Our Fall 2019 trip is meant to be a test to see how well we can handle being on the road for multiple weeks at a time. The purpose is to help us determine if we can handle a trip out west which we anticipate to be a 4-6 month long adventure. For this fall trip, our plan is to West Virginia for our son’s wedding and then loop north to Ohio, Kentucky, Memphis (Arkansas side), skirt along the northern tip of Mississippi and Alabama before heading north to Pigeon Forge and back home to Virginia. Total time, approximately 6 weeks.
Stop #1: Yellow Springs, West Virginia
We are staying on a small farm about 10 miles away from where the wedding is being held. The “campground” is a small piece of land that sits between the Cacapone River and a mountain. The owner’s have provided 30 amp electric. They also have a water spigot for filling the fresh water tank and a small black pipe that leads to a septic tank. We have decided not to use the water as it has a strong sulfur smell. We also decided not to hook up the sewer as we don’t feel the connection is adequate enough to prevent a smelly disaster. Our next stop is supposed to have water/electric with a dump so we will cross our fingers that the site is more of a true campground and dump/refill our fresh water there. The good news is that the site is very private and quiet.
Our son, new daughter in-law and her parents:
Stop #2: Little Meadows Campground, Grantsville, MD
When making the reservations for this site, I was told that it could handle a 35 foot 5th wheel, however, as we were pulling in to the area, the hair on the backs of our necks were raised and the further into the campground we got, the more nervous we were. We did manage to back the trailer to dump and then after about an hour of serious maneuvering, we did get the trailer into the site, however it was very leaning to one side. There was not enough room to pull the truck out from under the trailer to be able to put down the leveling legs and we weren’t able to get enough height out of the Anderson levelers so we finally gave up after about an hour and half. We stopped by the office and they offered to let us stay at the pavilion indicating there was both water and electric there. So we turned around and pulled the trailer down to the pavilion only to discover that the water spigot was broke off. I rode the bike back up to the office to find out if they had a way for us to hook the trailer up to some water to fill the fresh tank up since were were empty and they did not. Since they did have electric and they had a port-a-potty at the pavilion, we debated on staying there versus finding another campground. While we were debating a bunch of cars pulled up to the pavilion with the intent on having a cookout. In the end, my fear of not having any water and the new arrivals, took over and we looked for the closest KOA campground which was about an hour away in Uniontown, PA. Decision was made to move on.
Stop #3: KOA Uniontown, PA
As we were driving across the mountains to Uniontown/Connellsville PA, we saw a sign neither of us had seen before. It was a huge red sign that said TRUCKER WARNING: DANGEROUS MOUNTAIN. Use lowest gear. As we started to descend the 9+% grades, the speed limit for trucks and buses was posted constantly at 10 MPH. Mark was trying to keep the speed of the truck/trailer down and was shifting as much as he could to try to keep the trailer held back. After one of the large grades, we came in to a town and had to stop at a light. When we did, the truck started making a really loud noise that Mark kind of described as the sound of a jake brake. As we pulled away from the light, the sound quieted so we kept going. After another couple of mountains and steep grades, we had to stop at another light and the same noise started again. As we were coming into Connellsvile and the campground, the truck was making all kinds of racket. We had to turn the truck off at the speaker to the campground so that we could be heard. As I went in to check us in, Mark looked under the hood to see if he could determine what was wrong. After checking in, we started the truck up again and crept slowly to our site. Luckily, I had asked for a pull through site because as we were pulling in to the site, the truck stopped. Mark was able to start it again and pulled in a little further, just up to be able to reach the power when the truck died again. Mark was able to get the truck to start and after a bit we were able to get it to move forward enough to get the hitch out but we were not able to level the trailer without hitting the bed of the truck. We finally asked one of the neighbor campers if they would pull the track out from under the trailer so that we could set the trailer down and level it.
Monday morning we started calling around to different Dodge/Chrysler dealerships to try to find someone to fix the transmission. We had just had the transmission put in about a year and half ago with less than 20,000 miles on it. At the time, we were told we had a three year warranty. We also called State Farm to determine what our roadside assistance would cover for the towing, etc. We finally got one of the dealerships to agree to take the truck and they recommended a tow company. I talked with the office at the campground and was informed that our site was only available until Thursday and that the campground was booked through the weekend, (It didn’t seem to matter that we had no way to move the trailer), so we booked the site through Thursday and were told that if there was a cancellation, they would hold the site. We then moved on to trying to find a rental car. Enterprise advertises that they will pick you up so we went that direction. We had a hard time finding one that would travel the distance we were from them, but finally the one in Uniontown agreed to pick us up but couldn’t get here until Tuesday around 1.
