Guest Post: The Inventor of Backed By Camera Tells His Tale

Posted by in Driving an RV, Equipping an RV, RV Breakdowns, RV Repair, RV Travel Adventures

[Hey Dear Readers, I am now an affiliate of this little company selling Backed By Camera, which means if you buy a product from our guest poster, Frank R. Pollard, Jr.,  by way of a link from my site to his company’s sales page, I will get a commission. However, I have never used his product, so I can’t yet vouch for it. I’m just trying to support a fellow flawed person in his effort to save us all a lot of trouble! – Jennifer]

Here’s Frank telling his own story on his own self:

We’ve all had back-up bloopers in our RV’s. Mine was so bad, I invented a new, versatile Backed By Camera solution (or I would never have lived it down)! Here’s my story AND the solution!

I had just had the rubberized roofing replaced (the glue wasn’t even dry yet) on our super-tall trailer, a Thor Toy Hauler. I had foolishly imparted a 6-foot-long gash by catching it on the gutter while parking alongside my garage.  My wife and I decided to make the best of it and transformed the trip to pick it up from the dealership into a relaxing weekend getaway.

She found a secluded private campground in central Arizona that looked ideal. The weather forecast called for clear skies and temps in the 70s. At the time it sounded like the perfect reprieve from a particularly brutal early winter we were having in Flagstaff.

After waiting for the dealership to put the finishing touches on the new roof, we hooked up and headed a little further south to a lower elevation and better weather. Upon arrival we found the perfect site, a beautiful spot tucked away by itself right next to Beaver Creek and on the edge of a VERY steep embankment accentuating the view.

I was backing towards the location when I called out to my wife who, at 5′ 1″ is far too tiny to accurately assess the truck’s clearance overhead, let alone that of this trailer. She was looking bored and inattentive. “Are we going to make it?” I asked, pointing to a thick overhanging branch recently struck by lightning. With barely a glance skyward let alone at the branch she shouted back, “Yes easily, now hurry up and stop worrying!”

Through hard won and costly experience, I have come to realize it is a telltale sign of trouble when the trailer you are backing brings your progress to a grinding halt before you apply the brakes.…

CRUNCH!…

“Crap!”

In hindsight, I should have noticed that everyone else who had arrived at the campground before us had jammed 2 RVs per spot into an open field, leaving a dozen or so vacant sites surrounding the limb in question.

I got out of my truck to inspect the damage, fighting to keep our two giant dogs, who had been cooped up over 3 hours, from exploding out of the truck. They looked utterly desperate, probably from the desire to smell all of the wondrous new aromas … and to immediately smother some with pee.

Now, as I mentioned, our RV was exceptionally tall for its size with a raised portion of the roof at the back sloping down 2-3 feet towards the front and the hitch. We were definitely hung up under the limb; the combination of forces from a 10,000 lb. trailer being backed by a 8,000 lb. truck had pushed the limb up and onto the roof of our RV, taking out the lone skylight on the elevated section and the rearward portions of the brand new roof with it.

I should pause here to mention: Throughout my entire life, I have never ever been capable of leaving well enough alone.

It’s an illness. In my mind nothing is good enough if it can be modified and made better or faster or anything else with an “er” at the end.

For example, just after purchasing my 2006 Dodge Ram Laramie Quad-Cab, the last year of the more powerful 5.9L Cummins Diesel (in truth, they made Rams with the 5.9L Cummins through early 2007 and I could have waited, but don’t tell my wife that), I decided to tweak the internals of the engine, spending a small fortune on top of an already expensive truck. Untold hours of labor later, it was pushing over 700BHP and 1300+ ft/lbs of torque. Suffice it to say there was plenty of power to pull our trailer around and actually getting “stuck” was highly unlikely.

While examining the predicament we were in, I noticed that (maybe) the branch was starting to lift away from the downward sloping portion of the roof and I thought to myself, ”The truck has enough power to push past this” (definitely)! Not giving it a second consideration, I exclaimed, “Well, the damage is done and it’s just going to do more if I pull forward … I’m going to back into that spot so we can start having fun!”

My wife stood where she had been, finally staring intently at the branch she pretended not to see moments earlier and, looking quite shocked, not bored, she asked, “Do you think it’s going to come down and destroy the trailer … ?” trailing off like there was another thought behind it, such as, how were we ever going to get home if the branch spared the trailer but crushed the truck with the dogs and me inside, a thought that had just occurred to me.

