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Bahia Honda Key and National Key Deer Refuge: Fun in the sun and water

Walk on Florida’s wild side by taking a trip to the Lower Keys, located at the southern portion of the fabled chain of islands that divide the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Basking in cool breezes and warm sunshine, these gems on the Florida Straits entice visitors to cut loose on uncrowded beaches, lush forests and crystal-clear ocean waters.

Choose from several campgrounds on these islands, and then explore pristine environments, from forested habitats teeming with small deer to rugged reefs off the coast. Catch your dinner on a charter boat or snorkel the day away in clear waters.

Bahia Honda — Choose Your Adventure on Land and Sea

Located on Mile Marker 37 on the Overseas Highway, this 500-plus-acre gem contains a world of recreational possibilities. Three campgrounds on Bahia Honda State Park offer a total of 80 sites for RVers and tenters. After setting up the RV’s awning and relaxing in a deck chair, visitors can inhale the fresh air scented with the sea breezes.

Bicycle enthusiasts can set out on the 3.5 miles of hard-surface road that cuts through the terrain of Bahia Honda. Ride to historic Bahia Honda bridge, a 5,055-foot railroad span that connects Bahia Honda with Spanish Harbor Key to the west. Although the span is now derelict, the elegant steel-truss structure serves as a stunning backdrop for photos.

After a great ride on the level terrain, cool down by going swimming in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean or Florida Bay. The island’s unspoiled, white-sand, beaches have garnered rave reviews from travel publications.

Paddling, Fishing and Snorkeling at Bahia Honda State Park

Stay above the water by renting a stable, sit-on-top Ocean Kayak. Paddlers can burn off calories and enjoy stunning views while navigating the waters off the island.

Let someone else do the driving by taking a boat tour off the coast. Bring your snorkeling equipment for a ride out to Looe Key, located 12 miles offshore from Bahia Honda State Park Marina. Water depths here range between 5 to 15 feet, and the clear water affords stunning views of the coral reef along with the sea life that inhabits the area. Catch sightings of sea turtles and nurse sharks through your mask as you swim.

Snorkel equipment rentals are available, and the crew conducts a “how to snorkel” class for beginners. When the water dips below 78 degrees, wetsuits are recommended (these are available for rent as well).

Charter boats and guides provide access to tarpon fishing, which is rated as some of the best in the state. Florida fishing licenses are required, and there are regulations regarding weight and number of fish that can be caught. Visitors can rent their own boats; if you bring a boat, you can rent a slip in the marina.

Programs and Amenities at Bahia Honda State Park

Programs are offered to park visitors on a wide range of natural and cultural history subjects. Guided tours are offered seasonally or upon request by individuals and groups. Visitors are allowed to bring pets in, but they are barred from boats, beaches and other areas.

Located in the island’s main concession building, the snack bar serves deli sandwiches, salads, ice cream and more. Also located in the concession building is a gift shop, which sells snorkeling equipment, t-shirts and sportswear. Buy a souvenir that will help you remember your stay.

Endangered Deer and Other Delights

Drive four miles west across the Overseas Highway to Big Pine Key, home to a laidback community of about 5,000 residents. More than half the island’s 9.9-square-mile surface comprises National Key Deer Refuge, home to the Key deer, an endangered subspecies of white-tailed deer that is the smallest deer in North America. Catch glimpses of these graceful creatures as you tour the refuge’s forests and wetlands.

Several nature trails provide access into the verdant landscape, and visitors will also get a chance to observe the other endangered that inhabit the refuge, from the Lower Keys marsh rabbit to the white ibis. Keep an eye out for the Bartram’s Hairstreak butterfly, as well as the reef gecko.

Bring your camera to the Blue Hole Observation Platform, located just a few miles north of the visitor center on Key Deer Boulevard. Originally a limestone quarry, the area is now overgrown with native plants, and fresh water has filled part of the area where the rock was mined. Observe the American alligator, osprey, green herons and wading birds.

Bicycle rentals are available on the island, and several trails snake through town as well as through the refuge.

Travelers can choose from several campgrounds on Big Pine Key, including Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge, Breezy Pines RV Estates, Girl Scout Camp Wesumkee, Sea Camp Association, Royal Palm RV Park and Old Wooden Bridge Guest Cottages & Marina. In town, several stores help visitors stock up on supplies, and restaurants are available close to the stretch of Overseas Highway that runs through the island.

 http://www.fla-keys.com/lowerkeys

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The following recalls have been issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

Triple E Recreational Vehicles is recalling certain 2002-2009 Invitation and Embassy recreational vehicles, 2002-2012 Regency, Regal, Senator and Topaz recreational vehicles, 2002-2010 Signature, Commander and Empress recreational vehicles, 2005-2013 Regency GT recreational vehicles, 2008-2013 Free Flight, Serenity (S24CB), Liberio (L24CB) and Free Spirit recreational vehicles and 2010-2013 Unity recreational vehicles. These motorhomes are equipped with Kidde Plastic-Handle or Push Button ‘Pindicator’ Fire Extinguishers that may become clogged, preventing the extinguisher from discharging as expected or requiring excessive force to activate the extinguisher. Additionally, in certain models, the nozzle may detach from the valve assembly with enough force that it could cause injury and also render the product inoperable. For a full list of the affected fire extinguisher models visit: https://static.nhtsa.gov/odi/rcl/2017/RMISC-17E062-5427.pdf
Triple E will notify owners, instructing them to contact Kidde for a replacement fire extinguisher, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin February 26, 2018. Owners may contact Kidde customer service at 855-262-3540 or online at www.kidde.com and click on “Product Safety Recall” for more information. Triple E’s number for this recall is CA#8894-1.

Owners may also contact the NHTSA Hotline at 888-327-4236 (TTY 800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

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We love bringing our four-legged friends along for the ride, but the mess — and the damage — that can occur is often difficult to handle. SmartFit Premium Pet Seat Covers from Solvit Products help preserve the seats that Fido frequents. The covers are available in bench, hammock and bucket styles, and are made from heavy-duty quilted cotton twill trimmed with leather accents. They incorporate a waterproof membrane to prevent damage from moisture, mud and spills, and the seat belt openings utilize waterproof zippers to prevent dirt, hair and liquids from passing through to the seats below. The system includes elasticized panels on the sides and the front, seat anchors, seat belt keepers and cinch straps.

