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Old 08-16-2002, 05:35 AM   #1
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Location: N.E. Ohio
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Article By Larry Zeigler


My father died two weeks before he was to retire. He never got to relax, travel, enjoy himself or do any of the things he had planned to do. After a good deal of introspection and thought, I decided to try to retire when I was still young enough to enjoy myself. I felt I could get some kind of work when I got up in years if necessary.

In 1989 I ordered a new Ford one ton Crew cab, 460 gas engine, with the AE04 overdrive transmission. I then purchased a used 39 foot Kountry Air 5th wheel with one slide out. I sold everything I owned including my house and business. My wife and I hit the road as full timers.

The Ford was a big black monster with a red interior. It was comfortable and handled nicely. The first sign of a problem occurred as we were traveling across New Mexico. I realized the throttle pedal was on the floor, and we were only going 45 MPH. What's This? We were on relatively flat ground, we just weren't going very fast. Soon we passed a sign that revealed the problem: "Elevation 4,000 feet." I realized the EFI engine was starving for air. We struggled along with the Ford for about 18 months. It was overloaded and underpowered.

When I burned out the Catalytic converter in the Colorado mountains I decided to look for a better tow vehicle.

There was not much of a selection. Ford, Chev, and Dodge. Everyone made about the same capacity truck. I looked at them all. All would have been overloaded by my trailer which only weighted about 13,000 lbs.

I briefly looked at some business class trucks but they were not designed for RV use. They were primarily city delivery trucks which lacked amenities, they were expensive, offered very limited options, and I thought they rode too rough for RV use.

I finally bought a new 1992 Dodge one ton extended cab with a Dodge Cummins diesel. The Cummins only had 160 HP and 400 foot pounds of torque. Still, It actually pulled a lot better than the Ford did. I think the Cummins turbo made the real difference. Nevertheless, towing in mountainous areas was no fun at all. I was still underpowered, overloaded and under braked.

I modified the Cummins engine by putting on a bigger intercooler, changing the exhaust system, and turning up the fuel pump. Then I dynoed the truck, 190 HP at the rear wheels. This was a significant improvement, but It was still a 3rd gear truck when in the mountains. I couldn't improve the most important factor, the brakes.

HP and torque increased slightly in pickups during the next several years, but nothing significant.I looked at class 6 and Class 8 trucks. I wanted a class 8 truck. My problem was, due to an accident at age 15, I am blind in my Left eye. It is extremely difficult to obtain a vision waiver to get a CDL. (I have been ticket and accident free for more than 20 years). I didn't know of any way to legally buy and use a class 8 truck, so in 1996 I ordered a new Freightliner FL60 from the dealer in Commerce City, CO. I ordered an extended cab air ride chassis, air ride seats, and a Williams exhaust brake. It had a 3126 Cat engine, 230 HP with 660 torque, six speed manual transmission, 22.5 all aluminum wheels, 3:31 axle ratio, and 23,000 GVW.

I immediately had a custom steel bed built and installed along with the Reese 20 K Hitch I had been using. The FL60 was a piece of junk from the beginning. Long story short, I had the truck in for repairs 59 times during the first 13 months I owned it. It was truly a nightmare truck.

I know many medium duty owners are reasonably happy with their FL 60s and 70s, but I was not one of them. I have nothing good to say about the FL60, freightliner service or their management. (At one point freightliner and the dealer agreed to replace my truck, but they reneged the following day.)

I wound up selling that truck back to the dealer I bought it from. I lost about 22 K on the deal. There was no way I could have lived with myself if I'd sold that truck to an individual. I suspect the dealer dumped that blue junker somewhere outside the Denver area.

During this time period I was still exploring options. I was and am licensed and registered in Oregon. I discovered that a few people had successfully registered class 8 trucks as motor homes. The State of Oregon only requires "cooking and sleeping facilities" to qualify for motorhome registration.

All states have written requirements for registering motor homes. As long as a class 8 vehicle meets the criteria for your state, you should be able to register it as a motorhome. Success in some cases depends on your approach at the DMV.

I decided it was Class 8 for me. After searching for about 6 months, looking at more trucks than most folks would believe, I bought a 96 Volvo WIA64TES. The Volvo was powered by a 400 HP Cummins engine with 1450 pounds of torque. The transmission was an Eaton 10 speed with .73 overdrive. This was the first truck I'd ever bought used. It had more than 450,000 miles on it, but you wouldn't know it. I fell in love with it (after I learned to drive it.)

I Finally had a truck that met my expectations. The Volvo offered far more safety, performance, comfort, durability , reliability, storage, visibility , overall fuel mileage and capacity than is available in any class 6 truck.

I became King of the mountains. I could actually tow up any mountain in the US in 10th gear at 75 MPH if I wanted to. Descending mountains while towing my fiver using the two stage Jake was relaxing. I didn't need to use those huge tractor brake shoes. There are two sets of shoes on the end of each axle. Shoes are about 15 inches long, 7 inches wide and 5/8 inch thick. I towed my Alfa with that Volvo all over the West.

I normally cruise between 62 and 65 MPH towing. That's pretty slow, but the reason for that is clear to anyone who ever blew a trailer tire when towing at 70 MPH. Major belly and fender damage to the trailer results. Trailer tires can look perfect, not be hot, overloaded, or under inflated, and still blow apart big time with no warning. I have had 5 trailer tires blow out during my years of Rving. 4 of them had very good tread.

