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RV/Trailer Astronomy Fact and Fiction

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#1 stevenwav

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 11:22 AM

I started the Retirement Observing Fact and Fiction thread and am overwhelmed with the responses. Really excellent insights and a great sharing platform for all of us as we look ahead to retirement and understanding what the realities are when we get there - as those realities relate to both astronomy and life in general. Within that thread, some folks discuss heading out on the road in pursuit of great adventures as well as dark skies. I dream of doing the same for a time in pursuit of great travel adventures, great food, hiking, astronomy and flyfishing.

 

It begs the questions to those who are actually doing this (RVing with telescopes) - What is it really like out there? Are you planning your trips around star parties, dark skies, astro events like chasing eclipses and meteor showers? What equipment have you brought with you? What are the limitations of space and how have you got around them? What RV do you have/want? Which is best in your opinion  for accommodating telescope and equipment? What are some experiences? Is there an active group of astro-gypsies traversing the continent in pursuit of a better view? Any info on this subject would be appreciated as I continue to dream about this. Let's please keep this discussion related directly to astronomy though, not a debate of what RV is better than the other in general. I hope this discussion will be allowed by the moderators and I think this is an import astro subject and of interest to a lot of CNers. Thanks in advance. 


Edited by stevenwav, 22 January 2018 - 11:52 AM.

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#2 Lola Bruce

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 12:36 PM

I have a motorhome and use it a couple of times a year to astronomy camp. It has a basement that I stuff with gear. I have done one star party in it, but usually just go somewhere darker than home. Star Rider (member of this forum) usually rents a camping trailer and stuffs his truck with astro gear. Many others use a tent.

Bruce


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#3 stevenwav

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 12:41 PM

What kind of equipment do you take along with you? Any suggestions for others who are just starting out considering the right type of equipment to take with a motorhome - limitations, things you never thought of prior to actually doing it? I would like to learn from others and avoid mistakes based on false assumptions on my part. 


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#4 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 01:18 PM

Steve:

 

We have a 26 foot 1986 Jamboree Class C motor home which we've had since 2004. In the past 14 years we've put about 50,000 miles on it. 

 

Joshua Tree March 2017 1.jpg

 

Prior to purchasing our high desert hideaway in 2009, I would use it for my dark sky weekends in the local mountains as well longer trips vacationing in the California deserts and longer trips to the dark skies of the Navajo reservation.  These days,  we make about 3 trips of 5-10 days every year. 

 

I like the size,  enough room but not too large for the winding roads and mild off roading necessary.  We like remote locations and some campgrounds are also restricted to a 27 foot length. 

 

Living in the Southwest is quite different than the Northeast.  We have vast regions of open BLM land,  National forests and National Parks where one can observe pretty much at will. We have our favorite spots.   

 

As far as equipment,  scopes and stuff.  My 16 inch barely fits through to door but it does fit.  I store it on one of the beds, in the overhead if our granddaughter is not with us.  It's not a heavy scope but it's bulky, hoisting a 50 lb mirror box up into the overhead or even through the door is not for everyone..  Sometimes I take the 12.5 inch.  The mirror box is not much lighter but it's easier to deal with. 

 

motorhome Dob in overhead.jpg

 

The rest of the gear,  eyepiece cases,  tripods,  my NP-101, an 80 mm refractor etc goes on the rear bed and I sleep along side the rear.  The motor home has a basement drawers but I wouldn't store any gear there,  too much bouncing and vibration. 

 

For us,  the motor works very nicely.  My wife loves the remote areas of the Southwest, that's actually how I became interested in amateur astronomy so it allows us to travel to these places and camp and enjoy the isolation while still enjoying the amenities, I think of it as our little cabin on wheels. 

 

Jon


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#5 Stardust Dave

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 01:33 PM

Have a simple 24' pull trailer for the 2 of us.  Pulled by a F250 longbed.

Zero compromise as far as capacity to bring all your stuff.  Very nice to live in comfort in RV for 4-5 days  -sleep all day and observe all night. Less fatigue from elements ,and fresher for the observing than say -tent camping.

 

Down side I have to drop the trailer to remove scope from truck bed.  Like to leave my generator in the bed of truck ,run a cord to trailer for AC ect.

Biggest downside is finding a turn around spot out a forest road. Sometime have to drop the trailer to reconnoiter the area.(plan ahead with google earth)

Best to know the spot ahead of time, and whether you mind a few miles on forest service roads if needed. 

