Test Camp! Fail!
About 35 miles northwest of Yuma, Arizona is Fergusen Lake, an attachment to the mighty Colorado River. I figured a test camp was in order to check the function of the Intrepid (a modified Four Wheel Grandby) as well as my stowage choices both in the camper and in the Ford’s cab. This was almost a full-dress rehearsal, the only items lacking being the e-bike and trailer in the front carrier, the stepladder in place due to a rear cab pack that would need some adjustment, plus a few minor interior items left out.
The verdict: it could use a little work. The lakeside campsite itself was nice, and I got there just after sunset, which is the perfect time to feed the local mosquito population. You know there’s trouble when you shut down the engine and look at the side window to see several already there and waiting. Fortunately, the sole exterior setup to use this pop-up is to release the six external latches and climb inside behind the protective wall of the screen door. Before or after raising the roof, pull the greywater waste tank out of the Ford’s cab and connect it to the sink outlet on the camper, and turn on the propane. From then on, it’s all internal: lift and lock each end of the roof, pull a blanket out of one of the bench seat storage bins, throw a pillow of two up onto the bed, and slide the C-Head racing toilet out of its lair. Boom, you’re camping!
Almost camping, anyway. In this case, after having filled the freshwater tank for the first time at departure, I turned on the switch for the built-in Shurflo water pump, to pressurize the water system. It spun merrily, the goal being to pull water from the tank and pressurize the system enough to then shut itself off. It spun, but never shut off. No water came out of the open faucet, either. Hmm.
Time to break out the manual. It basically said that it may take a bit to prime the pump, especially if the optional six-gallon water heater has to fill. Non-issue for me, as the Intrepid doesn’t have one. This put me in a quandary, because the FloJet pump in the Defiant has an explicit warning to not let it run dry for much more than fifteen seconds. No such caution in either the Four Wheel manual, or the supplied ShurFlo manual. How likely was I to burn out this pump if I just let it run and run? After a few one-minute tries, I got my courage up and girded my loins, letting it run for two and then three minute stints. Nothing. I stepped outside to try the system drain valve, and just a couple of drops of water came out. No soup for you!
It had, as usual, been an unpleasantly hot day, and at least drinking water was needed. That fell to the shower water holding tank, an improvised sixteen-quart oil drain tank stowed in the rear of the Ford’s cab. My only available usage containers were a tall drinking glass and one water bottle usually used on the e-bike. The yummy part is that water stored in polyethylene containers quickly begins to taste like plastic, which is not good. And this isn’t FDA-approved resin, either. So I consoled myself with a banana and some water, making a mental note to call my FWC dealer, Adventure Trailer, and/or the factory to find out what it is I had missed and how long I could run the pump while dry. Surely I wasn’t the only one with a pump that couldn’t prime itself.
I watched part of a movie and went to bed, discovering at that point that I’d neglected to throw my CPAP device into the camper, which is forgivable since it is largely out of sight in the trailer. The bedding system itself (which I will write about separately because I have no photos right now) worked well enough. Thing is, without a CPAP, you wind up snorting yourself awake, and in the morning awaken feeling like you’re ready for a good night’s rest. Out of a full ten hours in bed, the sensation was that I’d gotten half that. Oh well.
The next morning I made some coffee and called the dealer. Mario was surprised in that, no, I was in fact the first problem child as far as water was concerned. He had me check and try a few things, most of which I’d already attempted in the spirit of voodoo. That included something he wanted to try on his end in a similar camper, and he called me right back afterward. When that didn’t work, he was out of options and wanted to call the most experienced tech at the factory and have him call me. Ten minutes later, the factory called, reviewed my equipment options and what we’d tried, and the best guess was that although the pump ran, that it was defective. He mentioned that they’d had three such failures to prime in the last three months which, although not horrible, was now a serious concern. He apologized (sincerely) that my very first outing in their product had proven so disappointing, and told me that I had two options. One was that he’d ship a replacement to me for a self-install, or ship it to AT so they could install it under warranty. Given that pump access in the front dinette model is more awkward than the out-in-plain-sight installations in other models, I opted for that. I need not wait for its arrival in that case, since AT could either pull it from stock or temporarily remove one from a display model. Running the pump dry is of little concern he explained, since it’s an impeller type pump, unlike the FloJet’s diaphragm construction.
He asked me to call Adventure Trailer again to set up an appointment, but Mario called me back before I could call him, and we set up an appointment for next week, just far enough away that I’d have a chance to do final adjustments to the rig, get the Ford’s oil and fuel filters changed, and make a half-hearted stab at prepping the Defiant for Yuma’s torrid summer heat. Mario mentioned that they’d verify function after the swap of course, and if the problem remained that they’d go down the line until it was resolved once and for all.
Without plastic-free water, there was little point in staying in camp so I packed up and headed back down the eight-mile voyage on Fergusen Road, labeled by the BLM as 800. That’s an interesting drive which for me takes awhile because of the Super Duty’s stiff springs and high-pressure tires. The camper does quite a bit to soften up the ride, but all that means is that I can rocket up to a full 15 MPH on the smoother sections without juddering things in the cab or feeling the tires skipping to the side on the washboard. On such roads, I keep an eye out to the rear for half-ton pickups and ATVs who can go considerably faster, and pull over to let them pass. It being sunset on the drive to the lake, there was only one guy and his significant other in a small Nissan truck, who gratefully passed and must have been doing 60 in a long plume of dust as he charged ahead. This trail varies from 1 to 1-1/2 lanes wide, so care is needed if everybody is to progress happily.
The trip back went well until the heavily-loaded clothing rod I installed in the rear suddenly let go on one side, from the lurching to and fro. Since the rod was cable-tied to the two hooks in the cab, this was surprising. Turns out that the hook on the drivers side tore out of its mount, and I’m not sure that it can be replaced without taking apart some interior trim. That’s not going to be a solution anyway, since it will only pull out again. It’s a stout-looking elaborate spring-clip affair, but I’d exceeded its capabilities. My goal is to use all of the rear of the cab, from top to bottom. Fortunately, the hole that remains in the sheet metal looks well suited for a simple S-hook, so I picked a couple up when I stopped at Lowe’s on the way back. I was already stopping there for replacement end caps for the fishing rod tube.
Remember the fish rod tube that I hung from the camper’s jack mounts on one side? I’d found out the hard way that PVC fittings tend to stick to each other, so that both end caps self-welded into place, preventing removal once they’d been there for awhile. I never came across any mention of that in my online research, so here it is for you. I had to ruin them with a Dremel and then use a hammer and chisel to rotate them out. That was no mean feat in itself, since a collet broke on the ancient Dremel I have, and none of the current replacements fit it. So I chucked it and used an equally-ancient competitor that I scrounged out of the garbage years ago. It operates directly off of 12 volts DC with a cigar plug, and uses a common hand-twist drill chuck to hold bits. No more having to use the inverter, and no more hunting for just the right collet for a given bit. Market dominance does not always mean technical superiority. I have some silicone paste to put on the threads of the new caps, and if I write about them again, you’ll know that it didn’t work.
Although this test camp did not turn out well and unfortunately will be the only such test I can do before final departure and the 250-mile trek to Prescott AZ for repair, I consider it successful in that it did highlight problems that can be sorted out now, as opposed to creating a very poor first day/night of hitting the road. Although the afternoons will be in the low 90s in Yuma (with that blistering sun making it quite an experience) from now until then, I at least have the chance to address things in the morning hours. Adventure!