The covers are available in two color options: green with gray trim and gray with black trim. They are machine washable and covered by a lifetime warranty. MSRP $59.99-$114.99.

Radio Systems Corp., Pet Safe Brand | 865-824-9581 | www.petsafe.com

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Bringing along your grill is great for campsite barbecues, but the storage space it requires may have you thinking twice. With the Redzone Portable gas grill, space is no longer a problem; simply insert the frame into your motorhome’s 2-inch hitch receiver and hit the road. The 25,000-Btu grill is large enough to grill 100 hot dogs or 25 burgers at a time, according to the company, and there’s even a warming rack for buns. The grill features all welded steel tubing with a powder-coat finish; solid rubber all-terrain tires make it easy to move around the campsite. The unit weighs 86 pounds when assembled, and after the barbecue is over, the grill tips up and slides into the receiver without any heavy lifting. The unit is pictured here with the optional EZ-BBQ Fuel Kit (sold separately), but owners can use any standard 5-gallon LP-gas cylinder. MSRP: $449.

Party King Grills | 580-774-2828 | www.partykinggrills.com

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Grand Coach, whose Class B motorhome offerings currently include Dolphin, CapeCod, DayTraveler, Signature Series and National Traveller, will now be known as Dolphin Motor Coach. “Due to the initial success and recognition of the Dolphin brand, Grand Coach has renamed the company to further leverage that brand equity. Our new company name is Dolphin Motor Coach,” said Darryl Connors, President and CEO of the manufacturer. “We will continue to build on the 53 years of Dolphins history and brand recognition,” said Connors, who added that the company has plans to include new offerings of Sea Breeze, Marlin, Tropical Breeze and Honey designations. As of the announcement, the company’s website remains www.grand-coach.com, but will eventually be renamed www.dolphinmotorcoach.com.

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The following recalls have been issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

Entegra Coach is recalling certain 2015-2016 Aspire and 2017-2018 Insignia motorhomes built on a Spartan chassis. The air brake supply reservoir is less than 12 times the combined volume of air for all service brake chambers. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 121, “Air Brake Systems.” The undersized air brake supply reservoir may provide an insufficient air supply to properly operate the brakes during repetitive brake applications, reducing braking performance and increasing the risk of a crash. Entegra will notify owners, and Spartan service centers will replace the current air supply reservoir with one that has twice the capacity, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin March 30, 2018. Owners may contact Spartan Chassis at 800-543-4277 or Entegra customer service at 800-517-9137.

Forest River Inc. is recalling certain 2018 Georgetown recreational vehicles, models GTA36D7 and GTA34P7. These vehicles have 18-gauge wires connected to a 30-amp circuit breaker. 18-gauge wires cannot handle the potential amp draw, possibly resulting in the wires melting and increasing the risk of a fire. Forest River will notify owners, and dealers will connect the 18-gauge wiring to an additional circuit breaker that will be installed, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin March 28, 2018. Owners may contact Forest River customer service at 574-206-7600. Forest River’s number for this recall is 68-0623.

Jayco Inc. is recalling certain 2017 Precept motorhomes. The brake Hydraulic Electronic Control Units (HECU) on these vehicles may be missing valve block ball plugs, potentially causing a brake fluid leak or air ingestion during electronic brake distribution and/or ABS activation. A brake fluid leak or air ingestion can lengthen the distance needed to stop the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash. Jayco will notify owners, and Ford dealers will inspect the hydraulic block and replace the HECU if the ball plugs are present, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin March 30, 2018. Owners may contact Jayco customer service at 800-517-9137.

Owners may also contact the NHTSA Hotline at 888-327-4236 (TTY 800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

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Editor’s note: We received such a large amount of responses to our January Question of the Month that we’ve posted extra submissions.

Tinkers Away
First of all, as a widower, I worked three jobs to put three of my kids through college, then got a loan to buy my used 1995 Monaco Windsor. Just because someone is driving a diesel pusher does not necessarily mean they can likely have professionals perform all their maintenance work. I personally like to perform the things that I can do. It’s hard work, but I enjoy doing it. Examples are re-coating the rubber roof (twice), greasing, changing oil and oil filter and changing fuel filters. I leave more heavy-duty stuff like valve adjustment to the professionals. Anything to do with electrical systems or propane related, I leave to them as well. It is still nice to see articles on maintenance and DIY even though the heavy-duty mechanical, electrical, etc., is beyond my capability. But, what I glean from them gives me an idea of what is required of the professionals when they work on a unit. I very much enjoy the travel articles. Coach reviews are nice to see what the new models are all about, even though I could never afford to buy a new one. Everything else in MotorHome is fine with me just the way it is. Finally, there is a passion called tinkering. Just like some of my friends spend much of their time tinkering on their classic cars, I can’t say it’s a guy thing as there are women tinkerers as well (my daughter is one). But the love of one’s recreational vehicle, especially a motorhome, pretty much dictates that you are always doing some kind of maintenance or enhancement to make it a better home-away-from-home.
Charles Giblon | Tallahassee, Florida

Handy Generation
I’ve been an avid reader of MotorHome for many years. I wait for it to show up monthly so I can enjoy reading it, sometimes more than once, from cover to cover. I drive a 2012 43-foot Newmar Mountain Aire with a tag axle, which is my third Class A, but I still have a brick and mortar home in South Florida.
When I read your magazine I enjoy the entire content. The travel articles are wonderful as they allow my wife and me to plan future trips to many of your showcased destinations. I also enjoy your “How-to” and modification articles.
As I see it, many new RVers are getting younger with families, and a large group of us are very handy with tools and mechanics having learned from the greatest generation, our fathers. In fact for me I remove many of the how to articles and store them in a binder in my office or in my home for future reference. I do not feel that the suggestion made by Mr. Smith in his letter, to offer less “How-to” articles, is of value.
You folks at do a great job balancing the type of articles and content of your monthly publication. We, out here on the road, enjoy and appreciate all your articles. Keep up the great work and thank you for all the information you continually share with us.
L. Schwartz | Parkland, Florida

