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RU RV? // You have to do your homework

So you want to buy an RV? So did we. For three years we researched each type of recreational vehicle in existence. Motor homes, pull trailers and fifth wheels were our main focus, with a sprinkling of pop-up and camper trailers.

Each month the latest issue of Trailer Life magazine was eagerly awaited by our household. What will be new and different in this month's issue? We drove hundreds of miles exploring every RV dealership from Ocala to Venice, checking all the latest models and amenities. Each January, for three years, we attended the biggest RV show in the Southeast. We would be in line at daybreak to view the many hundreds of recreational vehicles on display. By day's end, we would drag our tired bodies back home with visions of RVs dancing in our heads.

Motor home?

Trailer?

Fifth wheel?

In 1991, motor homes were our choice, followed in 1992 by the wonderful world of pull trailers. 1993 saw our passion building for a fifth wheel.

After three years of attending RV shows, reading brochures and magazine articles, we considered ourselves experts in discussing any kind of RV. While debating the merits of fiberglass walls, rubber roofs, power slide-out rooms, electric jacks, hydraulic jacks, telescoping stabilizers, hitches and generators, we held our own with the best of RV sales personnel.

As suggested by many, we rented a 30-foot motor home for a long weekend trip. We didn't have one problem during this experimental exercise of life on the road. Well, I did forget to put the steps up before leaving one of the parks. We discovered later that there is something called "getting level" when you park your rig. Just beginner's luck, we did not level, had no way to level (blocks of woods, hydraulic jacks, etc.). The refrigerator worked, dishes stayed on the table and we did not need a lifeline to walk from the driver's seat to the bedroom.

We test-drove a pickup truck pulling a fifth-wheel trailer. With rapt attention we watched as the fifth-wheel rig was connected to a big contraption that was bolted to the bed of the pickup truck. This was a fifth-wheel hitch that for all the world resembled the "jaws of life." We practiced backing into an imaginary park site. My husband still refuses to discuss the fact my backing skills were superior to his.

After attending our third RV show in January 1994, our minds were set. We knew what we wanted. It would be a fifth wheel for us. Hurrah!

Fifth wheels are a kind of hybrid trailer that needs a pickup truck bed to substitute for its front wheels. When standing alone, it resembles large-body flamingos with skinny "legs" called jacks. Fifth wheels may have one or two slide-out rooms. This expands the living area square footage to compare with a miniature apartment. With few exceptions, the bedroom is in the fore area that tags along on the bed of the pickup. Bedrooms can be high-profile or low-profile. Low-profile appeals to families who aren't so tall or to people who do not mind crawling to their bed.

Now that our minds and hearts were at rest from wrestling with that decision, we started the countdown to a retirement date of December 31, 1994.

We told our family and friends our future adventures would be in our fifth wheel with an expansion room. "What is a fifth wheel?" they asked. "Well, it's kind of like a ... let me show you a picture."

We bragged to fellow employees of our future purchase. As their eyes glazed over, we knew the next question they would ask: "What is a fifth wheel?"

Up until now, we had had fun.

Trying to purchase a truck as a tow vehicle was not fun.

Male-chauvinist salesmen were condescending to me because of my lack of truck knowledge, and the fact I am a woman! There were either 20 sales personnel surrounding us as we pulled into the dealership or we were left alone on the showroom floor in a sea of chrome.

There is more, but that is for another story in the making, called "So you want to buy a truck?"

Finally, we were down to the day of ordering the pickup truck. A little glass cubicle office held a nervous and perspiring salesman and two stressed-out, worn-out, would-be pickup truck customers. After much discussion and decision-making, the time came to sign our names on the dotted line. Wringing my hands with frustration, I turned toward my husband, saying, "I'm not ready for this." The patron saint of RVs was shouting in my mind, "Is this what you really want?"

We bolted from that dealership, leaving the bewildered salesman, pen in hand, sitting in his little glass cubicle.

The next day we threw away three years of research. We fell in love. Yes, we fell in love with a motor home. Drove it and bought it on the spot.

All our careful planning, timing and budgeting went out the window.

We put ourselves on bread and water for the next three months.

We are in love with this 33-foot, wide-body, seven-miles-to-the-gallon-of-gas (if we are lucky) motor home.

We call her "Baby." Why? She takes all of our time, a good portion of our money, giving little in return. We adore her (our baby has electric steps).

We canceled our subscription to Trailer Life. We now subscribe to Motor Home.

So you want to buy an RV? Let me save you some time. Just follow your heart.

Susan Stewart, an Indiana resident, lived for a while in the Tampa Bay area.

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