features, and floor plans. Friends had told us of AutoMate and the ability to customize the rig, so we visited the plant in Los Banos, California, and collected basic design plans and lists of options. We completed our plans and ordered a trailer built to our specifications in October '97.
Our basic design is a 34 foot fifth wheel trailer with triple hydraulic slideouts: one with a 5' 6" couch on the passenger side; one with two recliners, dining table with four chairs, and refrigerator on the driver side; and one for a queen size bed on the driver side. The kitchen is over the wheels. The entire rear is our electronic center and document storage. All windows are large and they all open.
The trailer is equipped with heavy duty axles and brakes and has Air Ride Suspension (includes an air compressor and storage tank). It has 16" tires, aluminum wheels, and a spare tire. We have a 51 gallon fresh water tank, and 40+ gallon grey and black water tanks. The trailer is equipped with four solar panels (200 watts total), a 2500 watt inverter/charger, and four 6v golf cart batteries (200 amp-hours capacity). The GVWR is 13,670 lb.
The electronics center is my design. We positioned a 25" color TV with built in VCR in the middle. On the left are the DSS TV and sound system controls, including an automotive AM/FM radio, equilizer and amplifier, and a CD changer/player. The audio section from the DSS is wired into the equilizer so we can listen to the music stations without turning on the TV.
There are storage slots for our two laptop computer trays under the TV. The computer center is on the right. The tower PC and printer fit on a rolling cart. A fold-down door becomes a table top and provides access to the monitor, zip drive, and scanner.
Behind the glass doors above the electronics is storage space for books and reference materials. Under the electronics we have storage drawers, including a lateral file drawer. One of our problems is in fact having too much storage space, hence too much weight. We are working on that problem by culling out what we do not really need.
We asked that the trailer be wired for easy access to AC and DC power. In addition, it was wired for Ethernet LAN connectivity so that I can connect all computers together and share files and equipment. I ended up not using that wiring; I found a wireless form of LAN that works quite satisfactorily.
Most of our inside living is spent in the recliners or at the dining table (projects or eating). The couch is for company and storage. It extends out to make a short bed, suitable for our daughter or some grandkids. Our sons are too tall to fit (aw shucks), so if they visit they can sleep in tents.
The kitchen counter top is Corian. The three burner stove is to the left and the double sink is to the right. A pullout shelf adds to the working space of the counter. There are foldup shelves at either end of the counter. The kitchen storage space proved to be adequate once we realized we did not need to have every conceivable kitchen utensil we had in our earlier homes. There is a nice sized pantry to the left of the counter next to the door.
Three things are unique about the kitchen. Alice wanted a Moen faucet rather than a separate sprayer. This has proved to be a bad choice since the faucet will not turn a full 180 degrees and is always over the sink. A good choice was to select a home grade microwave instead of a standard RV style microwave. It has a blower vent built in and provides more space over the stove. It also has a full set of nice features.
I have an aversion to wasting gas heating hot water. So we installed an instant water heater for the kitchen, one that is fueled by propane and is computer controlled. Within a few seconds of turning on the hot water faucet, we have hot water flowing out. Now that we have solved the plumbing problem, it works very well without having to heat a full 6 gallons of water to wash the dishes.
We have a second instant water heater for the bath. When the two heaters were installed, the factory connected their hot water outlets, creating our plumbing problem. It took three months for me to find out that this was the reason we would sometimes get cold water when taking a shower -- the other heater was supplying cold water. I have since plugged the line between the heaters, and now both heaters work very well.
We have a full-size walk-in shower. This gives the bath/bedroom area a very open feeling. We opted for ceramic toilet and lavatory, which seems to be a good choice.
We have a queen size bed which lifts for more storage. The closet space across the front is quite adequate for Alice's clothes that need to hang. I have a separate hanging closet for my shirts.
The basement of the trailer offers a very large amount of space. It is accessible from both sides as well as the front. At this point I am carrying too much weight in the basement and am not cramped for space.
We went to Texas to pick up a 1998 Dodge 2500 RAM Quad Cab with Cummins 5.9B turbocharged diesel. The truck is equipped with all the heavy duty options. We have added an exhaust brake, transmission cooler, and necessary guages. We are very pleased with the truck so far, but after listening to discussions at the Life on Wheels Conference, a better option for a tow vehicle might have been a small Freightliner.