Join Date: Apr 2012
Location: Ocala, Florida
A-frame totaled by high winds
We were beginning our sixth month on the road. Having left Florida in April, we had a memorable trip through the Ole South, southwest, coastal California, Oregon and Washington State, and the western provinces of Canada. Our A-frame was handling the trip well despite 3 flat tires after torture on the rugged Yukon and Alaska roadways. A broken trailer hitch was another consequence of these byways but, all in all, the trip was fantastic.
Highlights of trip were the two community parades in which we towed our A-frame with the roof and walls up. Why? Those unfamiliar with “Snoopy”, our A-frame, may not be aware of its unique paint job. Often referred to as ‘North America’s most photographed RV’, the exterior is adorned with airbrushed graphics on the roof and sides; every exterior surface is adorned with drawings. The roofs are covered with World War One biplanes in dogfights, a huge dirigible (the rear bubble window), and a two-foot-high aluminum Snoopy with his wind-blown scarf bolted to the roof’s peak. One side of the A-frame is painted like a children’s playhouse with several different patterns of painted-on wood siding. The driver’s side utilizes the trailer’s wheel as the rear wheel of a street rod whose front tire is raised as if doing a wheelie. The front wheel, a 16-inch pizza tin from Walmart, is painted to resemble a spinning racing wheel with tire. We even won first-place in our category in the Soldotna, Alaska founders’ day parade!
Our last month, September, would be our time to revisit national parks of the west and see some new locations also. With over 17,000 miles under our belt we felt we were taking a scenic diversion while coasting downhill to eventually arrive in the lowlands of Florida. The Canadian-American border was within arms’ reach as we camped at Waterton Lakes (Canadian National Park) / Glacier (USA National Park) International Peace Park. Our first evening was great as we made new acquaintances, all of who had questions about the airbrushed graphics on Snoopy. The campground’s backdrop of sky-touching mountains, deep valleys and mirror-like lakes and waterways made it a picture postcard setting.
The next day was spent hiking up some recommended trails deep into the woods. Returning down toward the campground we saw a dozen tourists on a hillside angled 30-degrees off vertical toward the valley floor, standing with arms outstretched. An optical illusion? We had to investigate.
Upon reaching the hillside we immediately felt the wind rising from the valley and at a rate suitable to support the average person as he/she leaned forward in a Superman-in-flight pose. Sally was able to keep herself aloft but my bulk kept me in more of a Clark Kent position. A few minutes of this was enough so we moved on to our campsite.
Finishing our evening meal we sat inside our A-frame to enjoy a bit of reading and such prior to taking our evening showers. The wind was now picking up but there appeared to be no sign of rain in the forecast. The wind’s velocity increased and we watched fellow campers scrambling to pick up lawn chairs and other loose, light items. Minutes later tents were flapping and RVs began to shake. The thought crossed my mind to fold down our rig and move into our Volkswagen; the wind looked like a short-term nuisance. I dismissed the fold-down as the wind had now accelerated to a level where potential damage to Snoopy was possible. Besides, we had been through many a heavy rainstorm, hailstorm, and who-knows-what weather experience in our 100,000-mile history in this camper. Snoopy rarely leaked and had taken his beatings well, so I felt sufficiently safe… but I was gaining in nervous concern.
When the C-Class and A-Class units started swaying our curiosity at the weather conditions turned to serious concern. Would the wind become sufficient enough to blow us over? Sitting on our beds at opposite ends of the A-frame we’d look at each other every few seconds, looking for each other’s facial expression or nervous comment. Then, suddenly… BAM! The A-wall opposite the door slammed down between us, the roof halves separated, the A-wall behind us pivoted outward, and the room filled with a hurricane. The sound of screws snapping from the wind-blown wall hinge sent chills through our spines. Things were flying everywhere! Up in an instant we found ourselves unable to use the door; the A-wall had folded the two-piece door in half and jammed the connecting latch. I boosted Sally over the wall at its narrowest point and yelled for her to raise the wall high enough so I could unlatch the door halves. She couldn’t raise it against the wind’s ferociousness. Pulling open an adjacent drawer I retrieved a screwdriver and broke the connecting latch. Sally struggled to raise the wall high enough for me to crawl through the bottom half of the doorway. Together we tried in vain to raise the A-wall; the wind was too strong. A tenter in a nearby campsite ran and joined us and the three of us increased our adrenaline to lift the wall. Upon reaching a vertical position the remaining screws broke from the wall and it fell into the cabin unattached. Quick action found us pulling down the flapping roof panels and securing the A-frame in its normal towing position. Gathering up any personal items we could salvage in the campsite we stowed them in the car along with ourselves. What would we do now?
