It started on October 11th. We were heading south on I65 in Kentucky, leaving Elizabethtown and going to a location we were going to boondock at in Tennessee for a couple of nights. We had plans to stay at one person’s house for two nights, then head to the Natchez Trail campground in Tennessee, and finally end up at a Thousand Trails campground in Alabama. It did not happen that way at all.
We got off the highway in Bowling Green, KY to get gas. Filled up the gas tank and everything was fine. Since we were already off the highway, we figured we would go to a Walmart to fill up on supplies. Walmart was only about three miles away. On our way there, the engine started revving higher, but the RV was not going faster. We were at a red light, so I turned on my flashers, shut the RV off, let it sit for about thirty seconds and started it back up. It worked fine, so I assumed it was just a glitch and something temporary.
We turned towards Walmart, which was located behind a shopping mall. As we pulled in, the RV started slowing down again. I did the same thing, shut off, wait, restart, and it got us a few blocks farther. Then, while in the mall parking lot and in a right turn lane, it gave out completely. I shut it off, tried to restart, the engine would still rev, but the wheels wouldn’t move.
I swore, a lot. What was wrong with it? How was I going to fix this? How are we going to afford it? In a few minutes, a mall security guard pulled up and helped us. He blocked traffic around us and told us about a transmission shop less than a mile away. I called Progressive Roadside assistance to get a tow. I then tried calling the transmission shop, but they never answered. The security guard offered to drive me there since it was literally around the corner, so we went and found out that the shop was no longer there. We went back to the RV and waited.
I called my brother since he his my go to place for all things mechanical. He gave me some ideas of what it could be and told me to check the transmission fluid since it might be low or burnt. I did that, and though it was dark in the RV, I thought it was low. That’s great! Maybe it just needs transmission fluid and we’ll back on the road!
Three and half hours after we called, the tow truck finally showed up. Since I thought it was just low on transmission fluid, I had them tow us to the Walmart so we could fill the fluid and hopefully it would work. If it didn’t, at least we had a place to stay for the night.
Adventures at Walmart
Once at Walmart, we went inside and got two gallons of transmission fluid. Went back outside and checked again, put some in, ran the engine, and the RV moved. I thought that was great, it was an easy fix and we were back on the road. I let it run for awhile longer though, and then, yet again, nothing. I sat down to think, fully knowing that a transmission repair would be in the thousands of dollars and we did not have that much.
I started calling around to local transmission shops and auto mechanics, trying to find anyone who could work on our RV. Everyone said it was too big and they couldn’t fit it in their service bays. I finally found a truck engine shop, but they only worked on diesel and didn’t do transmissions, but they did have a place that did them for them. I called them, but by this point they were closed.
We went into Walmart and did some shopping, got some dinner, and went back out to the RV for a night of restless sleep. We ran the generator for a little while to keep the batteries charged, then went to bed.
The next morning, I posted on several RV groups about our troubles to see if anyone had any insight. I also asked if anyone knew of a mechanic in Bowling Green that could work on our RV. A few people said it just sounded like the filter was dirty and that was why it was working intermittently. That seemed like an easy fix, just remove the bottom pan, clean it out, put in a new filter, throw it all back together and fill up the fluid. Easy, but beyond my skills and knowledge, especially with no one to help me in a Walmart parking lot.
Next, I called the truck transmission shop and told them our problem. They wanted to find us a new transmission with a nationwide warranty since we were living in it full time and traveling. He called me back later to say he couldn’t find a new one, but they could rebuilt ours. It would take 4 days and $1,800 to 2,200. I told him I’d have to come up with that kind of money, but knew there was no one I could borrow thousands of dollars from.
Discouraged, I went back to Facebook. I found a message there from a mechanic in Tennessee who said he could come to us if we could get to a campground for a few days and he’d fix it for a negligible price. I had him call me, we chatted for a bit, and he seemed to know what he was talking about. I researched him a little, found his place of employment, looked to see if what he had told me was legit, and it all looked good.
But we still were stuck at a Walmart and not at a campground. I called Thousand Trails to change our reservation to the nearest TT campground, since there was one only thirty miles away from our current location. This was on Thursday, and because of the way our plan works with them, we would have to wait until Monday. I asked if there was anything they could do, any emergency help, but they said the park was full anyway. So I made the reservation for Monday and called Progressive to set up a tow.
The man I spoke with at Progressive seemed sympathetic. I told him I had tried to find a mechanic that could work on our RV in Bowling Green with no luck, but had found a mechanic who would come to us if we could get to a campground. He said that since we had done all that work, they would two us 30 miles, instead of their normal limit of 15 miles. I set up the tow to come on Monday and went inside and spoke to a manager. I told him we were stuck with a dead transmission, but we had a tow, a mechanic, and a place to go on Monday. He said as long as we were gone on Monday, that was fine. I told him we were in back by the auto bays. He knew where we were, how long we were going to be there, everything we knew. I thought it was all okay.