I ignored this somewhat rhetorical question, shifted the transfer case to 4 Wheel-Low and applied a heavy foot to the pedal on the right, bringing the diesel roaring back from its idle slumber, sending truck and trailer lurching rearwards in a cloud of black smoke.

Now, I know what you are thinking, “What about the VERY steep embankment? Did the RV wind up in Beaver Creek?” No it did not! Your next thought being, “How did you ever manage to get out of the campground and home?” That’s inconsequential now, another story for another day!

When the smoke cleared, the branch was still attached to the tree with bits of white rubber RV roofing clinging to it, our RV was nestled into the camping spot, allowing me to lower the rear door onto jack stands creating the perfect vantage point for looking over the creek and wildlife, once it returned. Rest assured, the dogs set forth from the truck as soon as I opened the door, climbing over me to saturate everything that smelled like it might need it.

We had a wonderful rest of the weekend with our friends, a South African couple and their two daughters who had come north from Phoenix to see us (and/or) get out of the heat. Everything went perfectly, aside from the rain that necessitated a trip onto the very slippery roof of the RV at 2 AM with a plastic garbage bag and roll of Gorilla tape in hand (remember the skylight?)

I clearly remember to this day, sitting on the edge of a picnic table and explaining to my friend (as he shook his head in disbelief) that I was going to develop a “System,” enabling everyone to see where they were in relationship to the world BEHIND them so even a novice could back a trailer in tight quarters by themselves, without having to “rely” on some bored spotter. At that moment, Backed By Camera was conceived, a device that can be moved easily from one vehicle to another to afford a full view wherever and whenever your need it.

We’re all happy to report that Backed By Camera is now on its way!  Check it out here! No more back-up blunders! And no more arguments with your co-pilot when you’re tired or it’s dark or they’re short or whatever!

I will part ways with you now. I won’t say, “The End” or even, “They Lived Happily Ever After,” because that back-up goof was not the end of our misadventures … that are now the fodder for my future inventions!

Wait! I’ve got it, “Happy Trails My Friends”, perfect…

– Frank R. Pollard, Jr.

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When Backing Up is Hard to Do

Posted by in Uncategorized

OK, so, guilty!

It’s been awhile since I posted. I haven’t been on the road much! I’ve been too busy with Everything and finishing my sequel to How NOT to RV! Watch this space.

But I just ran into a funny video which happens to be promoting a product that could really be helpful to you-guys and to me, especially since the not-so-nice guy who fixed my motyho suspension broke my back-up camera.

It’s a wireless back-up camera that you can move around from your Toad to your trailer, to your motor home, wherever you need it. Pretty clever! I’m not an affiliate (yet?), so I”m not getting paid for commissions if they sell this thing, so I have no skin in the game.  Watch the video. True DIY, with a dash of How-NOT-To thrown in. And if you believe in the project, go to Kickstarter before August 27th and support them!

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When You Just Have to Go Visit Your Rig

Posted by in RV Travel Adventures, Why go RVing?, Why RV?

Ok, so not all of us can be on the road all we want.  Some of us have “things” to do which manage to take precedence over the “things” you would rather be doing and in my case, what I would rather be doing is climbing up into my old rig, dragging open the windows, lying down on the faded sofa and slinging my leg up on the back of the couch to get that cool breeze on my leg and time to think. I just want to smell the old smells, and dream about where I would be traveling, say, now.

So that’s what I did.

I just drove right out there 5 hours in the Nevada July heat to check on the Ole Gal to see if she was new host to critters attracted by the shelter or perhaps a mold now growing under an as-yet-undiscovered leak.

And besides, I thought we were going to Burning Man this year. So I had to make sure she’d be ready.

So I got up at 3:30 in the morning and drove into the sunrise, one of my favorite ways to drive, listening to a John Le Carre novel.  John Le Carre is the only writer who has gotten me to drive right past my destination after a 14-hour trip, just because I wanted to hear how the story ended.

After doing the requisite stuff in the motyho, checking on things – no leaks! no mold! no critters! – and running the engine, testing the a/c, and all that practical crap, I did finally take my leisure on that sofa that had hosted so many dreams on the trip in 2003 to what turned out to be my new life.

It was 99 degrees.

Time to drive back.

Ten hours in the car that day.  It was worth it.

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How NOT to Encounter a Car in a Truck Stop Parking Lot

Posted by in Driving an RV, RV Repair

It’s late, you’ve been driving all day, you’ve had to make numerous stops to fix various things, but you’re determined to make it home tonight because you’ve had enough of these shenanigans already.