 

My big scope will not fit in trailer unless I pull the primary (forget it), and a rear loading toy -hauler is too heavy of a trailer for us. Pull trailer is a compromise ,best for our general use.

If I do side trips my scope is "unsecured" in back of truck, under hold down strap ,several blankets and tarp.I try to insulate to keep the primary cool. 

 

So the vacation is more an Astronomy get away with side trips ,not the opposite.

 

Important thing for the RV IMO, is the drive-on stackable leveling pad strips.


Edited by Stardust Dave, 22 January 2018 - 01:35 PM.

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#6 stevenwav

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 01:56 PM

That is awesome Jon! Nice to hear that you take the 16" along with you. What a perfect travel size to take advantage of the dark skies. I read a lot of folks who purchase an RV or van and have to sell their big dobs because they can't fit the scope within the confines of their vehicles. I was approached by a fellow at WSP one year who was selling his dob for that very reason - he purchased the vehicle and found out afterwards that his scope wouldn't fit. I suppose the new fast (under f/4) dobs being manufactured may make a big difference in the coming years in this regard. Of course, they are mucho expensive and come with their own challenges.  I think I would miss out on a lot if I weren't able to include a decent sized dob when traveling out west. After all, the main advantage of this endeavor is to get to darker skies, and even a large refractor, let's say 6" just would not due the viewing justice. In some cases, it is kind of ironic to think that a large dob with trusses can actually be MORE portable than a smaller solid tubed dob (as long as the trusses could be stowed easily). I live in a condo complex so I can't have an observatory at home, so for a time I daydreamed about some sort of mobile observatory (trailer set up). I would keep it  in my driveway as a way to get around the HOA rules -lol. In that case, I always figured I would have to get a Cat in order to fit it in the trailer. Consequently, I figured a Cat would be the based option for traveling but now I really think accommodations need to  be  made for a decent size dob.

 

Tom from Discmounts takes his larger motorhome to WSP in the keys and he keeps all his scopes in the 'basement' - however, they are refractors including a tec180 with the heavy duty foam-lined case, the others are smaller including a tec mak. The tripods and his mounts can withstand the jostling in there as opposed to your dob of course. 

 

I am thinking the best combos for equipment would be; a small solar scope, binoculars, a small refractor (TV85 or 4") and a 16" dob - maybe 12.5 if space required. For a mount, just need a DM6 for the refractor and solar - the dob would be all set on its own anyway. Finally, a GM8 tripod with folding legs. Man that would be a quite the versatile astro arsenal. 



#7 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 02:02 PM

Steve:

 

I don't think the new , super fast Dobs are any better than the older F4.5 Dobs,  the mirror box and base still have to fit through the door .. The poles are longer on the older Scopes but that's not really a problem. 

 

Jon



#8 OleCuss

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 04:45 PM

My wife and I have done only one astronomy trip with our trailer.

 

We have a nominal 19 foot Rockwood Roo pulled by a short-bed F-150 Supercab.  That's a hybrid trailer so there is actually plenty of room for the wife and I and we could have a few others with us if needed.

 

We brought with us a NexStar 8SE, an ETX-80, and a 102mm triplet with A-Z mount.  We planned to do a little entertaining of relatives when we got to our destination so it was a bit more cramped than would otherwise have been the case, but we could have still brought the 12" Truss-tube Dobsonian if we'd chosen.

 

There's another gentleman who travels in a camper with his wife.  Quite a bit more cramped than we are so he was very interested in what that ETX-80 could do for them - I'm not sure whether he bought one.  The point being that the amount of space can vary greatly.  Even within the limited category of "campers" there is a lot of variation in storage space.

 

We're happy.  I don't think I'll ever try to bring something bigger than the 12".  I do have that 20" mirror I may build out some day, but I'm pretty sure that will never travel.


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#9 Aleko

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 07:22 PM

I've enjoyed the posts so far, and hope there is plenty of more feedback in this thread.  (Thanks stevenwav!)

 

I do not have an RV.  I'm retired now, and think that if I had one, I'd be getting out to a dark site a lot more often.  The older I get, the more I want to keep things simple. Having to pull a trailer or drive a bus is as much hassle to me as pitching a tent, etc., so my dream (I think) is a nimble Class B.  Easy to take off and go for a weekend, or take to a few star parties a year. I think I'd be happy taking a 4-inch refractor, maybe the 8-inch dob if I could squeeze it through the door.  

