At 1:28am while parked in an isolated national park campground, the 12-volt smoke alarm sounded. Seven-plus hours later, I accidentally discovered and in two seconds solved the problem.
Starting this tale of desperation with the symptoms, we were hooked up to 30-amp shore power. Our battery output reading had been indicating about 13.7 for our entire seven weeks on the road, but two weeks earlier I changed on-board inverters hooking up the new inverter to the slave battery.
When the buzzer screamed at us that night, the read-out had slipped to 9.4 and disappeared entirely, and the battery charge panel indicator that came with our RV was showing black – below green for the first time, below yellow, below red. Our good batteries were dead.
With a flashlight, I checked the batteries immediately, and although I saw nothing wrong, I disconnected the inverter cables. I knew that couldn’t have been the problem because I hadn’t turned on the inverter since I tested it when it was installed.
It was a very long night, with visions of not being able to manually bring in the slide. I had never faced this problem, but I remembered the instructions received when we bought the rig eight years earlier. “Cut a square in the bottom plastic material to insert the crank under the slide.”
On the other hand, I was confident that wouldn’t be needed since we had 30-amp power flowing in. But then, nothing made much sense at this point.
As the sun rose at about 6am, I was up trying the toggle to bring in the slide. A click, but nothing else.
I checked the batteries again now that I had sunlight. They looked good and were filled to the recommended level with distilled water.
Next, with box cutter in hand, I cut a square under the slide to reveal … nothing. There was no place to put the crank. Somewhere around this time, a very helpful neighbor who knew nothing more than I did came by to render aid, which caused more problems, when he aggravated my wife with his inane suggestions.
Our location was 47 miles from the nearest hamlet. We had no cell phone reception and no Internet. Summing up the next couple of hours quickly, I’ll explain that I used the national park’s phone to try to call the manufacturer, but since our Bigfoot is Canadian-made, the support line was blocked. I sent an email that did go through, but I didn’t want to wait around for an answer.
The park’s maintenance team came by to see what they could do, but they couldn’t come up with any ideas that I hadn’t tried. They wished us luck.
By 9am, the sun was beating down with the temperature in the mid-90s and climbing, which didn’t make the situation any more tolerable.
What were the choices at this point? Wait for a reply from the factory, which might not happen for a day or two. Camp until the batteries recharged, which hadn’t happened in over nine hours. Call RV road service to get someone to fetch us, which meant loading the trailer on a flatbed with the slide out and taking it to a repair place, which could have been hundreds of miles away. Or plans 4 and 5: pray and cry.
On the verge of calling for the road service truck as perspiration rolled down my chest and back in triple-digit temperatures, I decided to retrace my steps by not only checking the batteries, but by disconnecting and removing them – no easy task since Bigfoot sets them behind the propane tanks – and hooking them up again. (Neurotic is doing the same things over again expecting different results. This was a step beyond that.)
I flung open the right-side panel hiding the tanks and batteries. I started to turn the big wingnut that keeps the tanks in place. I looked over to the opposite side of the compartment, where I saw something out of place. A quarter-inch of the plastic breakaway switch pin was showing.
I didn’t remember ever seeing it look like that in the many years we traveled in that trailer, forgetting that it had pulled out years earlier when the cable was snared by the tongue jack stopping the trailer wheels from rotating.
I touched the pin. It snapped into its round housing. Lights went on. A hum came from the refrigerator. The slide purred. We hooked up and got the heck out of there in 10 minutes, stopping only to report to the park staff and thank them for their support.
For those of you who don’t remember from your 30-minute “Everything You Need to Know About Your New Travel Trailer” instruction tour, the breakaway switch, also known as the quick disconnect, is a pin that, if the trailer separates from the tow vehicle, it jumps out of its housing, immediately applying the brakes and turning off all 12-volt power. Handy to have, but not something you think about every time you hit the road.
A simple click. A sigh of relief bigger than me. And we were on our way.
As a follow-up, I did receive a return email from Bigfoot a few minutes after sending my plea, ready to help and explaining where the manual crank should be inserted – nowhere near where the dealership’s technician had told me.
From the Never-Bored RVers. See you on down the road.
About the Author: Barry Zander spent a decade as a newspaper reporter and editor, was president of an advertising/PR agency, and was in marketing before retiring in 2006. That was when Monique suggested selling their home and buying an RV to travel North America. After five years full-timing, they bought a cabin in the mountains of Southern California, the base for continuing travels. You can read more of Barry’s adventures on his blog, On Top of the World.