Monday, January 30, 2012

The (Long) Road to a Lazy Daze – Part 2

By Joan Taylor

Models and Floor Plans and Options, Oh My!

The “squeezeability” of my 22’ mini “C” – into campsites and parking spots and through city streets and down some “cowpath” country roads – was a much-appreciated feature; I wanted to keep as much of the small C’s maneuverability as possible while increasing the interior space and cargo-carrying capacity. While there would be some compromise in “across her beam” width – the LD is 99” -- the 23.5’ offered adequate living area, and, on the E450 chassis, now was out of the “weight-challenged” category – the roughly-2500-pound CCC (with one or two passengers) meant no more doing the “trade the awning for the dog” routine! Now I just had to decide on the floor plan and options – and schedule a trip to the LD factory to place the order!

It’s important to note here that Lazy Daze offers a “factory direct” product, not a “custom” motorhome; past their list of factory-installed options, LD is not a “have it your way” manufacturer. They offer specific floor plans/configurations for each model, and the customer can choose to add extra-cost options from LD’s list, e.g., solar panels(s), back-up camera, satellite antenna, Bilstein shocks, an outside shower, and several other add-ons. (As Lazy Daze states on its web site, many of the features that may be offered as options on other manufacturers’ products are “included in the price” standard equipment on most of the LD models.) There is a choice of exterior/interior color schemes. LD is usually agreeable to making small changes, e.g., omitting the interior wall clock, putting in an under-sink “T” fitting to accommodate an aftermarket customer-installed water filtration system, etc., at a customer’s request, but they don’t make design/structural/equipment changes, and they don’t negotiate prices.

As mentioned in Part 1, prospective owners (and those who already own an LD, new or older) of LDs have two primary sources of (online) information – the Lazy Daze company website,  and the (Yahoo groups) message board,  The company’s site provides all the basic product information – a little “press”, descriptions/layouts of models, floor plans, options, prices, specifications, and contact information. The message board fills in any informational “holes”; with its many knowledgeable and experienced posters and friendly, civil and helpful atmosphere, it’s a must-visit-and-ask-questions resource for Lazy Daze owners or “wannabes”. (There are currently over 1300 board members, but of course, there are far fewer “regular” posters.) I visited the board frequently – and still do! -- during the planning/selection/ordering process and the subsequent long wait, eagerly and shamelessly picking the brains of several of the “LD experts” on everything from floor “mats” to GPS! Their advice and suggestions were very valuable, and helped me to make the best choices for my RV “style”.

I knew that I had to see the real thing to decide on the floor plan; sometimes photos DO lie – or at least, they skew reality -- and getting the right layout demands some “pretend living in it” time! The choice was between the Rear Lounge and the Twin-King models; the “must have” large rear windows eliminated the bathroom-across-the-back Front Lounge model. It was time to head for the factory…..

A Visit to the “Mothership”

The Lazy Daze factory is in Montclair, California; this is indistinguishable from Pomona, California, the factory’s address before the city boundaries changed. The factory itself is unprepossessing, but a lot bigger than it looks; all parts of the coach construction on the 14050 # Ford E-450 cutaway chassis are done here by skilled crews of longtime employees. The office area is comfortably funky, and the people are open and friendly; they’re proud of their product and their operation, but not at all pretentious about it! Todd (two of Todd’s “hats” are part-orderer and client picker-upper) picked me up at the airport, and I spent the rest of the morning sitting on couches, chairs and toilets, climbing into cabover beds, opening drawers and cupboards and storage bays, crawling under coaches – and that’s a lot harder than it used to be! -- and making a list of questions for my afternoon ordering session with Ed.

The first design elimination was the Rear Lounge model – one brief “sit” in the narrow, short-seated, derrière-constrictor chair told me to go for the Rear Lounge with the two couches. (What’s comfortable for one is not for another; I’m sure that the chairs fit a lot of people, but my dimensions and conformation aren’t compatible with them! Sitting in the shallow seats – the edge hit me at mid-thigh -- felt like “perching”!)

Even though I’d now almost certainly decided on the 23.5’ TK, I did look hard at the 26.5’ Mid-bath; the most popular model in LD’s lineup makes up about 75% - 80% of its sales, and for good reason -- the plan is efficient, workable and flexible, the size is versatile – big enough for two or a small family but small enough to go a lot of places -- and there’s adequate NCC. If I had been able to fit the 26.5’ beside my house, I might have weakened, but despite the attractiveness and functionality of the layout, I didn’t need 3 more feet, so I quit horsing around and went into the office to find Ed and order the 23.5’ TK.