Having done everything we could, we decided to enjoy ourselves a little and discovered that the campground has the bike trail from the Allegheny Pass and C&O Canal tow pass running through it. We pulled our Letric bikes out and headed down the path. We had noticed that the campground had some trailers in storage so as we were riding around the campground we were looking for trucks with a 5th wheel hitch that might be able to pull us into one of the storage spots if it came down to that. There were lots of travel trailers in the campground but not many with 5th wheels. We did stop and talk to a guy named Glenn who had a toy hauler but he uses a goose neck instead of a 5th wheel hitch. We told him our saga about having transmission problems and he said if we needed him to take us anywhere to get food, etc. to let him know. We thanked him telling him we would be getting a rental car the next day.
The next morning brought Mark doubled over in pain. He thought it might be his appendix and after trying to hold off, finally decided he needed to go to the hospital. It was about 8:30 in the morning so we debated between calling 911 and taking up Glenn on his offer to help us and decided to see if Glenn could help us first. He was very generous and took us to the ER. Luckily, the ER at Highlands Hospital was not busy so was able to take Mark right away. They quickly got him so medicine for the pain and for the nausea. Someone came from Radiology right away and took Mark to have a CAT Scan. The scan revealed a 3.6 cm kidney stone. He was given some prescriptions for pain, nausea and Flomax and we were sent on our way, however, we had no way to get back to the campground. I called Enterprise to see if they could pick us up at the hospital instead of the campground and if they could bring the car before the original 1:00 time. At first they indicated the hospital was outside of their range but then decided they would pick us up.
Rental car in hand, we decided to drive over to the Dodge dealership to see what was happening with the truck since we hadn’t heard back from them yet. When we go there, Candy told us there were a couple of problems. 1) They couldn’t find a transmission to replace it with and 2) they couldn’t cover the warranty we were told we had because the truck was modified, even though the truck was modified when Chrysler of Culpeper put the transmission in. Candy suggested we talk to Powell’s Transmission in Bentleyville, PA. Mark talked with the owner and he indicated that he could build us a transmission specifically for the towing we needed and that he could get it done by Monday. We then called the tow company again, and $250 later, the truck was scheduled to be picked up and sent to Bentleyville. When we got back to the campground we learned that they had a cancellation and was able to move other campers around to allow us to stay in our site until the following Thursday.
We went out and enjoyed a nice ride on the bike trail into Connellsville.
Thursday brought word from the transmission shop that the cause of our issues was that the bolts from the torque converter had not been properly fastened when the transmission had been replaced last February. Mark asked for clarification on whether they had sheared off and he was told no, they had all backed out. Yes, ALL. By the grace of God, the truck kept going and didn’t fall apart going down the mountain or we wouldn’t be here today. So all of this was caused by poor workmanship from Chrysler of Culpeper. Because there is no way to tell what kind of damage was done down the line of the converter, we decided to continue down the path of having him build us a new transmission and setup that would be built specifically for our pulling weight and would be able to handle the mountains if we do go out west next year. He indicated he thought he could still get the truck back to us by later in the day Monday.
At this point, I have cancelled two of our reservations at other campgrounds and am waiting to decide how to handle the next reservation. The Tommy Emanuel concert we were supposed to go to on Friday in Cincinnati, OH was postponed until March because of illness so at this point we haven’t lost the money on the tickets and I think we might be able to get a refund because of the date change. We are going to hold off on asking for a refund until we decide if we want to travel to Cincinnati in March. I am looking at rerouting us through Charleston, West Virginia and trying to catch up at Dog Creek Army Core of Engineers Campground in Kentucky. I think we can split the 8 hour travel time in to two days and adjust our arrival date to be two days late. I’m hoping this will help us avoid a full cancellation fee. From there, we should be able to stay on course for our next stop at Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky. Mark still hasn’t passed his kidney stone so we’ll see how he’s feeling once we get the truck back. In the meantime, the campground we are at is nice and the leaves are starting to change a little., It’s a little noisier than we would have had at the state park, due to an active train track, but at least we have a river, bike trail, water, electric, sewer, food and each other. 🙂
While waiting to get the truck back, we did do a little site seeing and went to see a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright called Fallingwater. It is built over a waterfall in Mill Run, PA and dates back yo 1935.
Stop #4: Dog Creek Campground, Cub Run Kentucky
After missing two of our stops, we finally made it to the next stop on our trip three days late. The trip from PA to KY wasn’t exactly uneventful as we started getting an audible warning almost from the time we started pulling out of the campground which was indicating that the truck was over heating. Pulling the trailer through the mountains had the warning sounding several times. At an overnight stop outside of Charleston, WV, Mark determined that there was an air block in the cooling system. Some coolant was added and we continued our trip westward to Dog Creek.