 

Anyway, that's what I think I want. :-). Looking forward to more posts to see what the reality is. 


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#10 jpbutler

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 07:35 PM

Just bought a used RPOD last winter and did 3 trips with it this summer.

Spent 17 days on the road driving to wyoming for the eclipse and then to rapid city to visit relatives and on to the badlands for astrophotography where the camera battery charger promptly died.

I brought 3 batteries but only one charger.

 

For equipment I brought the cem60 and pentax k-3 for landscape astrophotography, and a stellarvue m-3 mount and televue 85 for visual.

 

I pulled it with my 2013 Toyota Highlander and averaged about 12mpg.

I would say that it is about at the limit of what the highlander can realistically tow.

I really enjoy being able to unhitch the trailer and tool around site seeing without that trailer behind me.

 

The other 2 trips were to cherry springs in pa. which is the premier dark site on the east coast.

 

John


Edited by jpbutler, 22 January 2018 - 07:36 PM.

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#11 edwincjones

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 07:41 PM

My RV is for family-including dogs.

I tend to go to state and national parks to observe both the parks and their skies.

 

One should note the cost, including the unit, insurance, maintenance ,

and cost of travel.-what I save on motels I spend on gasoline.

vs

the Family togetherness

 

edj


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#12 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 08:08 PM

My RV is for family-including dogs.

I tend to go to state and national parks to observe both the parks and their skies.

 

One should note the cost, including the unit, insurance, maintenance ,

and cost of travel.-what I save on motels I spend on gasoline.

vs

the Family togetherness

 

edj

 

Food is also a potential area of savings.  Instead of eating out,  it's home cooked meals made from food purchased at the supermarket. 

 

But in the final analysis, it's not the financial aspects,  it's that spending a week under dark skies camped in a place that's otherwise inaccessible and somewhat hostile. 

 

The Valley of the Gods in Utah..  

 

4503532-valley of the Gods telescopes.jpg
1742339-valley of the gods.jpg
 
Jon

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#13 OleCuss

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 08:51 PM

I've enjoyed the posts so far, and hope there is plenty of more feedback in this thread.  (Thanks stevenwav!)

 

I do not have an RV.  I'm retired now, and think that if I had one, I'd be getting out to a dark site a lot more often.  The older I get, the more I want to keep things simple. Having to pull a trailer or drive a bus is as much hassle to me as pitching a tent, etc., so my dream (I think) is a nimble Class B.  Easy to take off and go for a weekend, or take to a few star parties a year. I think I'd be happy taking a 4-inch refractor, maybe the 8-inch dob if I could squeeze it through the door.  

 

Anyway, that's what I think I want. :-). Looking forward to more posts to see what the reality is. 

That is understandable but our logic is a bit different.

 

We can take our non-enormous trailer and park it in a nice spot.  We can do full hook-ups if they are available or go dry - and have enough tankage to last for a few days if we want.

 

Because we are parking the trailer we don't have to unhook or pack things up every time we decide to go somewhere.  We simply get in our pickup and go.

 

When we return we don't have to level things out and put stabilizers down.  Note that we are more likely to have dark skies if we set up in a place without pavement.  That means we put down pads and then lower the stabilizers onto those so it isn't merely a matter of stopping and lowering the stabilizers.

 

We don't have to unpack.  We have a stove, a convection oven, a microwave, etc. all set up and ready to go.

 

We have a nice big awning which makes for a very pleasant afternoon in some situations where having the Sun beating down would be quite unpleasant.

 

Another thing we like is that we don't have another drivetrain to maintain.  We already have a car and the 16 y/o pickup so if we had gotten a motorized RV we'd have to maintain a whole other engine, transmission and all the rest that comes with it.

 

I'm not at all claiming anyone else should see things the same way we do - or get the same thing we did.  But that's why we chose as we did.


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#14 Tony Flanders

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 09:02 PM

But in the final analysis, it's not the financial aspects,  it's that spending a week under dark skies camped in a place that's otherwise inaccessible and somewhat hostile.

When the weather cooperates, I'd much rather be in a tent -- or better yet, no tent. Nothing quite like the starry sky for a roof ... But when it's rainy or windy, I think wistfully of a campervan.
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#15 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 09:04 PM

That is understandable but our logic is a bit different.