So you roll into a truck stop at 9 pm to put on a sweater, and you throw it into Park and you jump up …

only to discover that you’ve rolled into the unoccupied car behind you.

Because you had only incompletely put the coach in Park.

Need I suggest that the only place to report this is Airforums? The Airstream wizards dwell there.  Along with the rest of us characters. I hope they can help me!

Here are pics of the Apple of My Eye after I’d done that, all by myself.

From rear: dent in right rear aluminum quarter panel:

Same, from side:

It gets much worse. Fiberglass panel, dangling by the taillight before we liberated it:

Bumper and area where fiberglass panel used to be. Notice the shards of plastic still attached to the bumper.

Area where fiberglass panel used to attach to aluminum sections:

Close-up of bumper, where I’m resting my hand, taillight, fiberglass shards:

Side view of same:

Top view of same:

Back view of same. Notice how bent the bumper is:

 

 

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Dawn Procession

Posted by in Driving an RV, RV Travel Adventures, Why go RVing?

Some of the most glorious mornings on my trip were on the road at sunrise, ascending the High Plains toward the Rockies under a cloudless sky. But what made these mornings more glorious were the truckers.

Only truckers may appreciate this, but for some reason, at 5 a.m., a gleaming silver tanker with amber running lights stands out for what it is: a vision of strength and persistence, sexy and elegant. And for some, possibly similar reason, the rigs out at that time of the morning are some of the cleanest, best-kept rigs you will see on the road. Maybe it’s because they’re the only ones out at that hour so you get a better look at them, but I suspect that it’s a self-selected group, long-haulers who have some experience and pride in what they do, who rise early because they’re ready, and who prefer by now to avoid wallowing in the heat and traffic of the day.

It was an honor to join this majestic caravan of loners burning thousands of gallons of diesel fuel in the ill-conceived but still laudable task of spanning this huge, mostly uninhabited country. But it was an even greater honor when, repeatedly, the drivers of 50-foot Peterbilts immaculate in their glazes of burgundy or hunter green, chrome shined to blinding, would flash their running lights and cock their driver’s side hand low in their windscreen or out the side window to greet me.

But I guess it’s not often you see a rig like mine, either.

There are many of us on the road; most of us are windshields to one another. When I was first learning to drive as a kid it took me a while to grasp that I should be communicating with the person behind the wheel in that other car rather than attempting to predict the actions of a large, cold, metal box.

I’ve found that the easiest way to talk to other drivers is with my arm out the window. In some parts of the world, usually the warmer ones, this technique is de rigueur. Of course, we can’t always expose ourselves that way, but the nuances of expression will make up for a watch that doesn’t run.

Some truckers are so accustomed to greeting one another that they’ve shortened the wave to a barely perceptible wrist rotation in the low, street-side corner of their windshield. Others nod. Some, if they are feeling expansive or grateful will flash their ICCs, the amber running lights. These are often reserved for Thank You signals to another trucker who, say, has let his colleague cut him off in the slow lane rather than forcing him to lose too much momentum in the fast lane on a steep grade.

But it’s also a signal for you in the half-light when they like your rig.

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How NOT to Leave When You Meant to

Posted by in Driving an RV

Go ahead. Just try to tie up all the loose ends before leaving. First the small things, then the larger things, then the small things, then the larger things … The summer is getting hotter, and the trip is starting to feel like an anticlimax. Realize that you have achieved what you set out to, that you’ve bought an unpredictable machine and that it’s going to be unpredictable, even when you don’t feel like it. Congratulate yourself on your courage and inventiveness.

Finally, the day arrives again. You’ve made all the repairs you’re going to make. You check the oil, the tire pressure, make sure the storage bays are locked. Fasten the awnings at the top and bottom, shut the rear windows, close the ceiling fan lids, stow everything that moves, the toaster, the tea kettle, the dishwashing soap, the cooking utensils, the water jug, the plants, the telephone, the fax machine, the stack of books, the maps, all the slippery objects that will slip no matter where you put them. Put the spillables on the shower floor.

If you’re a psychoanalyst, take little plastic Freud off his pedestal. Put him in the side window so he can wave to passing cars. Seat the beanie baby (a going-away gift) on the rear-view mirror to remind you that behind you are people who love you.

Then spend ten minutes hitching the Mini because you have to keep getting out of the car to see how close you’ve gotten to the motor home. Make sure not to have a friend or neighbor on hand to help you because they would have saved a lot of time. Get grease all over you because you’ve forgotten to keep your gloves on. Forget how to connect the auxiliary braking system. Do it right anyway: connect the wires under the Toad hood for the turn signals, hook the auxiliary brake pedal onto the car’s brake pedal, drain the air bladder, calibrate the breaking sensitivity, plug the runaway alert monitor into the cigarette lighter.