It took us several minutes to have reality sink in: our Snoopy trailer was damaged… really damaged. What had taken us years to modify to our personal needs and satisfaction, and over 160 hours to airbrush to a work of art, was reduced to a storage trailer in less than 3 seconds. Could we fix it to a livable standard and complete our trip? Was Snoopy repairable or salvageable? This would take more thought than a few minutes inside our car, plus we had bigger needs right now. Where would we sleep the night?
We finally found a bed & breakfast lodge and returned to our camper to acquire other personal items needed for the night. The wind had dropped a tad but was still quite strong. Several folks came out to express their sympathies for our loss; they had taken countless photos over the past two days, asking the usual questions, “How long did it take to paint?” “Did you do it yourself?” “May I take some photos?” We remarked to someone that we had seen a fabric-topped folding camper leave the campgrounds as we had just come back. At least they had not set up yet and faced the same fate as ourselves. Contraire, he remarked. The camper was the largest fabric camper we had ever seen. It slept at least eight adults. These folks HAD set up and the wind actually picked them and their camper up off the ground, turned it 90-degrees, and dropped it back to earth. Maybe we had to search for a motel room but they needed one PLUS a cleaners! They left the campground really scared! (We later ran into them twice and they shared their terror in being airborne inside their pop-up.)
The next day we were more positive about our circumstance and planned to fix the wall and continue our trip. I felt I could reattach the wall to the hinge extrusion with Gorilla glue as long as I could manage a proper alignment within a windless work area. During our drive to the nearest hardware store, about 40 miles away, reality kicked in. The winds were still above 20 miles-per-hour. Where would we find a windproof work location where the glue would have a day or two to cure? Five miles from town we concluded the remainder of the trip would be postponed for a year to so until Snoopy was properly repaired.
The next six days were spent driving 7 hours per day toward Florida. The winds continued for at least two more days, so our on-the-road repairs would have been impossible. Once at home the extent of our catastrophe was evident. A countertop microwave sitting atop the range had been hit by the incoming A-wall driving it into the counter top, which rebounded causing the microwave to fall to the floor. Though it was operative, the microwave had bent the countertop down about one-and-a-half inches. That cabinet was separated from the wall by about 2 inches. The frame rails were bulging up from under the floor; we had obviously been airborne and dropped down onto the ground with the frame being driven upward with great force. The roof panels didn’t align properly. The cabin’s box shape was no longer square. In essence, Snoopy was “totaled”. It hit us hard – our first camper, six years of ownership, an equivalent of living inside for 3 years, and 100,000 miles of on-road travel, gone in 3 seconds!
Getting an estimate took longer than expected – three and a half months. Our favorite local RV shop had to use a registered dealer to get parts, and everyone along the chain knew it would be branded a total loss but the insurance company wouldn’t accept that designation without a dollar figure. The cost of the roof and wall panels was easy to confirm but the crating and shipping would take considerable time to calculate. It really wasn’t worth the time to do the calculations – it was just a total wreck, period. The insurance company wouldn’t budge. A phone call to the CEO at the factory found the magician. He did his “magic” and my RV technician called the next day and said, “The estimate is done and we’ll call the insurance adjustor. Get ready to deal with them.”
I won’t bore you with the details of our insurance settlement. Suffice it to say our attention to detail in gathering ads and selling prices of similar used A-frames resulted in a very satisfactory reimbursement from our insurance carrier. Our $6500 investment six years ago dropped only $1500! The proven value of an A-frame was evident. But would we buy one again. YES! We assured ourselves that a wind kit would resolve our concerns, and we had too many friends in the A-frame owners club to change brands. And we loved our A-frame, so there was only one thing to do… look for Snoopy Twoo.
It was now Christmas week. After emailing our Florida chapter presidents and asking them to forward our “A-frame wanted” ad to the Florida members via their mailing list, we received four emails and two phone calls the very next day! Within the week we drove to Atlanta to inspect a unit. The deal was sealed the next morning and we brought our new(er) 2006 model home on New Years day.
We have since spent about a month changing the floor plan and other items to meet our personal preferences. We even developed an “improved” wind kit. And a few evenings a week are spent brainstorming ideas on what we’ll airbrush on the exterior beginning this fall. We’re dedicating at least three times the previous 160 hours to spray on new graphics. And, despite our occasional sadness, we don’t feel we’re replacing our old Snoopy as much as resurrecting a new, improved companion – Snoopy Twoo – with more World War One bi-planes in combat scenes, and maybe a different street rod, and glaciers and grizzlies from Alaska flanking kayakers and giant ferns from New Zealand, and Sally… what do you think about a fancier looking clubhouse like last time, and…
(A big thank-you to all the folks who sympathized with our loss of Snoopy and sent so many nice emails of regret. Your notes have enthused us to do an even better job next time. We dedicate our redesign to you and our family and friends back home. Thank you for your compassion and encouragement. Chris & Sally Mendola, Ocala, Florida.)