Know Your Role
Regarding the letter from Mr. Smith on less “How-to,” with all due respect, the magazine title is MotorHome, not Travel. I am sure there are many readers who enjoy the technical articles and other items about design, safety and interior layout, etc. As an owner of a diesel pusher, I take umbrage to the comment that ALL owners of a Spartan or Freightliner chassis have no desire to work on their units. I like to at least be knowledgeable enough to carry on a conversation about how to repair them rather than just “trust the dealer” to know what you need. Yes, I can afford my DP but I don’t choose to throw money away for items I can easily maintain. As far as travel goes, there are many excellent magazines that that cover nothing but travel. Please keep the technical columns and coach reviews and the like coming!
Rob Burnett | Edgewood, New Mexico

Mixology
I have subscribed to your magazine for six years because I like the mix of articles presented. I especially like the DIY articles and the technical Q&A, and if this content should be reduced or eliminated I would not be happy. I would like to point out that I am 70 years old, own a diesel pusher and I choose to perform as much of my own maintenance as possible. Your articles have provided insight for these activities, usually by providing useful input when I “DIY” a task. Other times an article convinced me to have a professional perform the job, but I was still educated as to what needed to be done. As examples, some months ago an article on how to change the air filter told me everything I needed to know to do the job. Other articles I have found useful involve installing accessories such as tank monitors and suspension and steering upgrades. I recently enjoyed the technical article on the Freightliner chassis.
I have learned that having motorhome service performed professionally can be a time consuming affair. A hands-on owner will be familiar with the technical aspects of his coach and can often fix problems and not spend unnecessary time waiting for service. The technical articles in MotorHome are invaluable in this regard and help me spend my precious time on fun trips in a well-maintained coach.
L. Peavy | Birmingham, Alabama

Perfectly Capable
Reader Glenn Smith’s letter requesting more “Where-to” and fewer “How-to” articles is an interesting perspective. But not mine. Some destination articles are fine. But frankly, there are plenty of other sources for finding travel destinations. I look to MotorHome for new model information, technical advice and shared ownership experiences.
RVs require a continuum of care. I bought a new 2005 Four Winds 28A, Class C coach. When my friends comment that they’d love to own an RV my universal response is always, “if you aren’t a bit of a handyman with at least some minor plumbing, electric, carpentry and mechanical experience, expect to write a lot of checks to someone.”
Even if I owned a high-end coach, I’d bet the majority of your readers are like me, not ready to pay someone to do what I am perfectly capable of doing for myself at my home. Self-repair is extraordinarily satisfying.
Here is a list of things I recall completing on my aging coach.

  • Annual winterization and de-winterization.
  • All oil changes and lubes.
  • Routine generator maintenance, oil, spark plugs and air cleaner.
  • Replaced generator exhaust pipe.
  • Replaced bent and damaged ladder and rear bumper.
  • Remove and replaced FanTastic ceiling fan.
  • Added all-weather covers to 3 ceiling vents.
  • Replaced oven thermocouple.
  • Replaced refrigerator gas solenoid.
  • Repaired hot water heater ignition.
  • Replaced main entry keyed door latch.
  • Converted all interior lighting to LED.
  • Replaced engine and coach batteries.
  • Replaced heater speed control resistor.
  • Restrung several day-night shades.
  • Replaced several storage hatch latches.
  • Replaced a faulty GFI outlet.
  • Replaced smoke and other detectors.
  • Replaced fresh water drain cock.

While I may not be ready to tear off and replace my aging rubber roof, I’m tempted.
Please don’t reduce the number of tech and how-to articles in MotorHome.
Tom Messmer | Blue Bell, Pennsylvania

 Lack of Professionalism
I could not disagree more with the comments from a reader in the January issue. I am 71 years old and have had numerous experiences with service at automobile dealerships. For the most part, they were positive experiences. Having said that, nothing prepared me for the poor service I would experience in getting my RV serviced during the past two years that I have owned it. I purchased it new at a very well-known national chain and had it serviced several times by two of their dealerships. In my opinion, their service technicians are incompetent, their service writers are condescending and their service managers are not helpful in resolving issues.
If I could find a dealer that I could trust, I would be happy to take it there for service. It is because of the poor service provided by dealers that I prefer to do the maintenance myself. Their service employees are “professional” only in the sense that they are getting paid.
Please provide More “How-to.”
Joe Jama | Camp Hill, Pennsylvania

Don’t Get Taken
I subscribe to MotorHome for information on motorhomes, not travel information. I am 67 years old and have done all my own maintenance on my vehicles for more than 50 years; this includes my Discovery diesel pusher, only having the valves adjusted by Caterpillar. I enjoy doing this work and will continue to do so. There’s no way I would trust anyone else to do work on my coach as I have seen other motorhomers really get “taken” by less-than-reputable shops. The sad fact is that it is incredibly hard to find an experienced and honest repair facility.
I would like to see more road tests with more thorough information as in engine torque and horsepower ratings, etc., and keep the technical articles coming. If I wanted a travel magazine I would subscribe to it, not “MotorHome”.
Gary Thompson | Pahrump, Nevada

 From a Distance
I live in a rural area that’s a four-hour drive (one way) from the dealership where we bought our motorhome. Therefore, I do most of the improvements and maintenance myself and I want to learn as much as I can about motorhome-specific issues. In your magazine, I look forward to the DIY and problem articles each month. A lot of this information is not easily found elsewhere. On the other hand, there are many alternative sources of traveling information that are easy to access. Please do not cut back on your maintenance and DIY articles.
Barry Thompson | Via email

Prevention is Key
I respectfully disagree with Mr Smith’s comments. We don’t have an expensive diesel pusher, and often do crawl under our motorhome. Also, we like to travel to remote places where we can’t always get RV service (just finished 3 month trip around Mexico). We always learn something from your “How-to” articles, which are useful and save us money or headaches. For example, the article on windshield wipers was timely. We were wondering what we needed to do as ours were no longer working well. Now we know what to look for and also how to keep them functioning longer. Thank you and please keep the good information coming. We are still learning and your magazine is a good resource. More preventative maintenance articles are our vote.
Cindy and Randy Fowler | Charleston, South Carolina

