We went to Ancira RV in Boerne, Texas

We are getting much closer to making a decision on which RV to buy. This past Saturday, we went over to Ancira RV, in Boerne (pronounced “Bernie”), Texas, just outside of San Antonio, to take a look at a couple of their 2017 Newmar models. We want to have those models fresh in our minds, as the 2018s start hitting RV dealership lots, so we can more easily spot the differences.

It was raining heavily, when we arrived, but the rain subsided to a very, very light shower, shortly after we arrived. The end result was that it was a lot cooler, walking around the lot than we had expected.

We talked to Griz, who was very helpful and very knowledgable. I thought he was just a little opinionated. But in his case, that was a plus. After all, I’ve always felt that being opinionated is only a bad thing, when you’re wrong. In his case, his strongly held opinions only helped to confirm what I had already determined to be factual. Griz went out of his way, to help us, even though he knew that we were not planning on buying that day. I hope that when the time comes, we’ll be able to make our purchase through him.

At this time, we are leaning slightly toward the 2017s. But that could change, once we actually walk through a couple of 2018s.

The most useful smartphone holder for a motorhome

OK. This is one great product for holding your smartphone, in a motorhome.

Long-Reach Smartphone Holder
Look at the length of that arm.

Although I originally purchased the Newward Universal Car Phone Mount for my truck, I immediately saw that it will be a great addition to our motorhome. The key feature is that it’s LONG –  long enough (13 inches) to be of use on a motorhome windshield or side window. Most smartphone windshield mounts give you nowhere near that long a reach. It’s also rigid enough to hold even a large smartphone, like the iPhone 6+/7+ or Galaxy. But it’s not absolutely rigid. It’s still bendable – just not with the weight of a smartphone.

The arm is basically a thick piece of aluminum wire, with black thermoplastic insulation around it. It’s not round, like most wire, but has an oblong cross section. I imagine that if it were round, it would be about 2 gauge or thicker (for those of you who are not engineers or DIYers, that’s thick). Since it’s wider than it is thick, it means that there is more strength from side to side, than up and down. I’ll get into that in a moment.

On most motorhomes, your windshield is generally a fair distance from the driver. So a smartphone mount that is only 5 or 6 inches long leaves your phone out of reach of the driver. At 13 inches, this is the longest smartphone windshield mount that I’ve found. So whether you are using your smartphone to keep up with Waze or some other GPS/mapping app, or you just want to be able to see who’s calling, without taking your eyes off the road, this mount should place your smartphone close enough to the driver to make it useful. Though I tend not to touch my phone, when driving, I do occasionally tap a couple of icons in Waze, to report traffic congestion, an accident, or police spotted. But with the phone just barely out of my line of sight and close to me, I can place the heel of my hand on the gear shift, to stabilize my hand, and tap the phone, without having to look away from the road.

The Neward smartphone mount comes with a dashboard support pad that you can attach, to stabilize the phone. My phone actually rests on the dashboard. But I suppose that for some installations, this pad would be useful. I just attached the pad to my mount arm, as a place to store the pad, in case I ever need it in the future.

Now let’s talk about that oblong cross section. With the phone mounted, with the widest cross section horizontal, as shown above, it’s greatest strength is from side to side. This keeps the phone from swinging around, on sharp fast turns. But, unless you’re completely insane, that’s not going to be an issue in a motorhome. However, if you plan on installing this mount in your car or truck, you should know that I have tested this side to side strength in my truck and found that the phone moves from side to side only about an inch, when I accelerate into a sharp turn (almost, but not quite, drifting the truck). That’s stable.

But what this means for mounting it in a motorhome, is that you can mount the device on your side window, with the long cross section vertically oriented. This will give you additional weight stability for your phone, so it won’t be bouncing up and down, even on a bumpy road. The narrow axis will then be oriented from front to rear. However, since you aren’t going to be doing any jack-rabbit starts in a motorhome and will be doing everything possible to avoid slamming on the brakes, the strength on that front to rear axis is not going to be an issue.

