Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Niagara Falls... or Bust! (We Went BUST!)

Get comfortable, VERY long post incoming!

Each year, we plan one big vacation and a few smaller ones.  In January, we went on a Caribbean Cruise along with Jeff's parents.  That was a really fun time, and we love cruising just as much as RVing, but since then we've been waiting all year for our next vacation.  We decided since we took a cruise in the beginning of the year, we'd take a trip in the RV.

As we've discussed before here on the blog, there isn't much local camping here on Long Island, and, we wouldn't really enjoy it anyway.  To sum it up, we RV for the destination and exploring, not just sitting in the woods on a weekend.  With that in mind, this vacation in the fall would be the only trip we took in the RV this year since we don't want to use it locally.

After some discussion, it was decided we would go somewhere fairly close to home so as not to deal with long driving days and short nights in loud roadside campgrounds only to spend one or two short days wherever we decided to go.

So with all of that in our minds, we decided that we'd go see Niagara Falls in September.  We picked September so crowds would be light, temperatures would be favorable, and vacation time at work was easy to come by.

We were set to leave on Sunday, September 24th and not return until the following Sunday.  It's about 10 hours driving time from Long Island to Niagara Falls and we had decided to break up the trip up the New York State Thruway with a stop in Verona, NY at the highly rated and recommended "Villages at Turning Stone Casino RV Park."  That would give us only 3 hours drive-time on day two to slowly make our way to Buffalo and Niagara Falls.  We made reservations for the KOA in Grand Island, New York, just minutes from Niagara.  We'd spend 4 nights there to take our time sightseeing, then two more nights on the journey home.  We even splurged on the large private "patio" spot at the KOA.

Lauren has never been to the area before so while there we planned for her to eat her first real Buffalo Wings from Duffs or Anchor Bar (Jeff prefers Duffs.)  As BIG fans of I Love Lucy, we planned to also make a visit to Jamestown to see the Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz museum to see props and some recreated sets from one of our favorite shows and television's funniest woman ever.

As an added bonus, we had also planned a stop in Syracuse, NY to stop in and see Jeff's 98 year old Grandfather.  The New York State Thruway runs right through Syracuse and it would be a less than 5 minute detour off our route to see him. We planned to stop in for a late breakfast and lunch before heading on our way to our destination.

All summer long Jeff cleaned and prepared the trailer getting her ready while Lauren came up with the meal plan and prepped the supplies we'd need.

A month out we upgraded our tires from the cheap Chinese "Rainier" brand that came with the Jayco to the American made Goodyear Endurance tires.  A higher PSI and temperature rating along with stiffer sidewalls made for a noticeable smoother tow and added peace of mind.

A week out we started packing.  Clothes, supplies, tools, and all of our other RV goodies were set up and moved into the trailer.  Jeff changed the oil and transmission fluid in the truck and made sure all systems were go.

The day before we got the dogs bathed and ready.  Jeff hitched up the trailer and towed her from the backyard.  Lauren wasn't feeling that well but was still excited to go.

Sunday morning we awoke early to hit the road.  The truck was packed.  The dogs were excited.  I started the truck right at 6:30 AM and asked Lauren to check the brake lights one last time before we departed.

I couldn't believe it when a big thumbs down came from behind the trailer.  She came up to the driver window and explained that the left brake light and turn signal worked fine but the right light was out completely.  Fighting the sudden anxiety of "this is going to mess with our vacation," I went through my mental Rolodex of what could potentially be wrong and how I could fix it.

I hoped for the best thinking "maybe it's just a bad bulb." We towed the rig to the Walmart in town in hopes we could just replace it and be on our way.  We were a half hour early for them to open, so we sat silently in the parking lot waiting.  Looking back now, I could have saved myself time and energy just swapping the left bulb with the right one.  At the time however, my mind was racing with the possibility of electrical issues while fighting my Type A mentality of "complete the mission" and our now delayed vacation... or worse.

So, of course, Walmart opens, I grab a new bulb, run out to the parking lot, and PRESTO!  Wait, no... it still doesn't work.

Knowing several people that would "just go anyway," I just didn't feel comfortable towing across New York state without a turn signal or brake light and Lauren agreed so we towed it the 5 minutes home and parked in front of the house.  Lauren took the dogs in to go lay down (she still wasn't feeling well) and I took apart the brake lights to see if my basic electrical knowledge could help anything.
Working on the trailer.  Several lights were removed while I tried to figure out how the wiring worked.