Ed Newton has been building motorhomes for a lot of years, and his extensive experience and knowledge have undeniably led to firmly-held opinions on what’s best for a client! The family is proud of their since-1956 production history, and they have no doubts that they make the best for very competitive price and offer great after-sale service. Confidence and pride can be mistaken for arrogance, and Ed’s sometimes brusque, no-nonsense manner may be off-putting for some, but my ordering experience was very positive. I had done my homework, I knew what I wanted, and I knew – and appreciated -- what I was getting! Ed – and his son, Steve – have no interest in “bulking up the package”; they genuinely want what’s in the client’s best interests, and will try to dissuade a client from buying a model or an option they feel is inappropriate or unnecessary for that person’s stated travel/RV lifestyle. When Ed says, “You don’t need it”, he’s most often right. I had selected the model that best fit what I do/where I go with an RV and had reviewed all the options, deciding on three: one 85 watt solar panel (sufficient for keeping the batteries charged in storage and for a few days of boondocking), a CB (an inexpensive way to communicate on the road if I traveled with others and for the occasional trucker-supplied “road alert”), and the Bilstein shocks. Ed feels that these heavy-duty “serious Teutonic dampers” aren’t needed on the 23.5’. Despite his admonitions that the Bilsteins would make the ride on the 158” chassis too harsh, I ordered them. After a bit more “to-ing and fro-ing”, I paid the deposit on a “teal” (a lot more “green” than “teal” – LD does have some interesting notions about colors and combinations thereof!) 23.5’ TK and flew home for the 7 ½ month “gestation” period!

[Note Ed is no longer active with the company. His nephew Steve runs now]

Getting “the Call”

Vicki called from the factory in late October; “Your 23.5’ TK will be ready for pick up on November 12th!”. Since I’d ordered in late April, and sold my little class C in June, I had been going through “no escape pod” withdrawals for too many good weather months! I had even gone back to tent camping in the interim so as not to waste the warm days of spring, summer and early fall. There’s something to be said for the appeal of the “simplicity” of my type of minimalist tent camping out of the trunk of a Toyota Corolla, but unfortunately, part of the “simplicity” involves having to get up off the on-the-tent-floor foam mattress every morning. Since I always associate the “natural experience” of tent camping with a certain amount of pain, I was looking forward to a bed that was higher than my ankles.

I had driven down to the factory – it’s about a 6 ½-7 hour trip from the Bay Area if one drives too fast -- in mid-September to do some measurements and to take care of a couple of details that I had been too addled or too unaware – bless that LD message board! – to accomplish on my ordering visit. On this factory visit, I met a couple of owners who clued me into the option of asking that the interior curtain on the front inside of the cabover be left off; the curtain covers a blank wall behind the “faux” windows in the cabover!? LD’s rationale for this odd curtain placement is that there would be “too much white space” without it. I assured them that I would be delighted with white space instead of something that had no purpose other than gathering dust – they agreed to leave off the curtain, and I went home happy.

The pick-up trip was scheduled for four days – fly down, go through the orientation, pick up the rig, take driving instruction from Dick Reed’s “RV School”, and then head up to Ridgecrest and the “Tireman” to have easy-to-air brass valves installed in the wheels. I packed two boxes with RV “survival essentials” and shipped these to Lazy Daze, made reservations at the East Shore RV Park, and appointments with the RV School and Chuck the Tireman, checked the weather report – as it turned out, the report that I saw was made by the guys who never look out the window -- and flew down to the factory.

My delivery was scheduled for 12:30; my teal green-on-white coach was waiting in the parking lot with the door open and my previously-shipped boxes and Kevin, the orientation/check-out man, inside. Kevin went thoroughly and patiently through the workings of all the coach systems and the “how-to” operations. I had read -- and marked with questions -- the comprehensive manual that LD gives the customer when the RV is ordered, and the delivery process went smoothly. Lazy Daze’s smallest model loomed a lot larger than she had appeared in the “showroom” with the bigger guys, but she was pretty, and real at last after a long wait! But, LD’s checkout takes about 2 ½ - 3 hours, and it got colder and darker (and with that peculiar yellow-grey sky that means hail) as the afternoon went on. The rain started to fall – what’s the old song about “it never rains in southern California”? – and lightning cracked and streaked overhead. I took care of the paperwork, thanked and “goodbyed” all the great LD folks, got a quick ride to Trader Joe’s for some food supplies with a friend who works nearby, and lumbered off for the gas station, hoping to get to the RV park before the heaviest traffic on I-10, or at least before dark.