One of the other things that I like about this smartphone holder is that it’s very easy to attach and remove your smartphone. Most smartphone holders have an awkward spring-loaded clamp that requires both hands, in order to spread the spring-loaded mount to attach or remove your phone. This one is spring loaded, but in the opposite direction. By that, I mean that it’s spring pushes outward, to open the jaws of the mount. To attach the phone, you simply hold your phone into the open mount and squeeze the mount shut, with fingers of the same hand, until it is tight against the phone. You’ll hear little clicks, as the mount passes each detent latch. To remove the phone, place your hand around the phone and press the release button with a finger of the same hand. The button releases the latch that is holding the mount closed and it will spring open. Your phone will be in your hand.

You can mount the phone either vertically or horizontally, thanks to a 360 degree mounting ball. If mounting the phone vertically, there are two support arms that can be folded out from the base, to give the phone additional support. Since these arms fold, it means that you can adjust them in such a way that they won’t block your power cord or other attachments. Since I mount my phone horizontally, I just keep those arms folded in all the time. That ball mount also makes it easy to swing the view of the phone to the passenger, without taking the phone out of the mount.

Also, since I mount my phone in landscape mode, I have chosen to add a piece of narrow vinyl foam tape to the clamp piece that sits on the dashboard. This allows me to just press down on the upper clamp, to lock the iPhone into place. Without that foam tape, the act of pressing the clamps together, by pushing the clamp against the dashboard, would risk marring the dashboard, over time.

All in all, this mount appears to have only up-sides and no down-sides. I give the Newward Universal Car Phone Mount a five-star rating.

Houston RV and Motorhome Show coming up

Becky and I will be attending the world’s largest all indoor RV and Motorhome show some time this weekend. We have not set an exact time. We want to make sure that whenever we go, all of the manufacturer reps are on hand.

If you have never been to the Houston RV and Motorhome Show, then watch the video that I’ll post, after we return. I think the only major production motorhome brand that will not be represented will be Entegra, since we don’t have an Entegra dealer in Houston. That’s too bad, because we would like to have been able to go back and forth between Entegra and Newmar, comparing the two in fine detail.

Expect the video to be very professional looking, since I’ll be using my Zhiyun Smooth-II 3-axis iPhone gimbal. The thing is awesome. OK. I admit that what I produce won’t be Hollywood style. But the gimbal produces remarkably stable videos. I’ll be using it with two 14 inch extension poles, so I’ll be able to get shots more than three feet above the crowds. I’ll try to capture the enormity of the show.

We will be focusing mostly on Newmar and Tiffin, at this show, but we’ll check out everything, even the booths. We are close enough to a decision that this could wrap it up for us. On the other hand, I still might allow my OCD to run amok for another month or two. There is one thing for certain. We won’t look back in a few months, after buying our motorhome, and say, “I wish we had done  xxx , got  yyy , or known about  zzz .” We will have done our homework.

Another day at the Katy dealerships

With memories of the Entegra fresh in our minds, from the Lake Charles RV Show, we headed out to Katy, Texas yesterday, to see the Newmars and American Coaches, at Holiday World and the Tuscanys, at Camping World.

Once again, I have to say that I think American Coach has, by far, the best interior designers in the business – at least for non-custom motorhomes. I just wish they had a model that suited our needs.

That said, Newmar offers an interior that is quite acceptable and they have a couple of models that would fit our needs. But thinking back to the Entegra, I have to say that their interior feels just a little more accommodating and comfortable than the Newmar. I also like the Newmar Comfort Steer technology. But I have to give the nod to Entegra, for their wide windshield field of view.