Tell a Friend
I would like to take exception to Glen Smith’s letter. I don’t think he realizes how many MotorHome readers purchase used RVs and don’t have the luxury of ever purchasing a new motorhome.
I’ve been a “MotorHome” reader for 9 years. I’m a 100-percent disabled combat veteran, and cannot lift anything over 40 pounds. My wife and I started enjoying the RV lifestyle in 2009 with a used Fleetwood Southwind 34′. We had it for 5 years and every year had to make repairs to the tune of $1,000. At that point we were traveling every year for at least 3 months. WThe repairs were items like rebuilding the suspension, new shock absorbers, a water pump, etc. Things I could not do myself even though I possess the mechanical aptitude to do them. However your articles on performing maintenance on water heaters, slideout gaskets and mechanisms, etc., allowed me to save a lot of money to do them myself. Your “How-To” articles have been an invaluable source of information to us, and have allowed us to save thousands on yearly maintenance, which eventually goes into the gas tank.
In 2013 we purchased a used 2005 Damon Challenger with two slides, one in the living area and one in the bedroom. I’ve done many things to improve the livability of this unit for us. However when the motor in the forward A/C unit started to fail, I removed the part and went to an industrial supply house and purchased a replacement. We are planning to add “Black Gold” electrically heated flooring under vinyl plank in the living area and I will do the install. I found out about this product in your magazine.
I’ve been so happy with your publication that I’ve since purchased gift subscriptions for two of our friends.
Stephen and Debbie Brown | Fridley, Minnesota

 Get Your Money’s Worth
I love that you do articles on how to maintain and repair things; it’s one of the reasons I get the magazine. I am a DIYer and I like doing some maintenance and repairs. I like learning how to do it and not have other people do things that most of the time are done quickly and have to be returned for another repair. I may be an RVer and have a motorhome, but sometimes I can’t justify paying $175 an hour to do something I can do, and most RV shops use a pay scale that is much more than that. I think you need a balance of both maintenance repairs and places to learn about and go to. Thank you for having a great magazine well worth getting every month.
Henry Hoffman | Via email

Half the Fun
As newer owners of a Thor Ace 27.2, we have chosen our motorhome for the next several years. Therefore, several pages devoted to new RVs is not what we’d like to see for our subscription. Maintenance DIY is always good but, maybe your revenue might drop if you don’t show many new RVs. We do understand.
As we’re ready to hit the road for several days to several weeks from home our home base in Tennessee, we’d like to see suggestions on nice camping stops (from free to expensive) that will accept our shorty 28-foot motorhome, and things to stop and see along a drive to a major destination.
These are just our comments, but I’m sure some others are thinking like us. We enjoy your magazine and like the calendar showing where the RV shows are.
Joe Kinsey and Pam Gouker | Byrdstown, Tennessee

Reliable Dealers Only
I, too, have noticed the subtle change to becoming more of a DYIer on motorhomes as well. I am 73 years old and I am not a mechanic/plumber/electrician, and have no desire to be one. I have two dealers that I trust to do the necessary repairs to our unit. One dealer is good at certain things and the other dealer is good at the other things. I am happy with their service to our unit. We read the magazine to find interesting places to go and things to see on our trips and save those articles that are of interest to us for our trip-planning folder. We also appreciate the Quick Tips, and have utilized a couple of them in our unit. The letters are interesting to read about the problems experienced and your responses to them. How to repair a $100,000 unit is not of interest to us.
Allan Colgan | Columbus, Ohio

Nuts & Bolts
I think you have the right mix of articles between travel, maintenance and DIY, reviews. Although one reader’s letter suggested that articles on coach maintenance that most owners wouldn’t do themselves are not needed, I think they are useful.
From my experience, many RV owners are technically oriented and into the nuts and bolts of their RV. Seeing the big picture of some higher-level maintenance jobs helps us better understand the workings of our rig as well as gives us pointers on what to check on when we do hire out the work to a shop.
Thanks for a great magazine and RV resource.
Bill Anderson | Bluffton, South Carolina

Wish List
I think you do a good job of balance with your articles, despite Glenn Smith’s assertion. That said, I think the recent “How-To” article showing a suspension upgrade was a bit much.
Here are some How-To’s I’d like to see … i.e., things that the average handy person can do:

  • How to replace the in-dash radio on a 2004 E-450 with one that integrates with the existing wires and that allows radio to be heard in coach or through the driver’s iPod.
  • How to install heat-reflective materials, with specific material and fastener recommendations for the passenger seat on the E-450 chassis.
  • How to add an electric outlet in bedroom (12-volt or 120-volt). What does it look like behind those walls?
  • How to install the 3245 Surge Guard I bought three years ago that is still in a box.
  • How to replace that space-grabbing dinette with a table and chairs (including how to strap them down for travel.
  • How to add the ability to strap things to the walls for travel.
  • How to remove those blasted valances (and replace day/night shades with roller shades).
  • How to upgrade the 12-volt to 120-volt converter, with recommendations on how to pick one.
  • How to pick the right buffer pads and compound to clean up a faded exterior; something proven to work so I don’t have to guess what to buy.
  • How to replace carpet when there is a slide involved, with detailed photos on the areas affected by the actual slide.

I’m sure the above can be found places like www.RV.net but, hey, you asked (and I’ve not found any articles on replacing the in-dash radio)!

As far as travel opportunities, I’d like them to maybe expound on why this is a good place to go with an RV and how to get around with or without a toad … are there good bike trails? How about local buses?
And, lastly, how to find RV parks that do NOT allow dogs.
You all do a great job. I love getting MotorHome each month!
Allan 2004 Itasca Class C/Wrangler Toad | Via email

Use It or Lose It
My husband and I love the “How-to’s” in MotorHome. Unlike Mr. Smith, we have yet to find a reliable dealer or service center in northern Utah. We have taken our 2009 Coachmen to all three of the major dealers in the area, and found problems with their service. Most often it has to do with how long it takes to get in for problems. So for us the solution has often come down to what we can do personally to get something addressed in a timely manner. We would much rather be using our coach than leaving it at a dealer for unknown amount of time. Your “How-to’s” often give us a much better idea of what it takes to fix something or whether it’s worth having someone else fix it for us. We have been avid readers since 2007 and sincerely hope you keep giving us how to info. We use our coach at least 7 months of the year for trips, so it’s important to us to keep it in tip top shape.
Rose and Michael King | Clinton, Utah