We had a bit of an issue getting in to our site as we were too long for the level part of the site. After several attempts, we were finally able to unhitch the trailer and level it. I have to admit, it was a little unnerving looking out the window of the bedroom and seeing how far we were off the ground. The front of the trailer was so high even Mark could stand under it without having to duck. While we were waterfront, we did have a view of the lake.
The first couple of days the temperature was 95/96 which we weren’t really expecting for this time of year. After spending a couple days trying to recover from the previous stressful week, and the temperature dropping back to a more seasonal level, we finally ventured out to visit Mammoth Cave. Since it was a Saturday, the tours were booked so we took the self guided tour.
Stop #5: Hurricane Creek Campground, Cadiz Kentucky (Land Between the Lakes)
After some tense moments on our trip to Hurricane Creek due to the GPS getting confused and rerouting us, we were ecstatic to have a fairly level site. The only downsides were that the lake is really low so our waterfront site is not really waterfront anymore, and it started raining as we were pulling in. However, the sun came out the following afternoon and turned in to a beautiful day with the temperature in the 70s.
We are questioning our ability to continue much further with the trip. The truck did continue to overheat on the trip to Hurricane Creek and Mark is now thinking that we blew a head gasket. So between the truck concerns, Riley continuing to show more signs of dementia and maybe Cushings disease and the health issues of my mother, the stress is running high. We’re hoping to be able to at least make it to Memphis to visit Graceland. We’ll see how the week goes here at Hurricane Creek.
Well, it looks like our trip will be ending here at Hurricane Creek. We had decided to that we should start to head home due to the concern with the truck. The night before we were going to leave, we decided to go out and do a little sight seeing, is a national park called the Elk and Bison Prairie that is about 30 minutes from the campground so we decided to go towards the end of the day when we thought they would be more likely to be out feeding instead of hiding in the trees out of the sun during the day. On our way there, we came upon an intersection where there was some road construction. From what we know now, they were widening the road from two lanes to four. The intersection was not clearly marked and what turns out to be the stop sign for us was turned the wrong direction. Needless to say, the end result turned out not to be good as we pulled through the intersection and was hit by an oncoming Mustang. The emergency personnel told us the passengers in the Mustang appeared to be OK but all three were taken to the hospital. The Dodge truck protected us well so we are both OK, the Dodge didn’t fair as well.
The pictures of the stop sign are from the direction we were coming from and the middle one shows how we would have seen the sign. Mark thought the stop sign was for the other direction where I thought it was one that was put out just while they were actually working and that was why it was turned, since there was no one working. The rescue personnel told us that there had been many accidents at the intersection since they started the construction and the deputy told us that our accident was the second accident she had worked there in a week.
We have, once again, been truly blessed by being surrounded by good people. It has been overwhelming at times to be the recipient of such kindness. The campground hosts have worked to find a way to accommodate us during the busy weekend days so that we have a place to park, and has arranged for us to stay here as long as we need to. They introduced us to our neighbors, who frequent the campground, and he agreed to move us to the different spots as needed. He also took us about 40 minutes down the road to pick up a rental vehicle.
The owner of C & C Towing removed the hitch from our Dodge for us and lifted it into the rental truck we got. He would not let us pay him for the extra work.
I put a post out on the Grand Design Owner’s forum asking for advice from others who have shared this unfortunate experience also and the post has received over 14 responses so far full of helpful advice and concern. At this point, I have made arrangements with a service called WeWillTransportIt to have Tudee picked up and driven back to Virginia for us. We are still waiting to hear back from State Farm to determine if the truck is totaled or if they are going to try to repair it. We hope to be home in a couple of days.
We had issues with WeWillTraqnsportIt where they never scheduled to have Tudee picked up so I do not recommend them to anyone. Found another company called Showroom Transport who agreed to pick up the trailer. Their driver called back within 20 minutes of talking with the company and would have been there about 6 hours later, on a Sunday night, but we agreed to meet at 8 AM Monday. The driver took really good care of Tudee and drove the 10 hours straight home.
The truck was totaled but State Farm did take good care of us and even compensated us for most of the cost we put in the new transmission.
Trip ends here.
Stop #6: Tom Sawyer Campground, West Memphis Arkansas
Stop #7: Mississippi – Whitten Park?
Stop #8: DeSoto State Park – Fort Payne, AL
Stop #9: Chatanooga TN ?
Stop #10: Duvall in the Smokies, Pigeon Forge, TN