After cleaning the plug from the truck and trailer cable, re-cleaning, and cleaning it again , taking apart both of the rear brake lights and the top running lights trying to trace the wires, testing and re-splicing wires, and a host of other things I had discovered the following:
  1. The right brake/turn light would work if the truck's headlights and trailer's running lights were off, albeit much dimmer than the left.  
  2. The wires for each light disappeared into the back wall of the trailer and none of them seemed connected in an area I could fix myself. 
  3. If you held the running light wire (the brown/green wire) to the frame of the trailer the lights would work fine, although the wires would spark continuously while being held against the trailer.
  4. Using a voltmeter, the light was only receiving 2-3 volts with the headlights/running lights on (no light), and 8-10 volts (dim light) with the headlights off.
  5. Using said voltmeter, the 7 pin truck plug was providing the correct 12 volts on each pin. 
  6. Every trailer repair shop on Long Island is closed on Sundays.  Really?!
Clearly we had a ground issue based on the fact if you touched the wires to the frame the lights would work.  
You can see the tail lights dangling by the wires while I took a break.

I also found that the internet and YouTube, although normally EXTREMELY helpful, provided ZERO help for our particular situation.  Maybe someone with this issue will find this blog and therefor be helped through it.  I always say I'm thankful to the people that usually post issues like this on the internet, so here I am giving back.

Everything I read said "check the ground" but never really explained how the light was grounded.  None of the lights had ground lines connected to the frame.  The ground on the truck plug worked when I checked.  I had vague recollection of reading that the ball hitch receiver was a source of ground and thought  I may have greased the ball too much when I hitched up so I cleaned that off and roughed it up a bit with sandpaper but that didn't work either.

By now it was 4pm.  By the way, those cool end-of-September temperatures turned out to be 94 degrees.  I was on my 3rd sweat soaked t-shirt by the time I had to admit we weren't going anywhere so I gave up for the day.  

I closed up the lights, resealed them with Dicor Sealant since it was expected to rain over night (lesson learned, don't use self leveling sealant on vertical surfaces in 94 degree heat... WHAT A MESS!) and headed inside.

The next morning I got up early and fiddled with the lights some more.  I was desperate enough to make a run to Walmart and buy a LED light (since it uses less power than a regular incandescent bulb) but that didn't work either.  It was worth a shot and we returned the light at Walmart for a refund.  

I pride myself on taking care of my things and being able to fix stuff but at 9am when the trailer repair facility opened, we called and asked for help.  They told us to bring it in but warned us that it could take up to 2 weeks with the end-of-season rush for people to fix or winterize their trailer.  

2 weeks?!  Our trip was off.  

Since it was daylight I kept the truck headlights off so, that while dim, at least the turn signal and brake light would at least work and be visible to other motorists.  We towed her 30 minutes east on the Long Island Expressway and dropped her off.  They had a special tester and verified it wasn't my truck before we left.  It wasn't a total loss, we checked out the Class C's on the lot before leaving.  That Jayco Melbourne looks right up our alley... anyone have $75k they want to loan us!?  :-)

We headed home and went back to bed.  I was mentally exhausted from the stress and disappointment (and from working in the heat on the trailer all day) and Lauren was feeling worse and I began to think perhaps it wasn't a bad thing we weren't going on our trip.  I felt terrible we couldn't go but was glad Lauren could get some rest.  I was upset that I wouldn't get to see my Grandfather either, especially since it had been nearly 2 years since I last saw him and at 98... well, let's not think of that.

Laying in bed with Lauren rested, I was watching a Monk marathon on The Hallmark Channel.  Sometimes I have to wonder just how old are we?!  I'm 33, Lauren's 32.  Anyway, I thought to myself... "You're an airline pilot and we get to fly for free as long as there are seats available on the flight."  Just fly up and see Gramps! 

So I decided that on Wednesday I would fly up in the morning, spend the day, and fly home that night.  I could easily stay longer but at his age he gets tired very easily especially with visitors and my Dad said that just a few hours was more than enough.  

Tuesday was spent lounging around the house but Lauren was feeling better so she decided she'd like to see Grandpa too.  Wednesday morning came and we dropped the dogs off at her parents house on the way to the airport.  The flight had some spare seats and we were in Syracuse by 11AM.  

I kid you not, the plane was just pushing back from the gate when I felt my phone buzz from a call.  It was the trailer facility!!  When we landed I checked my voicemail and they said it was all fixed!  So much for 2 weeks!  It was not even 2 days!  I called and asked what was wrong with it and the kid that answered the phone didn't know but read to me what the tech had written on our work slip.  It said that they removed the light, repaired the ground, and reinstalled the light.  I asked what the ground was that he repaired but the kid said he just answered the phone and didn't know and speak with the tech when I picked it up.  Oh well, I'd ask when we got there.

Gramps looked great.  He's still mobile and fully with it.  He gets tired easily and some of his memory is fuzzy but I pray that I am as good as he is at 98 when I'm half that age.  

Our flight home was at 6pm so we had plenty of time to visit. In the afternoon during his nap I checked on our flight and found that the flight was full and there wouldn't be any available seats for us to get home.  Almost at the same time Lauren and I had the same thought.  She said "you know, we have the rental car and we're right here.  Let's just drive to Buffalo tonight, see Niagara Falls in the morning and then fly home tomorrow!"

Only one problem.. we had NO clothes and NO toiletries.  This was supposed to be a day trip!  But, we'll figure it out, right? 