Doers & Check Writers
Gotta say I find Glenn Scott’s letter somewhat insulting. There have always been doers and check writers, and he’s obviously always been the latter. As a lifelong “do-it-yourselfer,” I choose to do my own work. On my home, my cars, my motorcycles, my boat and jet ski, and yup, I work on my motorhome. I believe I will do a better job than anyone I could pay, I’m certain I care more, and yes I enjoy it.
My next projects will be repairing some slide floor rot and replacing carpet with hardwood flooring in our 2008 Monaco.
Jim Mellema | Dandridge, Tennessee

Satisfaction
I beg to differ with Mr. Smith very strongly. One of the main reasons I still subscribe to MotorHome is in fact the “How-to” articles. I have been working on my own stuff since about 1953, and I see no particular reason to stop now. I have worked in dealerships and know full well better than to trust anyone in a dealership for anything, be it salesman, mechanic or owner. Nowadays their objective is to grab as much money out of your pocket as they possibly can, in any manner they can. Articles in your own pages detail the nightmares dealers can cause.
As far as Class A owners not doing their own work? Nonsense. On my used, 12-year-old Freightliner-based Class A I found that the dealer had never bothered to change out the air desiccant canister. The one on mine was original. A 3-year life part. I did it. Not easy but certainly satisfying. Changing my own oil is cheaper and I know exactly what oil I’m getting, I see how the old oil looks, and have the perfect opportunity to personally inspect underneath, including slack adjusters! How many air brake owners know what a slack adjuster is, let alone the importance of frequent, if not daily inspection? (There’s a great How-To article right there!) Dealer oil comes out of a big drum, one size fits all. The top of the drum is loaded with oil dribbled out of the pump, with filth and shop dust mixed in and drained back into the drum. Do you believe the dealer is buying top-quality brand-name oil of the right specification for your engine??
I see “How-to’s” as basic education. I may not do the job shown, but I certainly will file the knowledge gained away should the need arise. Having seen what I’m getting into on a job beforehand makes the job infinitely easier to both plan and execute. For the less mechanically insistent of us, the articles provide owners a better insight into what a job entails, therefore making it less likely for them to be taken in by an unscrupulous dealer. Knowledge is Power!
Your mix of articles is just fine with me the way it is.
Sam Lust | Forked River, New Jersey

Even More Tech
I can agree with Glenn Scott to some degree about maintaining a diesel pusher. But many of us RVers have gas motorhomes, and there are other issues that can occur besides engine and drivetrain problems. It is a knowledge of these and the other criteria that a knowledge of your motorhome can be of great benefit.
I appreciate the balance of travel to Tech issues in MotorHome magazine. I would prefer more tech, by the way. Such articles have helped me learn more about my motorhome. I have had to apply some of these issues at times, when service was far away.
I assume there are RV travel magazines out here somewhere for those who do not wish to perform any type maintenance on their RV.
Keep up the good work, MotorHome Magazine.
Steve Garrett | Conway, Arkansas

50 Years Means Something
My wife and I enjoy the motorhome reviews and the maintenance articles the best. Most RVers we know like to tinker and enjoy maintaining their rigs and fixing minor things that we are capable of repairing. Also a lot of people cannot afford to take their RV in to a shop every time something needs a little attention. We also enjoy your helpful hints. If not for these RVer DIY sections (hence, MotorHome magazine) we probably would not subscribe as we don’t have much interest in a travel magazine. I think you have a very good mix of travel destinations. If people are interested in that maybe they should order a travel magazine. I think you are doing a good job just the way it is. Leave your format alone. And Happy 50th Anniversary. You must be doing it right.
Marvin and Karen Hansen | Cascade Locks, Oregon

Good, Better, Best
I think you already have a mix of these topics. However, I would like to see increased focus to ensure a ‘more usable’ magazine across the sections. For example, in the area of travel and destinations, you could have a single section divided by regions of the country. For each region; you could highlight a destination (like you already do) but ensure each attraction description keeps the RV focus (parking, recommendations on places to stay and eat). For the DIY and maintenance single section, I would just request that the articles be as user-friendly (i.e. good photos, easy-to-follow descriptions) and pertinent to most RVers as possible. If I can do something to keep it out of the two-month RV service department visit, that’s more money I have to spend on other things and more time to spend RVing. You might divide the section into things to buy or request of your dealer and self-maintenance/DIY items. Finally, while I realize the..

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The following recalls have been issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

Foretravel Inc. is recalling certain 2004-2019 U270, U295, U320, Nimbus, Phenix, Realm, and ih-45 motorhomes. These vehicles are equipped with Kidde Plastic-Handle or Push Button ‘Pindicator’ Fire Extinguishers that may become clogged, preventing the extinguisher from discharging as expected or requiring excessive force to activate the extinguisher. Additionally, in certain models, the nozzle may detach from the valve assembly with enough force that it could cause injury and also render the product inoperable. For a full list of the affected fire extinguisher models visit: https://static.nhtsa.gov/odi/rcl/2017/RMISC-17E062-5427.pdf
Foretravel will notify owners, and instruct them to contact Kidde for a replacement fire extinguisher, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin March 16, 2018. Owners may contact Foretravel customer service at 936-564-8367, or Kidde customer service toll free at 855-262-3540, or online at www.kidde.com and click on “Product Safety Recall” for more information.

Newmar Corporation is recalling certain 2018 Essex motorhomes built on a Freightliner chassis. The low beam headlights do not also illuminate as intended when the high beam headlights are activated, reducing the driver’s visibility. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 108, “Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment.” Newmar will notify owners, and Daimler Trucks North America authorized service facilities will reprogram the Freightliner chassis module, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin March 20, 2018. Owners may contact Newmar customer service at 800-731-8300.

Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236 (TTY 800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

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MotorHome Magazine by Donya Carlson - 3w ago
The opposing-slide Winnebago 31D, with its welcoming living area, is ready for family-friendly adventures

It was almost midnight and I was standing outside watching a spectacular Midwest thunderstorm. The rest of the testing crew was deep in slumber, their RVs dark, as were the other RVs in the campground. Lightning flashes illuminated the Winnebago Spirit 31D, my home for the week in Elkhart, Indiana, where about 80 percent of America’s RVs are manufactured.

