Florida and Bust


"Florida and Bust"

According to Bob Bitchin the difference between an adventure and an ordeal is…….attitude.    We’ll see.

Since our boat was not available Joan and I planned a road trip to Florida beginning February 2nd and ending around the 15th.  We opted to borrow what we thought was a small camper-type vehicle so we could take along the dogs and cats, it being hard to leave a diabetic cat with neighbors or friends.

Burden's Camper

I picked up the vehicle on Friday afternoon and ferried it back home. Doing so I almost froze to death because the heating system was not working as it should. We called the owner who came to our home to investigate the problem. He installed a new heater blower and showed us much more about the vehicle, which was a Fleetwood Pace Arrow, vintage 1986, 33 feet long and sported a 454 cubic inch gasoline engine and built in generator set, all the modern conveniences of home with fridge/freezer, head, shower, stove with oven and water heater.

We finally roared out of our drive at 8:30 on Saturday evening headed south. By the time we reached Route 31, all of four miles, the heater had quit and a return home seemed in order.  A check of the wiring around the newly installed heater motor isolated a loose connection which was quickly rectified, and once more we roared off looking for warm weather.

Our first night was spent in a rest area somewhere just south of Champaign running a noisy generator and two electric heaters to fend off the cold.  Neither of us slept much so an early start was agreed upon. Topped off the fuel tank in Tuscola Illinois at a cost of $200 that delivered 55 gallons. We took off again.  The day is Sunday and the weather is showing signs of warmer temperatures as we go from Route 57 to Route 24 on course for Tennessee.

Up comes Clarksville TN and another $200 in fuel goes into the tank along with a half decent nights’ sleep.   The generator is running as are the heaters so at least we are warm enough.  The cats have demanded to be left out of their travel cages and have found alternative digs under the settee just behind the helm seat. They are safe and happy and only venture out for food or potty visits.  The dogs remain caged whilst the Pace Arrow is in motion running down towards Tampa and beyond, steady ahead at 55 miles an hour, all quiet.


Like the sound of a 12 gauge shot gun at close range. Us? Somebody close by? We look at each other just like deer caught in the headlamps. Steering seems okay but I slow down anyway.   Within a minute there are banging and thumping noises from somewhere behind me. Doesn’t sound like cats! I pull on to the shoulder and stop. Inspection of the rear tires tells me we have lost a tire on the inside of the dual system on the starboard side. In a conversation with Allen, the owner, he tells me drive slowly and find a tire store to change the wheel.  I start to drive but am afraid of tearing up the underside as the noise is getting worse. I stop. The instruction is simple. “You cannot change the tire, find a service to do it.”  Okay.  After much searching on the internet via our mobile phones a rescue truck arrives and changes the offending wheel and tire. As the service company does not have a tire that size we are now without a spare. After a fee of, guess how much? Right, $200. The service adjuster admonishes me to find at least two new tires at the earliest opportunity.  We are now going to be lucky to make Atlanta by dark. Options are simple but not easy. An RV park in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta will accommodate us overnight, it has hot showers. At this point, we cannot remember the last one we had.  The overnight stop brings us to Tuesday.

We ought to find tires in Atlanta but the thought of driving ‘Old Gertie’, the name now given to the Pace Arrow after many other names, some quite colorful, have been thrown out, around the streets of a major city puts me in a state of near panic. I think ‘the hell with it’, we’ll press on without a spare, after all, how much bad luck can you have with tires? I replaced two on my Jag last month!

Continuing along through Georgia at a sedate 55 miles an hour the world in general is taking on a much rosier glow, we are both in shirt sleeves and some of the windows are letting in fresh air. It is late morning and all seems well……..


