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  • Writer's pictureSusan Byers

Trying On "Small" for Size

In the spring of 2014, I had found what I thought just might be the perfect fifth-wheel to serve as our home for a two-year tour in search of a place to retire, visiting friends and family, and seeing America on the way. But the RV was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, several hundred miles from Alexandria, Virginia. I had to find a way to get my unsuspecting hubby out there. Meanwhile, I kept looking and I kept going back to that trailer in Michigan. The more I looked, the more convinced I was that this was "it."

We were overdue for a visit to family and friends in the Midwest. Our kids were occupied with summer jobs but were old enough that we could leave them in charge for several days, so I suggested to my husband that we plan a quick trip and that, on the way back, we rent a motorhome to see if we could really live in something that small. He liked the idea, and we arranged to rent a 34-foot Damon Daybreak motorhome from Krenek RV in Coloma, Michigan, for five days (we didn't have a truck, so a fifth-wheel wasn't possible).

A week later (planning ahead is not my forté), we were in Michigan and I was sitting in the driver's seat of a BEAST, easing--with great trepidation--onto a road. And then--OMG!!!--onto a highway!

"Don't worry too much about traffic coming," said the dealer. "You're the King of the Road. They'll get out of the way." They did. We survived. Then Len had his turn to drive the same "training circuit." Finally, they told us to enjoy ourselves and turned us loose on Michigan. It was not unlike leaving the hospital (or orphanage) with your first child ... NOW WHAT?!

Fortunately, the campground was just a few miles from the dealership, and driving and parking The Beast was actually easier than expected. In short order, we were hooked up, jacks down and slides out, and we settled in for a few days of wandering around looking at RVs and living the small life. We loved it. This was something we could do, absolutely.

Over the next few days, we test-drove weary, water-stained old diesel pushers (there was a Newmar that was tempting, but those water stains ... nah, I'd done my homework) and looked at fifth-wheel trailers. And we we drove an hour and a half up to Modern RV in Grand Rapids (they've since moved to Byron Center) to look at the one I'd been watching online since spring.

It was a 35LKSA Kountry Star. It had opposing slides in the living area that created a large U-shaped kitchen and a big space on the other side, which was set up as an office/dining room. The desk was big, with a slide-out for a big printer, and the table pulled out to seat four.

RV renovation before, kitchen

The rest of the living area was also roomy. And with the existing furniture gone, it would be really flexible. One of the best things was that, although there wasn't a ton of storage room in the (heated) basement, there was lots and lots inside. I would much rather have the space inside where it's easy to get to.

RV renovation before, living room
RV renovation before, bath

One of our favorite things was that you couldn't see the bedroom from the living room; you went up the stairs and turned left through a door. That led into a space with a sink and three doors. One, a shower door, was tucked in a corner. There was a water closet on one side and a cabinet for a stacked washer and dryer on the other (YESSS!!!). It didn't feel like a bathroom, but more like a hall.

RV renovation before, bedroom

The bedroom was a good size, with a surprising amount of storage, windows on either side of the bed, plus another big window opposite. Lots of storage, lots of light.

The RV was in surprisingly good shape for an 11-year-old rig. We looked inside cabinets, pushed on walls and around windows, and looked closely for water stains. We couldn't find any water damage, and it was very clean. The decor would have to go, but the walls and floors were solid. There was a slightly musty smell that could have just been from storage, but otherwise, it was in great shape. Al Reurink at Modern RV said he'd sold the rig to the original owners when it was new and they had done the maintenance on it every year since. He knew the rig inside and out.

Just for comparison, we went to look at another of 2003 35LKSA not far away, but it had obvious leaks ("It's an old rig, what do you expect?" the salesman huffed). We went back to the motorhome to think, still a bit reluctant to make a commitment.

On the night before we were to head home, we decided to go back and look at the Newmar once more, "to see," said my honey, "if it still has that 'ah' factor." So instead of driving southeast, we again drove the hour and a half north. As soon as we stepped inside, Len sat down in one of the big, blue recliners with a contented " ah," and said, "I could move in here right now." I felt the same way. And so we bought it. I spent a fair amount of the money I'd recently inherited from my parents, and in my mind, I could see my dad chuckling and shaking his head and my mom rolling her eyes. But I think they'd have come around.

We couldn't take the RV home--we didn't own a truck, and at a loaded weight of 16,000 pounds, it was going to take a lot of truck (oh joy, more research). So we left it in Al's capable hands to install an electric fireplace, take out the oh-so-lovely furniture, check out all the systems and put new tires on it. Once it was ready, we had it towed to Virginia (for a surprisingly modest fee) to space 1138 at Holly Acres Marine and Storage, half an hour from our house. Before long, "1138" is what we were calling it, and even though it's now in a different space, "1138" it remains. As we had time (we have four kids, after all, plus a lot of pets and a house that always needs maintenance), we began working on it to make it ours. But that's a story for another day. And another and another.

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