But not the majority of Winnebagos. With the exception of some of the company’s towables that are manufactured in Middlebury, Indiana, and high-end diesel motorhomes in Junction City, Oregon, the renowned RV giant builds most of its motorhomes in Winnebago County, Iowa. Talk about getting into the spirit — the company was named by Winnebago’s founder John K. Hanson after the county in which it resides, and the river flowing through Forest City, where the company’s headquarters is located.

Attaching the privacy curtain in the cab was quick work, and the captain’s chairs swivel around for additional seating. The cabover bed is almost the width of a queen-size mattress.

The Spirit is offered in seven floorplans, ranging from several with no slides to some with three, like the 31D we tested. Though this 32-foot, 9-inch Class C could have entertained up to seven more overnight guests, I had the place to myself. Class C’s are known to be family-friendly, and this unit features a cabover bed as well as opposing slideouts in the living area that house a dinette/bed on the curbside and sofa/bed on the streetside, making for a triangle of sleeping for six. For private quarters, head to the rear of the Spirit to the bedroom, with its queen bed in a third slideout that deploys from the rear of the motorhome.

Because this bed moves out on a platform — practically surrounding you with shelving — you must crawl into bed from the foot of the 60-by-80-inch mattress. You’ll also need to climb over the bed to get to the cabinet, and there’s no storage under the bed since the freshwater tank is housed there. But that’s not to say there’s no room for essentials. On the curbside, what the company calls a “nightstand” is really a shelf that runs the 7-foot length of the bedroom — and it can hold a lot of overflow. As if this isn’t enough space to keep magazines, tablets, your dog or cat, eyeglasses, nibbles and anything else you may want bedside, there’s a large storage pocket below the nightstand and another shelf parked over the head of the bed.

This overhead shelf, while good for keeping items handy, limits headroom, so sitting up in bed to read or watch the 24-inch TV ($471 option) on the wall above the drawers at the foot of the bed is out. Two reading lights illuminate the overhead shelf so you can see its contents, and they shed enough light to read by without being so bright that your bed buddy will feel like he/she is in the spotlight. A USB charger and 120-volt AC GFCI outlets are somewhat hidden, tucked up under the nightstand. Large windows on either side of the bed allow for natural light and a decent cross-breeze.

There’s good airflow and natural light in the Spirit’s living area as well, with large sliding windows over the dinette and sofa and a ceiling vent above the cabover bunk. The galley’s great use of floor space makes for a welcoming gathering place, where up to nine people (with the cockpit’s swiveling captain’s chairs) can comfortably sit. The captain’s chairs have 4-inch booster seats to raise the occupants so they don’t feel left out of the party.
Swiveling the chairs around takes a little finesse in order to clear the doghouse and is probably best done before having that glass of wine.

One evening, Publisher Emeritus Bob Livingston’s wife, Lynne, and I parked ourselves on the sofa to shuck several dozen ears of corn from Sweet Corn Charlie’s, a nearby farm that sells such good corn on the cob that it became a staple for almost every dinner. Afterward, sweeping up the corn silk was quick work on the vinyl floor, though the sofa was so comfortable that we joked that we should sit here and enjoy a glass of wine and see how long it would take until our group noticed that the corn was missing from the dinner table.

The sofabed, an optional TrueComfort+Sofa with Memory Foam ($1,283), has two seat belts for travel and is the comfiest spot in the house. The queen bed in the bedroom was perfectly adequate, but once I discovered the 58-by-74-inch TrueComfort’s thick pad of bliss, the queen bed was abandoned for the rest of my stay. For tall folks who need a couple more inches of legroom, you can lose the back cushion, but it served as a comfy headboard for me. And there’s plenty of headroom to sit up in bed and watch the 32-inch HDTV with Sony CD/DVD player set over the dinette’s window across the aisle. For movie night, the TrueComfort’s wide armrest served as the perfect place to set a bowl of popcorn, and the couple inches of countertop next to the range served as a good place to keep a drink.

With the TrueComfort reclined for sleeping, it leaves a 16-inch walkway between the foot of it and the dinette. There’s room to pass through into the cab, but it does crowd the bunk ladder for the overhead bed, so you’ll need to fiddle with the ladder to position it just right and step onto the sofa to climb up.

The dinette, with its 4-inch-thick ultraleather cushions, makes into a 6-by-3½-foot bed. There are seat belts for three in the dinette, and the two-tone black-and-tan back cushions snapped in securely for travel. The area under the dinette’s bench seats was good for stowing large items, though the plywood bases are not hinged, so some assembly was required when putting them back in place. Above, open shelves with netting are handy for keeping DVDs, hats, and odds and ends next to the TV.

The kitchen is set up efficiently with a stainless-steel two-basin sink, range with oven and convection microwave grouped together in an L-shape that places everything just a step or two apart. For an RV that’s clearly designed to accommodate a lot of happy campers, the kitchen is set up more for one person to do the cooking. With an 18-inch-wide countertop, there’s room for just one person to chop and prep as there were no sink covers or a countertop extension. Of course, you can always set up shop on the dinette table and enlist the help of a couple of sous-chefs.

Behind the three-burner range with a one-piece grate covering are 7½ inches of counterspace, which is handy for keeping bottles, spices and cooking utensils at the ready. There’s also a glass backsplash to the right to keep cooking splatters off the neighboring TrueComfort+Sofa. Across the aisle is a 7.5-cubic-foot Norcold refrigerator that’s set midway between the living area and the one step up to the aisle that leads back to the bedroom and bathroom. Putting my foot on the step when perusing the contents of the refrigerator was natural, just as the location of the step itself was.

An L-shape galley places the sink, range, convection microwave, oven and cabinetry in close proximity. The TrueComfort+Sofa lives up to its name with memory foam cushions that pamper your behind and back.

A large pantry with four drawers on slides is located to the right of the refrigerator, and more cabinetry is across the way. The bathroom door does double-duty by closing the bathroom and bedroom off from the galley, but a wise investment would be a door stop since the door handle, when bumped against the cabinet, can leave a ding in the side of the cabinet. A second accordion-style door that Winnebago refers to as a folding door, meets where the bedroom joins the hall. With both doors closed, this area makes for a private bathroom/dressing room with access to the large wardrobe and four drawers.