We drove the 3 hours to Buffalo and booked a hotel on Priceline while we were on the way.  Before setting up for the night at the hotel we stopped in at Duff's Famous Buffalo Wings so Lauren could get a taste for herself.  Delicious!  We google mapped a Walmart (which happened to be less than 2 miles away) and picked up some toiletries and some fresh underwear for the the next day!  

We got up early and headed to Niagara Falls.  It was absolutely gorgeous... but cold!  It went from 90 to 60 degrees overnight!!  We had to wait for the gift shop to open just to purchase sweatshirts since we were unprepared to even be there, let alone for such a temperature change.  We arrived around 8am and the attractions didn't open until 9 so we had the place practically to ourselves.  We were able to take a bunch of photos in front of the Falls together that would guarantee that we'll have at least one good one to use as our Christmas card this year.

From the famous "Maid of the Mist"

The Cave of the Wind with the "Hurricane Deck" was our favorite.  It's amazing that they build and tear down that deck every year to avoid damage over the winter when the Falls freeze.  The Hurricane Deck is the top level where you can get hit with Hurricane force winds and water from the falls.  I loved it even though it was so cold.  Lauren was brave enough to try it too!

 Jeff getting soaked on the "Hurricane Deck"

Lauren was brave enough to try, too!

The Maid of the Mist was fun, and we're glad we did it since it's so iconic, but we don't think it would be worth it to go again.  Since we hadn't planned on even being there, we unfortunately didn't have our passports with us and couldn't cross the rainbow bridge over to Canada to see it from the Canadian side.  Lesson learned, always bring your passport!  

We planned to drive back to Rochester for the 7pm flight home to New York.  It sounds crazy even though we were right there in Buffalo but the flights were full in Buffalo and Rochester had more empty seats than full... so Rochester it was!  

It was only 11am at that time and we had an afternoon to why not drive down and see the Lucy/Desi museum like we had originally planned?  A quick 2 hours later, we arrived in Jamestown, NY (birthplace to Lucille Ball) and got to see props and other memorabilia from "I Love Lucy" along with some recreated sets of their famous New York City apartment at 623 E 68th Street (a fictitious address... it would be in the middle of the East River if it existed!) and the set for Room 315 at the Beverly Palms Hotel in Hollywood, California from the 4th season when the show moved to Hollywood for Ricky's movie. 

Fans of "I Love Lucy" will recognize these sets from the show.   A mix of original and re-created artifacts, it was funny to see them in living color!

The other section of the Museum was dedicated to the real lives of the people Lucille and Desi and we learned many interesting things, some new to even big fans like ourselves.  There were very few people at the museum (ok, it was a Thursday at noon) and we were certainly the youngest people there but we were greeted warmly by the staff and found the information to be nicely presented and the grounds clean and well cared for.  

After truly enjoying ourselves, we headed an hour and a half back to Buffalo and ate an early dinner at Duffs again (I guess Lauren enjoyed it just as much as I do!) and then drove the rest of the way to Rochester.  We returned the rental car, flew home, got our puppies from "Grandma and Grandpa's" and were in our own beds by 9:30pm.  Phew!  What a trip!  

PHEW!  You made it this far!  Thanks for reading, I know this was a long one.  I'll keep the conclusion short, I promise!

We made an appointment to pick up the trailer on Saturday morning, and with the day in between I was able to do something I had been wanting to do for a long time:  Lay down crushed stone in the yard for the trailer to rest on. 

We had brick paver stones for under the tires but it was difficult to keep the grass short underneath the trailer and the grass was unattractive, spotty, full of weeds, and would often get muddy.  We had the stones delivered and a few hours later we were happy with our work.

 Piper and Rocky approve of our work.

Saturday morning we went and picked up the trailer.  I got to speak to the tech VERY briefly about what was wrong with it.  He said the 4 screws that held the backing frame of the light to the trailer were what grounded it.  After I was home I questioned that since the light frame was plastic and the electrical wiring just ran through a hole in the plastic to a clip that held the light in place and wasn't connected to those screws or the frame in any way.  I couldn't see how screws that held the plastic to the frame grounded anything, but, that's what the technician who worked on the trailer told me and all I have to go off of. 

He was in a hurry and wanted to make sure he also admonished me for my "liberal use" of the sealant and told me to not use that again on the frame saying it was a mess (it was) and that it made his job harder (it might have).  It was slightly embarrassing to be called out like that but I had already learned my lesson the other day on my own when it made such a mess.  Oh well.  

An hour later the trailer was home and it all worked.  Everything was covered under warranty so all it cost us was $6.00 for an updated New York Inspection.

What a week!  While it wasn't in our trailer like we originally planned, we were happy to have at least been able to make something of our week off.  We got to see everything we originally planned to see, along with my Grandfather, and the trailer was fixed.

Back in the yard, all fixed.

Until next spring... we have plans that might take the trailer south!

Get ready Uncle Mickey and Aunt Minnie, here we come!

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