 

We can take our non-enormous trailer and park it in a nice spot.  We can do full hook-ups if they are available or go dry - and have enough tankage to last for a few days if we want.

 

 

The trailer versus motor home dilemma.  Both have their pluses and minuses.. 

 

On the road,  the motor home comes out on top..  Everything's right there,  the wife can use the toilet,  get some food,  the trailers is not back there waving in the wind. 

 

Camping, the ability to disconnect is a big plus,  you can go shopping,  sight seeing.. 

 

Logistically there's plus and minuses.  With the motor home your batteries are reliably charged by the engine,  the fuel for the generator comes from the main tank.  Everything's integrated.  The advantage of the trailer is long term,  you can replace the tow vehicle without having to buy a new trailer. 

 

Jon


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#16 jpbutler

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 09:38 PM

With the load balancer and antisway bar my travel trailer is pretty stable. 

Even tractor trailers passing don't cause much motion.

 

The vehicle charges  the battery in the trailer as we drive, so that is also nice.

But without a generator, say in the boonies. 

We would not have any air conditioning.

 

I need to eventually get a generator. 

 

We don't really save anything VS going to hotels.

Not at 12mpg and an average of $35 to $50 per nite for an RV hookup.

We slept at some Sam's clubs this summer and large gas stations for free. 

Not the quietest nights, but great when your are trying to make time.

 

John



#17 Cajundaddy

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 10:25 PM

We had an 80s Class C motorhome similar to Jon's for 15 years and did a lot of observing from dark skies in the Mojave desert, Grand Cyn north rim, Mono lake area.  My rig was usually a C8 and binocs and having the house batteries to power the RA drive was very convenient.  On those epic moonless nights we would sometimes lay a tarp and bring our bedding out to fall asleep under the stars (in mosquito free zones).  Good times.  After many years life priorities changed and the rig and scope got used a lot less so we sold the MH vowing to get another one some day when it made sense.

 

In August we loaded into my brother's Class A MH for the trek to Idaho for the total eclipse.  There were a total of 6 living out of it for a week and it was tight but manageable.  My brother's wife always prefers staying in an RV park with full hookups and I would much rather be out in the boonies on solar panels.  Compromises were made and we had a great trip. 


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#18 Americal

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Posted 23 January 2018 - 01:37 AM

I've always gravitated towards the "go big" side of camping, it applies to my astro-camping , too.  That being on the table, I still backpack and sleep on the ground.  One nighters it's still the tent or a bag on the ground but my tent is a 8' x 14' monster (it fits in the truck ).  It's all about comfort.
I've progressed from backpack, to car camp, to tent trailer and now a small fifth wheel (if a 26' box is small ) trailer.  Last August for the eclipse my wife and I were in the trailer for 9 days.  At 73 that's just not an option sleeping in a tent, and I've got some pretty well tuned equipment.  As Jon and Dave I'm sure would agree, the creature comforts take observing trips out of the endurance test category. I still have a good portion of my truck bed for storage and my C11 in it's Pelican case fits nicely in the fiver's forward storage compartment.  If I've run a really long session the trailer is a lot darker in the morning to sleep-in.
Pros and Cons:
Pro-    lotsa space
           much better food
           air conditioning (Honda 2k generator )
           good outdoor shade (I camp in the desert )
           quicker pack-up and deploy
           50 gallons of water
           onboard bathroom
           better bed
           I can unhook the truck to tour
Cons- crappy fuel mileage
           initial cost
           you gotta tow it
           some limits to where you can go
All in all it's about comfort and as the years go by you may find comfort rising higher on your wants list.


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#19 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 23 January 2018 - 02:26 AM

 

But in the final analysis, it's not the financial aspects,  it's that spending a week under dark skies camped in a place that's otherwise inaccessible and somewhat hostile.

When the weather cooperates, I'd much rather be in a tent -- or better yet, no tent. Nothing quite like the starry sky for a roof ... But when it's rainy or windy, I think wistfully of a campervan.

 

 

I've done a fair amount of tent camping.  You spent a lot of time and energy just camping.  And you're vulnerable to the weather,  to bugs.  It's not that fun spending 6 hours star gazing when it's 30 degrees and the hopping in a cold tent.  You are really limited by the seasons, by the climate..  In the desert it's often windy..