Once again, we went into Walmart and bought supplies to last us through the weekend. We went back and settled in for another restless night of sleep, assuming we’d be there until Monday and everything would be fine.
We were wrong.
We got up Friday and walked to a nearby Panera for lunch. It had been awhile since we had eaten out, and it was Friday, so I got the clam chowder I love. We walked back to the RV and Tiffany said she was going inside to get some stuff. I decided to lay down for a bit, starting to feel the stress taking over.
Then there was a knock on the door. I went to see who it was, and it was a different manager. He told me he had trucks coming to drop off trailers and we had to leave in 30 minutes. I was shocked. I told him a manager had told us we could stay until Monday and that we had a dead transmission and could not get a two in 30 minutes. He said that manager wasn’t there, he hadn’t told him anything about it, and he didn’t care about our problems. I was angry. We had been told it was okay to stay there, we had everything arranged, but because a manager hadn’t told everyone else, we were getting kicked out. I started to panic. I called Tiffany to tell her what was going on and started calling for a tow, knowing full well that it would not be there in thirty minutes.
I called the Thousand Trails campground and told the woman there what was going on. I pleaded with her and she said she’d find a way to help me. She said she’d move some RVs around and make space for us. I thanked her profusely and went back to trying to get a tow.
Progressive was no help whatsoever. Thursday they had said they’d cover a 30 mile tow. Friday, they changed their story and said they’d only cover $350 of a tow. The cheapest tow truck they could get to us was going to cost over $700. The fastest was going to cost over $2,000. I yelled at the manager about how they had changed their story, but he didn’t budge. I hung up on him because we didn’t have the money to pay a tow truck cash out of hand right now.
Tiffany got back and remembered we had AAA Plus RV! service. We called them and they said they would tow us 100 miles. Great, I thought! That can get us to the campground easily. They kept trying to call tow companies to get someone out to us, knowing that we were under a time deadline. Finally, Tiffany spoke to a woman who said they couldn’t get anyone out that night and to call back in the morning. She told her there was no way in hell we were calling back in the morning to go through this all again and that AAA would either get someone out to us tonight, or schedule it so they were there as early in the morning as possible. Finally they sent out a tow truck.
It arrived an hour later, but it was much too small. It was a little flatbed for towing a car, not a big rig that could tow a 9 ton, 33 foot RV. The driver was apologetic and he started to make calls. He knew of a place that could tow us and had AAA call them. He got things rolling and went on his way.
We called the recommended tow company ourselves and they said they didn’t work with AAA, but he knew a company in the direction we were going that did and could handle our RV. So I called them directly, completely avoiding the middleman of AAA. I spoke to the owner, told him what was going on, got all his info, and then told him I’d call AAA. Called them, gave them all the same info and said we needed him here now. Things were starting to roll. We almost had everything set up, but the tow driver didn’t want to bring an RV into a campground at night because there would be trees and such that could damage either vehicle. I understood, but told him I needed him here as early in the morning as possible. They opened at 8am and he’d come get us right away.
I called Walmart to tell them what was going on, spoke to the same manager who told us we had thirty minutes, and in a pissed off sounding tone, he said as long as we were gone in the morning, that was fine. I hung up on him.
We had another restless night of sleep, woke up early, and sat outside, waiting for the tow truck to arrive. The driver called at 8am and said he was on his way. They got there less than an hour later, hooked everything up, and we were on our way. Tiffany rode in the tow truck, I rode with the other driver in the tail vehicle.
Those trailers that were arriving in 30 minutes? They still weren’t there, over twelve hours later.
I must say, the thirty minute drive to the campground was one of the most nerve-wracking drives I have ever been on. Everything we owned, our home, was being pulled down the highway slowly, bouncing and rocking along the way. I watched every bump with fear something would break, the bumper would come off, something would be damaged. It took us about an hour, but we finally got to the campground. I think the driver was bored with my story, but I told him I just needed to complain and bitch about everything. When we pulled into the campground, I called ahead and told them we were there and they escorted us to our spot. There was a crowd of people outside watching us. Great, I thought, spectators is just what we need.
I got out, talked to the campground employee, thanked her for the help as she was the same one who had set up everything for us the day before. The tow driver though, didn’t feel like he could make the turn into the site, so he had me check if it would move it at all on its own, otherwise, they’d use the other truck, chain it up, and pull it in.
I got in, started it up, and put it in reverse. It moved just fine. I had an excellent assistant directing me into our spot, I backed up a slight incline and into position. All seemed fine. Again, I thought that was a good sign. It was moving sometimes, so maybe it was just a dirty filter. I got out again and Tiffany hugged me and told me she was proud of how flawlessly I had backed in. I was on a rush of adrenaline and went to the table next to our site and sat down. The neighbors were so friendly, they said they were concerned when we hadn’t shown up the night before. We chatted, they told us both that the worst was over and to go in and rest.