At Camping World, we looked at the Tuscany 45AT, again and something caught my attention, that I had missed in previous inspection. The driver sits quite a distance further back in the Tuscany, than in either the Newmar or the wide field-of-view Entegra. The Tuscany only has a TAG axle dump, instead of a passive-steering TAG. But it more than makes up for the difference, with a 60 degree wheel-cut. Not only does that extra five degrees decrease your turn radius, but passive steering TAG axle doesn’t help you when you’re backing up – that is, unless you’re driving a fully custom motorhome, with an active-steering TAG axle. The Tuscany definitely wins on TV size, offering a full 60 inch TV. We spent a lot of time sitting on the furniture in the various motorhomes this weekend and we both agreed that the couches in the Tuscany were not as comfortable as in the other brands of motorhomes.

There’s just so much to consider. We knew, going into this decision, that we would have to make compromises. Unless you are willing to pay the price to get a custom motorhome, there is no such thing as the perfect motorhome. We’re getting closer to making a decision. We just have to prioritize things and decide which features are most valuable to us and which ones we are willing to do without.

It’s certainly not a decision that we are taking lightly. If we were buying a motorhome for use only a few weeks out of the year, then it would be different. But we’re buying a “home” in which we will live for the next two years or more. Also, since we will be on the road 365 days a year, we need to consider maintenance and repairs, away from the dealer where we purchase the coach. A picture is beginning to form and it looks like the motorhome that is coming into focus may be either an Entegra or a Newmar. But it’s still quite a blur and it could be a Tiffin or Tuscany. The Houston RV Show, in February, should help.

The 2017 Central Gulf Coast Boat, Sport and RV Show in Lake Charles

Yesterday (Friday the 13th of January) we drove over to Lake Charles, for the Central Gulf Coast Boat, Sport and RV Show. I think this was primarily a Dixie RV Show, with other dealers bringing what Dixie wasn’t showing.

There was one Super C motorhome, but we didn’t spend any time on it. There were a lot of class A gasoline motorhomes there by Thor, Winnebago, Jayco, and others. But besides taking a quick look at a Thor gasoline toy-hauler, we didn’t bother with them.  That was because we still had a long drive back to Houston facing us and we just didn’t want to waste driving time on coaches of no importance to us. The big class A diesels were Tiffin and Entegra. They pretty much had one of everything, in those lines. They also had an American Coach there – the Revolution – that was quite impressive.

Entegra was represented from Insignia to Cornerstone

As Becky and I have seen before, both Tiffin and American make very fine motorhomes. But we were more impressed with the Entegra. American Coach doesn’t have a floor plan that meets our needs and the Entegra just seemed to be a percent or two better on several counts that we consider important, than the Tiffin. In fact, it’s so close between those two, that we could easily change our minds, before we buy. We really like the American Coach, but as I said, we just can’t find one that fits our requirements. We both think that American has, by far, the best interior designers of all production motorhomes (period). They just don’t have a floor plan that suits us. If they did, I think our decision would be made. Bummer…

Tiffin was well represented at the show, too.

We did do one thing that we really wanted to do at the show and that was talk to an Entegra rep. Todd Hahn, who is the Regional Sales Manager for Entegra, was at the show and he was very helpful and informative. He answered all of our technical and design questions, regarding the various Entegra models.

Speaking with someone from Entegra was important for us since, to our knowledge, Entegra will be the only major brand of production motorhome that is NOT represented at the Houston RV Show, next month. We can speak with representatives from all of the other manufacturers at that time. But the Lake Charles show would be the last chance we would have, to talk to an Entegra representative, till we make our road trip to Indiana, in a few months.

The Lake Charles show was certainly not the biggest show in the world. But we found it to be well worth the drive. Now we can hardly wait for the 53rd Annual Houston RV Show, in February. I’m told that it is the largest all-indoor RV show in the world. But then, that’s to be expected, isn’t it? After all, everything is bigger and better in Texas.

The decision to pull up roots

Becky and I have always loved traveling. We have been on numerous cruises both in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. In fact, we have been on so many cruises that we even wrote a book about cruising (under the pen names of Reginald and Lillian Carpenter). We lived in London for a time and, as a part of an import-export business that we ran, we traveled to various places in the Far East.