Picture what you would do if, in fact, the Mini did break loose from the rig and returned to New York due to homesickness.

Back in the coach, adjust the rear view mirrors the way they taught you, so that an object moves uninterruptedly from the rear-view to the flat, curbside mirror to the convex side-mirror, to the back-up camera to the driver’s side-mirror. Oh, stop grousing about having to get up from the driver’s seat every time you need to make an adjustment.

For the seventeenth time, climb back in the motor home and close the door, listening for the stairs to retract automatically. Bolt the door and get into the driver’s seat. Put on your pointless seat belt. Look through the side mirror; look through the other side mirror. Then look at the backup camera and see your pert, snub-nosed Mini nuzzling the coach and waiting patiently to be led. Start the engine. Burst out laughing. Turn on the radio; Nothing In Particular comes on and it’s music to your ears.

Let the engine warm up while you zone out for a minute. The lake is rippling peacefully, the geese are waiting for their next opportunity to poop on your late parents’ lawn. Put her in gear and give the Mini a little tug to make sure the hitch engages properly. She clicks. Then give her some gas and feel the rig straighten and tense. Look at the Mini in the rearview mirror and say, “OK Mini, let’s go!” Give her a lot more gas, listen to the engine strain and set the whole 50-foot assembly into motion.

Burst into tears.

Drive about 40 feet. Then realize there really is no way you’re going to get 50 feet of machinery through the narrow gate from this angle. This means you have to get out of the rig and disconnect the car because you can’t back up while towing without damaging the coach transmission. Attempt to disconnect the Mini without tools, split open your thumb, and then assemble every possible tool you could need. Accumulate much more grease all over yourself. Wave wordlessly to joggers who pass by with astonished and inquiring looks.

When the rig is uncoupled, spend about ten minutes tearing up sod and twisting holes in the melting asphalt as you squeak the coach onto the two-lane road. Wonder whether the scars in the blacktop will still be there when you return and whether the town will fine the family.

Wonder when you will return.

After much maneuvering you get the coach onto the road. This is truly a good omen. Spend 10 more minutes rehitching the Mini.

Try to remember whether the coach water pump should be on or off. Realize that you hadn’t closed the main propane valve! Thank God you had to stop to get the whole rig out of the driveway … or else you might have had a little ‘splosion!

OK. Finally, it’s time for the real thing. You have a rough idea where you’re going tonight but by this point in the day you no longer have as much time to get there. Decide that this is not a problem and pull out into traffic. Notice that there isn’t any traffic, you just like the sound of the phrase.

Roll past neighbors and familiar views, down the rural road, and through the little town in Connecticut. Then give her some serious gas.

 

*     *     *     *     *     What a f***ing blast!   *    *    *    *    *

 

Everything looks different from up here, it’s like riding on top of a float at the Thanksgiving Day parade. The Airstream drives like a couch on a magic carpet; it’s comfortable but unexpectedly responsive and aerodynamic even fully loaded. You can’t believe they ever stopped making this one. The Mini is obediently, devotedly following close behind like a blue baby elephant, the radio crackles and a good signal finally comes in, the silverware drawer that doesn’t lock is rolling open and closed with the turns and its contents jingle pleasantly.

We’re making for western Pennsylvania, the day is clear and warm and the engine hums with little strain. Gradually the ride firms as the air suspension recharges. This is your new home.

You’re a turtle with a spectacular shell towing a hare.

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How NOT to Go to Burning Man

Posted by in RV Camping, RV Travel Adventures, RV Trip Planning

First, instead of in a coach full of partiers, find yourself heading to the desert with your sister – to whom you have always been the soul of propriety – and just one other traveler whom you don’t know well and who is also a psychotherapist.

It’s fine if you want to carry with you everything you can possibly need for a week – you have to – but remember to bring along an incompletely conceived art-project doomed to failure. Make only a nod to the theme of that year’s event – Theater of the Body – and load up the vehicle with boxes and boxes of surgical gloves and a single tank of helium for your installation, Hands Across the Desert. Or was it Lending a Hand? Or was it Let’s Shake Hands? For some reason I can’t get it straight.

Equip yourself with miles of silver ribbon that you have not tested as a closure for the gloves. Assure yourself that there will be no problem inflating thousands of gloves from the helium tank through the glove-sleeves and that there will be even less problem tying off the sleeves with slippery pieces of metallic ribbon. The idea is that you will string these floating hands that you will have sprayed with reflecting paint from your vehicle to all the neighboring vehicles. Forget to bring the reflecting paint.