Sometimes the RV gods smile and sometimes they laugh hysterically – I got a miserly gas pump which delivered its wares one tablespoon at a time, and since I had already shoved 3 twenties into the machine, I was not about to leave. A plea to the guy in the mini-mart fell on uncomprehending ears – we had no languages in common. A half hour later, it was pitch dark, and a hail-and-thunderstorm was going full tilt. The half-gassed LD and I found our way to I-10 past a couple of accidents on surface streets – with the resulting debris spread and “I won’t let you into my lane” jam-ups -- then crawled along with the commute traffic, hoping not to miss the exit in the sheeting rain. (Although I had driven my previous RV in high winds, heavy rain, snow, and hail, this was the largest vehicle I had ever driven, it was NEW, and my night vision is less than optimum; I was determined not to whack my shiny new toy into anything!) The power was out in several places along the way – unlighted freeway signs – so the only clear views came with the lightning flashes! (The little “objects are larger than they appear” mirrors stuck to the outside corners of the Ford’s Velvac side mirrors leave a lot to be desired in the dark and the rain!) I located the RV park – yes, U-turns can be done on city streets in a 23.5’ – pulled into my assigned spot, and hunkered down without hooking up to wait for the storm to blow over. I was going on faith that the sun would come out the next day for my driving lessons!

Driving School and Tire Valves

The sun arrived along with one of the RV School’s driving instructors, John Ward, a retired trucker and truck driving instructor with 45 years and 2 million miles’ worth of on-the-road experience. He complimented my choice of coach, commenting on how well put-together the Lazy Daze models were, and we did a short tour of her “insides and outsides”.

Dick Reed’s RV School offers driving instruction packages in the client’s RV – any type – or in a school-provided rig. (The web site, www.rvschool.com, gives all the particulars of locations, costs, packages and contact/appointment information.) The school’s instructors are knowledgeable, patient, skilled, and more than a little brave to willingly sit in the passenger’s seat while a novice hauls around a very large vehicle – or two in the case of a 5th wheel or TT – in southern California traffic!

I’ve been driving cars and trucks since I could reach the pedals and peer over a dashboard at the same time, and had also driven my other little “C” for a lot of miles, but that long driving experience also suggests that those years might be starting to work on the quickness of one’s reactions and less-acute vision. I’m a long way from being doddering and half-blind, but this RV is bigger than my old one, and my depth perception has always been limited; I wanted all the “edge” that the instruction/practice could provide! For two days – eight hours of behind-the-wheel instruction, four hours each day – I wheeled and backed and cut and swung and propelled the coach through city streets, up and down little hills, in and out of parking lots, and along the freeways. The Lazy Daze handles very well; the Bilsteins do give a firmer ride, but the driving feel is smooth and tight, there’s no wallow when cornering, and no “sideways jump” in windy conditions. John is a very good instructor; he’s patient, he varies the instruction, he pinpoints to client’s needs and teaches to these, and he allows plenty of time for practice. (He’s also a fount of southern California lore, and since the cab of the LD is quiet and allows for “no-hollering” conversation, I learned a lot of history along with how not to back into tree stumps and campground power stands!) At the end of the instruction, John pronounced that I had “done real good” and would have “no trouble driving her RV.” With John’s great instruction and confidence-building encouragement – and the baptism of fire of the maiden voyage – I figured that I could drive my now-a-bit-smaller-feeling coach wherever it would fit!

A 2 ½ hour drive up to the high desert town of Ridgecrest for a set of “Chuck the Tireman’s” brass valves with air-though caps was next on the pick-up agenda. Ford delivers its E-450 chassis with rubber valve stems on the 8-holed steel wheels, including the rear duals. With the addition of the KII wheel covers that Lazy Daze installs, reaching the valve on the inner dual with an air hose (not easy on the outside dual, either) is impossible unless one has hands the size of a Barbie doll. Few folks are so manually equipped, so something has to be done aftermarket to take the job of reaching the valves and airing the tires out of the difficulty category of searching for the Holy Grail.

There are three choices: Alcoa wheels, valve extenders, or “configured” replacement valves. The Alcoas are a very pricey solution, but the wheel holes are more than hand-size. Installing valve extenders still requires that the rubber valves be replaced with steel or brass -- the extenders will leak when installed on rubber valves – and they often leak anyway if the connection between valve and extender is stressed or ”tweaked” in any way. I opted for the “configured” valves; the valve for the inner dual is long enough to extend through the hole of the wheel cover, and the valve for the outer dual is “bent” to face outward. (Chuck Carvitto sells the valve kit by mail if a customer chooses to have the valves installed locally, and also installs the valves by appointment; details are available on his website: Chuck provides a 30-amp hookup for his customers’ overnight stays; he does the front valves Friday evening and the rears Saturday morning before regular business hours.) Chuck has been in the business a long time and knows “tire stuff”; he’s very keen on making sure that his customers are satisfied; my “easy-air” valves are terrific!

Going Home

The LD was getting smaller every day; my driving comfort, skills, and confidence level had increased dramatically during my four-day pick-up trip! She’s an easy-driving coach, holds the road well, and the smooth V-10 provides plenty of power. The trip back to the Bay Area, although through bad weather, was uneventful. I pulled into my beside-the-house spot, content with my decision to make the “Babydaze” my last rig, and with my next two trips already mentally “calendared” and planned! The first look at her out the window of the garage door the next day was a bit like a childhood Christmas morning!

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