 

One day is very clear in my mind. It was the fifth of May.  We we're camped in Chinle on the Navajo reservation and it was blowing hard,  lots of dust and cold..  We spent the day alternating between sitting in the car watching the tent blow over and drinking coffee at the Best Western.  Finally about 7:30 we had to decide whether to pull up states and head for Gallup and the nearest affordable motels or try to tough it out..  

 

We pulled up stakes and made the 100 mile run to Gallup.  As I was taking the last load up to our room,  it started to snow.. We spent a few days in the snow in Gallup before the roads were clear enough to head south. 

 

It wasn't long after that we purchased an older motor home. 

 

With a motor home you're isolated from the elements,  camping in July or Christmas is reasonable and the experience is not about the camping and the heat/bugs/cold/rain/snow/thunder/lightning/wind.. 

 

6535215-Navajo National Momument Winter.jpg
 
It was 6° F that night.  It was cold but had we been tent camping Francis would not have been smiling.. 
 
An RV is like having a little cottage you can take anywhere.. 
 
Pretty darn nice.. 
 
Jon

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#20 edwincjones

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Posted 23 January 2018 - 07:03 AM

RVing is a life style choice

-cheaper than a second home or cabin

-more expensive than a tent

 

As Americal said "it's all about comfort"

 

edj


Edited by edwincjones, 23 January 2018 - 07:04 AM.


#21 Chucky

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Posted 23 January 2018 - 08:20 AM

<<  When the weather cooperates, I'd much rather be in a tent -- or better yet, no tent. Nothing quite like the starry sky for a roof.  >>

 

Kind of like this Tony?  This is Black Mesa State Park, OK.

Sleep Out.jpg

 

 

 


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#22 BJS

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Posted 23 January 2018 - 08:58 AM

 

My RV is for family-including dogs.

I tend to go to state and national parks to observe both the parks and their skies.

 

One should note the cost, including the unit, insurance, maintenance ,

and cost of travel.-what I save on motels I spend on gasoline.

vs

the Family togetherness

 

edj

 

Food is also a potential area of savings.  Instead of eating out,  it's home cooked meals made from food purchased at the supermarket. 

 

But in the final analysis, it's not the financial aspects,  it's that spending a week under dark skies camped in a place that's otherwise inaccessible and somewhat hostile. 

 

The Valley of the Gods in Utah..  

 

 
 
 
Jon

Jon

Do they still keep Airwolf out there?  lol


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#23 cliff mygatt

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Posted 23 January 2018 - 09:43 AM

I have a 30 foot travel trailer (purchased last year to replace my 23 foot trailer).  This rig is quite the upgrade with a larger slide out and leather recliners, etc.  The wife loves it and is camping with me more.  My last rig was used for astronomy but now we just go to enjoy.  Anyway, I have an F-350 short bed with a cap so all my gear loads up in the truck and the camper is comfort and luxury.  I prefer the travel trailer for the convenience of having my truck for trips to wherever I need to go.  I am not retired yet but do spend 3 weeks a year at star parties in the Pacific Northwest so it is nice to have a place to rest and get out of the elements once the observing night is over.  My F350 is my to and from work vehicle as well.  A travel trailer offers convenience with less things to worry about than a class C as there is no drive train to worry about.  I am very handy and can fix the little problems that crop up with travel trailers.  Good luck, I think you will enjoy the RV for observing it makes a difference.



#24 edwincjones

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Posted 23 January 2018 - 09:45 AM

my experience with RVs over the years:

 

Cab over unit-  made truck top heavy and more difficult to drive, also roof clearance issues

Class C-  like any motorized unit they wear out with time, so lifetime limited

Travel trailer - will last a long time if properly cared for, but more difficult to back and then there is the cost of the tow car/truck

Class B- my favorite as small on outside and easier to get around in city, but wife did not like the small inside

Class A- never had one

 

To justify cost need to use a lot, expensive to just set in driveway

they are complicated and a lot of things to go wrong, to need repair

but air when hot  and heat when cold wonderful

 

looking back, trips with motels would have been cheaper, a lot cheaper,

but not as enjoyable. waytogo.gif

 

edj


Edited by edwincjones, 23 January 2018 - 09:56 AM.

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#25 csa/montana

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Posted 23 January 2018 - 11:01 AM

"The Valley of the Gods in Utah.."

 

Jon, I've always wanted to visit this area, so beautiful!


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