Then get in the clean, well cared-for motor home that you have invested way too much after-market money in and drive her directly into the heat of the desert without having waxed her against sun and sand. Watch the temperature gauge climb and pray that you don’t get vapor lock miles from the nearest phone or road. Smile wanly to your passengers and fuss unnecessarily about small things like whether someone’s useless cellphone is plugged into the right electrical socket.

As you get closer to the site, notice that every one of the other vehicles is older, dirtier, or more covered with artwork than yours. Compare your 35-foot coach carrying three people to the 14-foot vehicles carrying 5, bulging with makeshift bags and tents. Feel like a spoiled idiot. Smile somewhat more genuinely as you approach the gate and see that you are not being greeted with derision.

When the bearded, skirted man working security asks whether he can climb on the roof to check for stowaways, consider your options: If you say no, you will forever humiliate your passengers and will be turned away at the door. If you say yes, a dent may be formed in the delicate skin of your motor home. Opt for the second alternative … and the resulting dent.

Then join the exuberant cheering and chanting at the entrance with the forced hilarity of the Republican Whip at a Log Cabin (Gay) Republican fundraiser. Drive through columns of attendees greeting participants from previous Burnings Man and soaking up all the available camping space. Then insinuate yourselves into a spot and notice your free-love neighbors eye you with suspicion and disappointment.

Watch your sister and her friend change into their Burning Man clothes. Realize that you haven’t owned anything like Burning Man clothes in your entire life, let alone know how to compose a fetching ensemble. Tell them you don’t really feel like going for a walk and take a nap instead.

By nightfall, your sister has returned with Reports From Afar and you are getting your second wind. As the sun sets marking the commencement of the evening’s extravagant goings-on, hum weakly as the camp ululates to greet the night. Ransack your closet for something to pass as Burning Man Clothes and remember with relief that you, too, have brought some blinking, luminous gadgets.

One of the marvels of Burning Man is the transformation of the night. It is truly magical. From all over the round camp emerge dancing figures etched and sculpted in light-wires, colored lights that can be bent and shaped to any desired form. With her foresight (and past experience) your sister has brought some blinking witches hats and glow-tubes that can be worn around the neck and arms. Layer them on, hoping no one notices your conventional attire.

Follow the crowds to the true center of camp, a huge, circular area reserved for art installations. There are 30-foot castles made of sculpted, folded paper; rounded futuristic plastic chambers of light and sound; a 20-foot luminescent skull on wheels; and dozens of visual jokes motorized and not. The desert literally pulses with sound; you can feel it in your tissues, as though a shared heart were bursting through your skin.

For a couple of hours you wander around and grab a ride on the occasional dragon only to stall for long periods of time while mechanics work on the machinery. When you tire of this, it’s off to bed.

The next day or two pass similarly, with much lounging done around the motor home during the day. (Remember I said RVers like to stay close to the mother ship?) The sun is hot and most people sleep in after the night’s revelries. Get up early because you keep forgetting to attend the night’s revelries and entertain yourself by reading the New Yorker under the striped awnings and by trying to inflate the surgical gloves, to no avail. You have achieved only long strands of flaccid hands, dangling obscenely among local tent posts. It has become obvious quickly that you have bombed on the art part, all that’s left is to try to mingle adequately with the crowds.

But there is another development. It’s the dust. The motor home looks powdered, then generally lighter in color, then drifted, as the dust from the desert accumulates in every possible crevice. Your hair, unteased, takes on a consistency usually accomplished once a year at Halloween and only with hours of hairspray. Things taste gritty. Even the liberal use of water – a hoarded resource – only creates a paste.

You can’t be sure exactly how all the days pass. Your photographs will be strangely timeless; only one thing, your hair, an expanding fright wig, marks the passage. Finally, on Saturday prepare to go. Wave goodbye to your neighbors, still as puzzled about you as when you arrived, and head back to civilization.

The most comfortable campground you can find nearby will be in Truckee, California. Boy, is it nice by comparison. It is entirely forested by evergreen trees that create a high canopy dwarfing the homes-on-wheels below. A couple of days will not be enough to clean the coach, it will take a full week to get the dust out. As you wax her, silently, repeatedly, apologize, “Never again.” Promise. Don’t go to Burning Man in a vehicle you care anything about. But give something like Burning Man a try. If Burning Man doesn’t suit you, other experiments will.

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