So, as Becky is preparing to retire (I’m already retired), we began to think about what we want to do and it dawned upon us that we’ve seen more of other countries than we’ve seen of the United States. That started us thinking about morotcoaches. Though we have never owned an RV of any kind, we knew a lot about them. We have both done a fair amount of title abstracting and many people in that business own fifth-wheels, for when the job requires travel, which it often does. In fact, we were seriously looking at fifth-wheels, before Obama blocked the Keystone XL Pipeline and the price of oil dropped. Between those two events, it effectively put us and thousands of pipeline workers out of work. Although we didn’t need the work, this did mean that there was no longer any reason to look at fifth-wheels.

But to get back to the subject of our recent decision, what this all boils down to is that we already knew quite a bit about RVs, going into this decision and a lot about fifth-wheels. One of the things we had learned, is that if you are going to park your RV for long periods of time, as you do if you’re working pipelines, you probably want go with a fifth-wheel and if you’re going to be on the road a lot, you’re probably better off with a motorhome of some sort. So while we knew something about RVs, we knew little, at all, about motorhomes. Over the last several months, we have learned a lot.

We’ve been to every motorhome dealer in Houston – some multiple times. We spent a whole day in Alvaredo, at Motor Home Specialists. We went to the 2016 Dallas RV Show and just returned from the Lake Charles Show (I’ll tell you about that show in another post). As I write this, we just returned from yet another afternoon at Holiday World and Camping world, in Katy, Texas. We expect to pull the trigger some time this fall and hit the road, full time. But before we do that, we expect to take a road trip to Indiana, to visit the various manufacturers and see how these things are built.

We’re looking for a big diesel pusher (42-45 feet, with a TAG), all-electric, with nothing less than 450 horsepower. Yes. We realize that you can’t park a 45 footer in most national and state parks. But we’re prepared deal with that. We’ll be towing a Jeep Cherokee, so if we have to, we’ll park elsewhere and drive the Jeep to park. The leading motorhome candidates, at this point, are Newmar and Entegra. Although we can’t rule out Tiffin and Tuscany. We have not yet set a solid price point.

Follow along, as we learn more and post our findings, especially if you too, are looking for a first motorhome. We’re both detail oriented – just in different ways. I’m an engineer, so if you’re into build quality, construction, performance, or specifications, you’ll probably find my posts to be of most interest. On the other hand, Becky is a CPA, so if you’re into the economics of the situation or the aesthetics and amenities of the coach, then you’ll probably find her posts of most interest.

By the way, we’ll probably make more than our share of mistakes and we’ll share those with you, too, so perhaps, you won’t make the same mistakes. Then you can make your own and share those with us.

Remember that when you’re full timing, “Home is where you park it.”

Welcome to Full-timing the USA

Full-Timing the USA is about traveling the USA and Canada, full-time, in a Class A (diesel pusher) motorhome, with a dinghy. But more than that, it’s a log of our adventures, starting from our decision to sell our bricks and sticks home, in favor of life on the road, in a motorhome, through our purchase considerations, and ultimately our travels, our learning experiences (gotchas), and the rewards of living in an ever-changing environment.

We’ll share what we learn and what we’ve seen. As we get out on the road, we’ll share stories from other motorhome adventurers. But to start, we’ll be sharing our search for the perfect motorhome.

We’ve already been to every motorhome dealer in the Greater Houston Area. We’ve also traveled up to the Dallas RV and motorhome show and to Alvarado, to visit Motorhome Specialists. We expect to visit the huge Houston RV and motorhome show, in February and to eventually travel up to Indiana and elsewhere, to see how the motorhomes are made.

We invite you to share our experiences, as we set out on this new adventure and hope to meet you on the road some day.

We’ll be full-timing, so, “Home is where we park it.”