I went to the wet bay to hook up the power, sewer, and fresh water. It all seemed fine, except our fresh water hose was an incredible four feet too short. I looked around the back of the RV at our neighbors and asked if anyone happened to have a spare ten foot hose we could borrow for a couple of days until we could get one delivered. An older gentleman said he did and wandered off to his RV. He came back with his wife, and said we could keep it for $5. I told her I wasn’t sure if we had any cash, but I’d check. She said whatever we had was fine, $2 or 3. I thanked her, hooked everything up and went inside and collapsed.
We tried to take a nap, but were so wired from the day’s events that we decided to take a walk and figure out how this campground was laid out. We were walking to the bathhouse when a woman from the group approached us. She said they had talked about it, and they figured we’d been through enough already and we could just keep the hose. It was a small gesture, but it made us feel a lot better. People were being so nice to us, everywhere we went they asked us how we were doing and if we’d gotten some rest. We went to the bathhouse, and of all the campgrounds we’ve been to, this place has the nicest ones. The showers are actual house shower stalls, not just some small locker with a drain in the floor. They were also very clean and smelled fresh. Satisfied, we went back to the RV to finally rest and recuperate.
The Mobile Mechanic
I got ahold of the mobile mechanic later that day to figure out when he could come to us. He said he could come on Sunday, this was on Saturday, but I told him to just make it Monday so we could rest and clean up on Sunday. Schedule was set. Sunday came and went, we had food, water, electric, sewer hookup, and crappy internet service, but at least we were somewhere we could stay awhile and didn’t have to leave. I figured we’d be here two weeks in place of our stay in Alabama, and that would be it.
Monday comes and there is no mechanic. I call him at 11:30, he said they had storms come through the night before and he was up since 4am cleaning debris and fallen limbs. He said he’d come up Tuesday. I told him that was fine as we had two weeks at this campground. Then Tuesday came and he said he was on his way, but he had some sort of issue with his truck. He stopped to fix it on the way, but said he’d still be here that night. He was not. Wednesday came and went, still no mechanic. I was starting to get worried and had my first panic attack, wondering what I had gotten myself into. Finally on Thursday, he arrived with his wife.
He worked on the transmission from 11:30 until the sun set. In the afternoon, he had taken off the pan and found it full of debris and metal shavings. That was not a good sign. I knew at this point that it would have to be rebuilt since something was grinding inside. He disconnected the whole transmission, put it in the back of his truck and they left. He had told me he had all the parts to fix it, so it would just be a couple of days.
I contacted him every day to get an update and figure out when he’d be back. The problems kept mounting though. A bushing inside the transmission had come loose and was wearing on a rod which had caused it to leak internally, resulting in lower pressure and thus not moving the wheels. He found a replacement bushing and rod, but had to custom machine part of it. At one point he went to a scrapyard and got a replacement and backup since our transmission hasn’t been in production for over fifteen years.
I told him when we needed to leave by or else we would have to start paying for staying here. He was not able to get everything together and get here before then, so we had to pay over $200 to stay here another week. Then he was going to be here on Thursday, but Thursday morning came and he called to tell me he had checked the transmission for leaks and found the casing had been damaged at some point so he had to replace that as well. At this point, I had given up on getting this fixed in a timely manner. But he did get the casing, put it all together, tested it out, and said it was working perfectly now. I told him great, and he said he’d see me on Sunday the 5th.
The Broken Ankle
Sunday came with no mechanic. I called him again, he told me his wife had hurt her ankle and they were at a hospital getting it checked out. They had no insurance, so she had to get a cast instead of surgery. I knew this was something beyond his control, so I let it go. Sunday night he said they were checking out of the hospital and would be on their way shortly. Monday came, and they were not here. I spoke to him again, and he said she had to get surgery because the ankle had broken on a growth plate. He said she was going in for surgery at 7am on Tuesday, but that they would be here Tuesday night and he’d put the transmission back in and we wouldn’t have to worry about paying him anything right now.
Its now 2:30pm on Tuesday afternoon. We have to absolutely leave by noon on Thursday. I haven’t heard from the mechanic today, but he’s also been idle for seven hours. I don’t know what’s going on or when this is going to get fixed. At this rate, we may just have to stay here for two weeks and say screw it to Thanksgiving with family. I really don’t know. It would be nice if we got some information from the mechanic, but so far, nothing.
He had been keeping in contact with me regularly the whole time, so I’ve never been worried about him scamming me or anything like that. Plus, I haven’t given him any money for this and won’t until the job is done. I’m not worried about him never returning our transmission, I’m just disappointed at how long it has taken. Some of it has been beyond our control, some of it has not. I would like to say that getting him to fix it is worth it, especially for the cost, but I really want to get moving again. We’ve been stuck here for near four weeks now and its growing old.