The Journey from 10-foot Canned Ham Trailer to 40+ Foot Diesel Pusher (Probably)
I think I am going to be one of “those” people. You know the ones. They drive or tow a ridiculously long, huge monstrosity of an RV down the highway, pull into a campsite, slide out the slides, and turn on the jenny.
“That’s not camping!” I said judgmentally to my friends when big rigs pulled in next to our little vintage trailers with few creature comforts. I was right, in a way. That’s not camping. But, I am not going to be camping. I am going to be living, full-time, in an RV.
In the Beginning: The Vintage Trailer
I towed my vintage canned ham trailer, “FiFi,” for eight years. She was ten feet long from stem to stern, and that’s if you included the two-foot tongue in the measurements. When you opened the blinds above the sink and above the bed, you could see straight out the back at the traffic behind her. I could not have asked for a better or simpler first trailer to tow.
When I began telling friends and family about my plan to go full-time, they all asked if I was going on my journey in FiFi. Hell no! I knew I could not live in a six feet by eight feet space with a Murphy bed, a cold water sink, no toilet (imagine me, with no toilet), no holding tanks, only an icebox for refrigeration, and no means of heating or cooling the air. It was time to bid adieu to FiFi and begin the search for an RV.
Class B—Van on Steroids
Class B’s were the first to catch my eye. They are generally under 30 feet long, good on gas mileage (especially the diesels built on the Mercedes Sprinter chassis), and they can double as a regular transportation vehicle once you reach your destination. Online I was drawn to the Leisure Unity and the Pleasureway XL Widebody models made in Canada, and I was anxious to check out the REV manufactured by Dynamax.
Then, reality set in; I went to an RV show and sat in some Class B’s, including the REV. I knew immediately that I would be very, very unhappy in a space that small with very little storage. I also re-thought the Class B as a regular transportation vehicle; I imagined myself all set up at a campsite, awning out, rug and chairs out, only to realize I wanted chicken for dinner. Okay, let’s pack up the entire camp to run to Safeway!
Class B’s certainly have their advantages, such as being better equipped to “boondock” or “stealth camp,” and the ability to park them curbside or in surface parking lots. A Class B will never be turned away at a campsite or RV park due to length restrictions. In a Class B you have all of your belongings with you at all times – while sightseeing you can run back to the van to use the toilet, or let the dog out, or grab an extra layer of clothing when the weather turns cold.
Only you can decide if a Class B is right for you. As for me, I knew I would regret my decision to live full-time in an RV if I purchased a Class B.
Class C—The Awkward Step-cousin of the RV Family
Class C owners, get ready. If you couldn’t already tell from the title of this section, I am going to pick on Class C’s.
The front of a Class C looks like the cab of a large van, and there is a bunk or storage area over the cab that gives the Class C that overstuffed, top heavy look. I didn’t spend much time considering Class C’s, because I find them to be so darned ugly. At the RV show I also learned that Class C front tires can turn a maximum of 35 degrees, and those tires are in front of you as you drive. The front tires of a Class A can turn a maximum of 55 degrees, and they are underneath you. In other words, considering a Class A and a Class C of similar length, the A will literally do circles around the C.
I am sure there are advantages to owning a Class C, but I did not consider them because I was certain a Class C was not right for me.
Trailers and Fifth Wheels
Trailers do just that – they trail behind towing vehicles, hitched to the rear of a vehicle via a ball mount. Having towed a trailer, I knew that living full-time in a typical trailer was not right for me. Trailers are generally not equipped for four-season weather, and there is little storage other than what is inside the trailer. There was also the issue of the animals – they would need to ride with me in the towing vehicle while underway, then get transferred to the trailer upon arrival. Unhitching and blocking and leveling was also not appealing.
For a short time, however, I considered a fifth wheel. You recognize them immediately when you see them on the road. They are similar to a trailer, but the hitch is in the middle of a truck bed – it is the same type of hitch used in commercial tractor/trailer combinations.