There’s no lack of places to hang towels in the bathroom, with a bar on the wall behind the toilet, on the inside and outside of the sliding glass shower doors, a towel ring next to the mirror and double hooks on the door. The toilet is set at a good height of 17 inches, but you do have to step up and down almost a foot into the (separate) shower. With the skylight, there’s 6 feet 7 inches headroom in the shower, and there’s an exhaust fan (the only one in the motorhome). My feet stayed toasty warm after a shower one cold morning thanks to the floor-level heat register.

Handy open shelving and a 32-inch HDTV are mounted over the dinette that’s housed in the curbside slideout.

The Spirit’s control panels are grouped together on the wall opposite the refrigerator and the Coleman-Mach thermostat is a cinch to control the 15,000-Btu air conditioner and 30,000-Btu furnace. While the furnace was turned on a few times to take the edge off on a couple of chilly mornings, the Spirit’s A/C with Indiana’s change-in-a-minute weather — from muggy-and-hot to muggy-and-rainy to muggy-and-muggier — was on a good portion of the daytime and did a fine job keeping the interior comfortable.

While the 31D is conducive to group gatherings in the living area, it’s also set up well for when alone time is in order, with the bedroom nicely separated from the galley and the bathroom in between. The test motorhome had the optional Exterior Tailgate Package ($1,001) with a 32-inch TV and Jensen DVD player, making for a total of three TVs, good for family members who like to watch their own programs.

Entering the motorhome from outside, there’s no exterior step to wipe your feet on, so using an outdoor mat would be good, otherwise you’ll be tracking in dirt. A welcome touch is a large interior handrail, and switches for the awning, lights and hydraulic auto leveling system set inside the door for easy access. The dinette slide to the right restricts the entry door from folding open against the coach, of which I’m not a big fan.

With the push of a button, the electric awning moves out posthaste, and slopes down lower in front to keep us in shade longer during the day. At night, almost 15 feet of LED-strip shines enough light to read by. We enjoyed sitting under the awning at night to watch the light show put on by the fireflies.

Chill and fill: The hallway leading back to the bedroom from the living area features a 7.5-cubic-foot refrigerator that blends in nicely alongside the pantry, a large wardrobe and drawers for lots of packing space.

Spanning the width of the Spirit at the rear is a most practical locking exterior storage compartment, and it houses the Jensen DVD player for the exterior TV. The lighted storage is accessible from three sides, and with the large doors held up out of the way with clips, it makes packing and retrieving items convenient. It’s 3 feet tall at the highest point with “bins” to keep stuff contained. Another exterior storage area below the TV was large enough to hold a couple of folding chairs.

Our caravan of test motorhomes headed out one day for some sightseeing and to weigh the RVs. Rolling down country roads in a $120,000 motorhome with rear air springs and all the comforts of home was such a contradiction to the Amish horse-drawn buggies sharing the lanes. Here I was settled into a plush high-backed captain’s chair, electrically adjustable side mirrors handy, air conditioning blasting at me from four different vents and listening to an AM/FM satellite SiriusXM radio, while the buggy drivers, sweating in the humidity and listening to vehicles whooshing by, were content with their simple transportation and one or two horsepower.

With the slides in, there’s a 16-inch-wide walkway from the cab through the galley, giving access to the bathroom, refrigerator and most of the kitchen. The 31D has nicely balanced opposing slides to create an open and welcoming living area, comfortable sleeping accommodations for up to eight, plentiful storage and it drives well, to boot.

I enjoyed my stay in the Spirit so much that if Winnebago had given the OK, I would have driven it back to our office in California from Indiana, swinging through Iowa to explore its roots in Winnebago County. It is in this Spirit that I’d love to explore the country, and bring along a couple of friends.

Winnebago Industries
641-585-3535 | www.winnebagoind.com/products/class-c/2018/spirit/overview

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Durable 1973-1978 GMC motorhomes are true blasts from the past and still going strong

This article is the next in our series looking at motorhomes that have stood the test of time. They may have miles under their wheels, but they can still make dreams come true. Each has earned the right to be called “the classic ride.”

Before Microsoft, before barcodes, before the first space shuttle flew or the first mobile phone was sold, there was the GMC motorhome.

Proudly introduced in 1973 as the first motorhome that “Doesn’t ride like a truck. Doesn’t look like a box,” more than 13,000 of these then-futuristic vehicles were produced between 1973 and 1978 with model names like Sequoia, Painted Desert, Eleganza II, Palm Beach and others.

After four decades, you might think they would have gone the way of Betamax tapes, but in fact an estimated 7,000 are still registered and on the road today. A testament to the motorhome’s durability and versatility, the GMC is seeing something of a resurgence, with a devoted new following eagerly restoring and re-imagining these vintage vehicles. If longevity is the mark of a classic ride, then the GMC certainly deserves a place on that list.
When you meet a GMC owner, you find yourself ushered into a very unique society. We had no sooner reached out to one local club before we were introduced to an entire network of owners and enthusiasts, all willing and eager to share their knowledge about these unique motorhomes.

Cinnabar renovation includes a Davo couch, leather dash and touch-screen infotainment system. Photo by Cinnabar Engineering

Take Jim and Ada Galbavy of Lake Mary, Florida, who invited us to visit with them and see their beautifully repainted GMC. Jim purchased his 26-foot GMC 14 years ago for $15,000 after looking at a range of used Class A, B and C motorhomes. The retired U.S. Army aircraft equipment specialist was impressed with the GMC’s body construction. Like an airplane fuselage, a complete cage of heavy-gage aluminum ribs and stringers is mounted on a wide steel chassis. Below the beltline the exterior skin panels are made of solid reinforced fiberglass; above, body and roof are constructed of sheet aluminum. The result is a body with a sleek, futuristic shape that ages well, making it a good candidate for repainting, which is what Jim did. He went with a neutral beige-and-white exterior and a striped awning, resulting in a modern appeal while still keeping some of the GMC’s vintage look.