We know that sound.  Pull onto the shoulder for a tire check. Sure enough the port side inner on the rear dual has blown. We drive to the next exit and are sent back one exit to a tire dealer who tells us he cannot help as he does not carry ‘small’ tires like these, only heavy duty large industrial jobs. He does, however, track down a usable amount of tires in a dealer about 20 miles on and sends us on our way at a much reduced speed. I am afraid I will get a speeding ticket for going too slow. We call the dealer and make arrangements for all tires to be checked and four new ones to be installed on our arrival.  As I carefully drive up the off ramp with the dealer only five minutes away, I feel yet another tire shred. This is the outer rear from the pair that was worked on previously. We hold our collective breath and make the last few hundred yards, on a wing and a prayer, into their yard.  On inspection it turns out that some of the remaining tires date back to the mid 1990s. This is an easy decision. Replace all six at a cost of just under $1500. We have just enough hours left to take us into Florida where we hole up in a rest area to lick our wounds and sleep.

Burden's in Florida

The following day Old Gertie finally delivers us to our reserved place in Largo FL where we do more battling with systems which we do not understand. They appear to be deliberately working against us either by refusing to give electrical service or by trying to fill the whole vehicle with water. I never noticed how many service doors were on both sides of Gertie or how many of them could expel water in large quantities for no apparent reason. Many helping hands were extended from folks who have greater knowledge about these strange vehicles - not at all like a boat – until we were at least able to function.

Burden's in Florida

We spent much time with our old friends and fellow NWSA club members Joe and Judy Storts. As always they were gracious hosts and wined and dined us at their delightful home and at a favorite watering hole, JD’s, right between the ICW and the Gulf of Mexico. We were also able to make time to visit family members and dear friends Sharon and Larry who have a home a little further south.

From the first day out we needed screen wipers, as, I think, like the tires, the wipers had seen their best days about the time of Custer’s Last Stand. Joan shared in the driving and was most insistent on replacements before heading back north. I lost count of truck-stops and auto parts stores that did not have that particular type of wiper blade. One gentleman at RVs R US in Largo, insisted I bring the whole vehicle to him for a closer look. He removed the blade, got in his car and disappeared. About 40 minutes later he reappeared with new blades and a smile on his face. He simply said “you’d never have found these, they’re old truck parts.” I believed him.

Burden's in Florida

The run back to our home in Gilberts IL should have been a breeze. After all, what else could go wrong? New tires, wipers, systems checks, leaks stopped.

Strange thing, here we are somewhere close to Nashville TN riding quietly (quietly you say? Not with 454 cu ins straining away next to you) along, Joan at the helm, me reading, dogs sleeping, cats under the settee, when a big rig slows down alongside, blasts his horn and points to the roof, our roof. We immediately pull off the road.  I begin standing on anything that will make me tall enough to see the roof and its load of stuff up there. No good, cannot see a darn thing.  We drive on thinking maybe somebody playing games. Over a span of 15 minutes more big rigs are slowing as they pass and pointing at the roof. A friendly gas station clerk has a ladder tall enough for me to inspect the equipment on the roof. The last thing I check on my way around is the plastic cover on the forward air conditioning unit. It is thin and eaten by the sun. The nuts and bolts holding it have chafed through in places. I am more fearful of the damage it could do to someone else if it took flight, but I do not want to just tear it off since I may damage something else. A further consult with my crystal ball, which doubles as an iphone, tells me there is an RV dealer not far away.  No choice, here we go again. Not many minutes later we arrive on their doorstep to find them………out of business? Back to the crystal ball, nearest RV dealer is 50 miles away, not an option. As I continue my web search, Joan sees a heavy equipment dealer about 100 yards further on and suggests we try them, even if we only receive a local mechanic’s name.

The receptionist for Thompson Machinery, a Caterpillar dealer, requests the service manager to come out for a look. I explain the problem and our shortage of options, he then has me drive around to the service area where the door would have taken a vehicle twice our height and beam. The foreman gave me an odd look until I again explained the problem. He simply grabbed a ladder and sent a mechanic aloft to inspect for damage. Nothing to report other than an old cover about to take a tour on its own. Five minutes later it was on the ground. They refused to accept any payment and packed us out with good thoughts and wishes, and much gratitude and many thanks from us.

Other than a constant flow of fuel into the tank and cash out of the bank account, the remainder of the journey home was uneventful. We were on our own door-step on February 15 and Old Gertie was back in her home slot by 7 pm

Adventure or ordeal?  It will take me some time to figure that one out!

John Burden

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