Fifth wheels are effing spacious. The extra space hanging over the truck bed is generally used for either an elevated bedroom or living area. These things can include fireplaces, huge flat screen entertainment centers with surround sound, and large kitchens with residence-sized refrigerators and bar counters.
A fifth wheel can make a lot of sense if you already own a proper towing vehicle, which I do not. In general a one-ton or larger diesel pickup is best suited to tow a fifth wheel (there are many fifth wheel forums online cautioning fifth wheel owners to get enough truck for the job). I didn’t have the truck already, but on Craig’s List I saw ads for fifth wheels and diesel trucks sold together, often for less than $100,000 total. I considered it momentarily, until I watched some instructional videos on the hitching, towing, unhitching, leveling, and campsite setup of a fifth wheel.
For fifth wheel owners, I bet towing and setup is second nature to them, as they do it often. For me, planning to full-time, and planning to sometimes stay only a short time in one place, I do not want the hassle of it. As a single person, I will not have a spotter to help me hitch up; unlike Blanche Dubois, I do not want to rely on the kindness of strangers. I was also not thrilled with the idea that my towing vehicle, a huge one-ton pickup, would be my daily driver for sightseeing. Those things are anything but fuel-efficient. Or subtle.
Class A, Bus, and Bus Conversion, and Diesel Versus Gas
My research eventually led me to the only logical conclusion for me: A bus, bus conversion, or a Class A motor home. This is where I am at right now.
I like the layout of some Class A gas models, such as the Winnebago Vista/Itasca Sunstar 36Y; the Tiffin Allegro 36LA; the Fleetwood Bounder Classic 34M; the Thor Challenger 37KT, DT, and GT, the Coachmen Encounter 37TZ, the Forest River Georgetown 377TS or 335D5, and the Holiday Rambler Vacationer 36SBT. What I do not like about Class A “gassers” is their rather pitiful cargo carrying capacity (“CCC”), especially when all of my worldly possessions will be in the RV. Most Class A gassers have 4,000 pounds of CCC. Some go as high as 6,000 pounds.
By the way, the weights of water, fuel, and propane are all part of the CCC. One gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds. One gallon of gasoline weighs six pounds. Propane weighs 4.2 pounds per gallon.
As an example, the Winnebago Vista 36Y with a 4,000-pound CCC can hold 76 gallons of fresh water, 48 gallons of “black water,” 60 gallons of “grey water,” 18 gallons of propane, and 80 gallons of fuel. Assuming that both black and grey water tanks are empty, full gas, full propane, and full fresh water weighs over 1,000 pounds! And, we haven’t even loaded in groceries, occupants, personal belongings, or attached a tow vehicle behind the motor home. (More on “toads” in another post.)
Diesel pushers have an average CCC of 10,000 pounds. (Some buses are 15,000 pounds). A pusher is called a “pusher” because the diesel engine is at the rear of the coach, “pushing” it down the road. (For a while in the mid-2000s some motor homes were equipped with front-end diesel engines, which I have dismissed entirely for reasons I won’t go into in this post.)
There are pluses and minuses to gassers and pushers, and plenty of online forums debating them. A diesel appeals to me because: 1) most gas engines need rebuilds after 100,000 miles; a diesel will run for 1,000,000 miles or more; 2) while maintenance of a diesel may be more expensive than a gas model, diesel maintenance is less frequent; 3) diesels hold their value better than gassers; and 4) diesels have greater torque to get you up that mountainside, and air brakes and jake brakes to get you back down.
Let’s not forget about the chassis. Most Class A gassers are built on a commercial truck chassis (a Ford chassis is common). Diesel chassis, such as a Freightliner, are equipped with air ride suspension, which makes for a much smoother ride.
It seems fairly ordained that I will purchase a coach with a diesel engine. Whether it will be a Class A diesel pusher, bus, or bus conversion remains to be seen. Right now I am primarily interested in the mid to late-1990s Prevost (bus conversion), Newell (custom bus with proprietary chassis), and the older-model Tiffin Phaeton (Class A diesel pusher with either proprietary or commercial chassis depending upon the year). Stay tuned!