For Ken and Janet Frey of Philadelphia, it was not the body but the chassis that convinced them to purchase their 1976 GMC some 30 years ago. They were visiting family in Arizona and came upon an ad in the local paper about a “Cabin fever” sale at a U-Haul agency. They checked it out and got their first glimpse of a used Palm Beach model GMC. As soon as he heard there was a 455 Oldsmobile Toronado engine under the hood, Ken was sold. As an auto mechanic at an Oldsmobile dealership, he knew its quality, dependability and impressive power.

“We call it our hot rod with plumbing,” Janet laughs.

They have garage-kept their GMC, thus preserving its unique and original lime-green exterior. The motorhome did need restriping, a process that involved the nasty job of removing the decals with a heat gun. An auto-detailer friend did the restriping, even adding a new Palm Beach logo. They have found that keeping the original colors has led to lots of attention while traveling, and they seldom go anywhere without getting smiles and waves — and sometimes something more.

The galley of this renovated GMC Palm Beach sports solid cherry cabinets, solid-surface counters and modern appliances. Photo by Cinnabar Engineering

“We were driving through South Dakota, a long, straight stretch, and a car full of teenagers passed us, and you know, they are pretty hard to impress,” Janet remembers. “They pulled off, and a little while later they pulled next to us again, and they held up a handmade sign that said, ‘WE LOVE YOUR CAMPER!’”

One reason the GMC remains so popular is that it was ahead of its time in many respects. It was designed for comfort, both on the road and in an RV park. With front-wheel drive, a low roofline and a low center of gravity, the GMC handles easily. The air suspension provides a smooth ride, and the wide, panoramic windows ensure superior visibility while traveling. Unlike many smaller motorhomes of that era, it boasts 6 feet, 4 inches of headroom, and features an unusual 15-inch ground-to-floor clearance for comfortable entry and exit. Built in 23- and 26-foot lengths, GMC offered three models differing only by color; however, empty GMCs (Transmodes) were upfitted and sold by several other companies under their brand names, providing up to 15 different interior configurations.

The standard GMC motorhome came with a Davo (sliding) couch behind the driver’s seat that unfolds into two bunk beds; the galley consisted of a double sink, a 6-cubic-foot refrigerator, LP-gas range and oven. Also standard was the molded fiberglass wet bath module, which includes a shower, mirrored sliding door medicine cabinet, sink and an Aqua-Magic toilet. This is opposite the closet module and adjacent storage drawers. The rear bedroom features twin sofas that create a queen-size bed.

But regardless of its configuration on the showroom floor, don’t expect to see a stock GMC motorhome today. In more than four decades of use, every one we have seen has been modified in ways big and small to suit its owners.

“You can go inside 10 of these motorhomes, and you won’t see two alike,” Jim Galbavy notes.

The original gold countertop defines the 1970’s look of the Freys’ GMC. Photo by Janet Frey

Many owners, like the Galbavys, had their units stripped to the bare bones and then re-outfitted with modern cabinetry, furnishings and appliances. While some owners opt for a total interior renovation, we were charmed by those like the Freys, who have updated while holding on to that 1970’s look. Janet and Ken kept the original gold Formica and double-bowl stainless-steel sink in the kitchen but replaced the barrel chairs with residential office chairs and the green shag carpet with a mix of vinyl flooring and residential plush carpet. They replaced the rear sofas with a double bed, repurposing one as living-area seating in place of the dinette. Janet wasn’t happy with the louvered cabinet doors, which collected dust, so a cabinetmaker friend replaced the fronts with solid wooden faces on lower sections and Plexiglas “picture frames” on some upper cabinets to allow for a photo gallery.
Because of its size and design, storage in the original GMC design is limited. Ken solved this problem uniquely by adding a five-drawer toolbox next to the sofa and covering the two sides that faced the living area with wainscoting to resemble an end table. The result is quick and easy access and additional table space.

As cool as the GMC is, there has to be more to its continued existence than its futuristic design. Wes Caughlan, Cinnabar Engineering’s president and an original GMC motorhome owner, has the answer.

“You know what makes something a classic ride? Parts. Without available parts, older motorhomes can’t survive,” he explains.

Cult Classics 4New paint accentuates the futuristic lines of this renovated Palm Beach GMC. For those wanting to collect this “cult” classic, there are GMC motorhomes in all conditions available on the market. If you are looking for a restoration project, you can pick one up for less than $5,000. For a GMC that has been partially restored but will require some additional work, expect to pay $20,000-$30,000. Fully restored motorhomes vary widely in the amenities that have been added, and average $45,000-$50,000. Complete renovations cost much more and generally come with a warranty. To learn more, check out GMC Motorhomes International at www.gmcmi.com, or GMC Motorhome News at www.thegmcmotorhomepeople.com/news.

In the case of the GMC motorhome, Cinnabar Engineering purchased the rights to manufacture and distribute original GMC motorhome parts and publications in the 1980s. The result is a supply chain that keeps these vintage beauties on the road. The Freys agree, noting that they have been able to get many of the needed parts from Cinnabar Engineering. The company also specializes in complete GMC motorhome renovations and published GMC Motorhome News, which was dedicated to the preservation of a classic and timeless vehicle.

Another valuable resource is GMC owners themselves, available on the Blacklist (www.gmcmi.com/black-list), a nationwide directory of volunteers who agree to be on-call for assistance to fellow owners on the road. Galbavy notes that he answered his share of distress calls from owners stranded on Interstate 95 when he lived in Virginia.

“We are like a family. We have to help each other out,” he explains.

This sense of camaraderie may be the GMC motorhome’s greatest strength. There are active GMC motorhome clubs nationwide, known for enthusiasm for their coaches. Janet and Ken Frey attend monthly rallies, plus the GMC International club’s conventions twice a year. The Galbavys are active members of a Florida club. Spend 10 minutes with a GMC owner and you will find yourself initiated into their absolute passion for their motorhome.
“We have a motto: It’s not a club, it’s a cult,” Ada Galbavy laughs.

Which makes the GMC motorhome not just a classic, but a “cult classic” ride.

We’re on the lookout for classic rides! If you, or someone you know, has a terrific older motorhome, send an email with info and a photo to Ann Eichenmuller, and your RV might be featured in MotorHome magazine!

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