Now I cruise slow even with new trailer tires. The only exception is when I'm towing up a mountain. Then I speed up to about 70 MPH. I go 75 or faster if I want to catch somebody and blow their doors off. One of my small pleasures in life is leaving a $90,000 medium duty freightshaker in my dust. He's the one on the floor in the right lane doing 45 MPH .

Life's situations are constantly changing. Illness and aging in both my wife and my families caused us to consider settling down and moving into my mother-in-laws house to provide care for her.

Covenants in my mother-in-laws neighborhood do not allow motorhome parking. Several people had expressed interest in buying my Volvo MH, so I decided to sell it. I made up a website and sold the yellow Volvo to a really nice couple in Washington State.

My MIL improved, so we didn't move into her home. I decided to buy another Volvo which I could sell when necessary. I bought a 98 Volvo which we used for several months. I towed from Portland Oregon down through CA, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and back into the Kansas City area.

For the last several years I have been trying to think of way to produce some income. Unless I die soon, I am going to outlive my money. I think a private individual can buy and sell about 7 vehicles per year without being classified as a dealer. I decided to try buying and selling a Volvo every couple of months. I subsequently sold the 98 Volvo Which I had converted to, and registered as a motor home. I bought a 99 Volvo which I also registered as a motorhome and sold it. I will be buying another Volvo ASAP.


I am convinced after more than 10 years of towing heavy Fivers, (I now have a 38 foot Alfa Gold). there is no better tow vehicle than a properly speced tractor. It's also fun to drive around Bobtail. You can always see over the traffic jams. You just can't beat the comfort, power, safety and over all satisfaction you get driving a tractor.

The last time I checked, the top HP available in Medium duty Trucks is 300 for all intents and purposes. 860 is the maximum torque available except for the International 530 E which I think
goes up to 1050 torque.

A factory sleeper is not available at any price in a medium duty truck. A sleeper can be installed, but it has to be bolted onto the back of the cab after they cut the big hole behind the seats. When I checked into adding a sleeper to a medium duty truck, I was quoted 60 hours labor, plus the cost of the sleeper and parts. Even then, you can't get an air ride sleeper. I didn't want to climb through a hole in the back of the cab to get into a added on sleeper box sitting on rubber bumpers like tractors used to be in the eighties.

A four door medium duty truck can sort of be converted to a sleeper, but there is no room to stand up, and it is necessary to crawl over things to get in the back seat. There is no separate air conditioner for the back seat. Therefore, comfort and room in a medium duty cannot compare with stand up integral air ride sleepers. Tractors also have lots of overhead storage and under bed storage.

A medium duty truck is designed primarily for stop and go city delivery. The average time to overhaul in medium duty engines is about 300,000 miles. Most medium duty engines are "sleeveless". One rebuild is about all you can do before the truck is worn out.

All engines for over the road tractors are "sleeved." They are designed to go between 800,000 and 1,000,000 miles on average, before the first overhaul. A sleeved engine can be rebuilt several times if the owner chooses to do so. There are many tractors working daily with more than 2 million miles on the odometer.

Tractors have many designs and features which makes them very comfortable to operate these days. All tractors that operate in the mountains are equipped with a Jake Brake which is integral to the engine. The utility value of a Jake cannot be overstated.

A medium duty truck can be ordered with a plunger type brake which plugs the exhaust pipe to slow the truck down. These type of brakes don't compare with the effectiveness of a Jake Brake on a tractor.

Most tractors have a fuel capacity of at least 200 gallons. Most medium duty trucks have a 45 to 90 gallon fuel capacity.
A 300 HP medium duty truck will average about 7.8 to 8.8 MPG towing a heavy fiver. The Volvos I have owned averaged better than 10.5 MPG towing, of course they were just loafing.

Gauges, interior amenities, storage and interior fabrics are superior in tractors compared to medium duty trucks. Tractors are designed to haul 40 tons down the highway year in and year out. This far exceeds the capacity of medium duties.

The average medium duty weighs around 9500 to 10,500 lbs empty. A Volvo 610 with 61 inch integral sleeper, converted to a two axle unit, weighs around 13,000 lbs with an M11 Cummins Engine. Fuel weighs about eight pounds per gallon, so two hundred gallons of fuel adds 1,600 pounds.

Some people say that gearing is more important than HP and torque. Not! Torque is what moves a load up the mountain. Regardless of gearing, 860 foot pounds of torque does not remotely compare with, say 1,450 pounds of torque. Tractors can be purchased from the factory with up to 600 Hp and 2,050 Pounds of torque.

Articles are written in RV magazines touting class 6 trucks as great tow vehicles. The articles all say things like: " you don't even know that heavy fiver is back there."

When it takes 30 seconds or more to go from zero to sixty, you know its back there. When you are struggling along in the granny lane, climbing a grade, foot to the floor in third or forth gear at 45 MPH, you know it's back there.

I have never heard anyone with a class 3 to 7 truck say they had enough HP or torque. I know many medium duty owners are reasonably happy with their medium duties, but people were
happy with lanterns before electricity.

IMHO, a class 6 simply cannot compare on any level, including cost, to a used tractor. At the present time, clean, late model tractors in good condition, with less than 500K miles, can be purchased for under $30,000. None of that 10% tax either. Something to think about.


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Old 08-25-2002, 02:53 PM   #2
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Location: Visalia, Ca.
Posts: 12

Hi Warpath,

We my have gone your route if we knew sooner about class 8s. We do love our Pete Toterhome though, don't thimk I could give it up now.

Ours is a little bigger than most MDS and don't mind 50MPH on 6% grades. We do go slower on 8.5% like 40MPH, but sometimes I get the urge for more power( It's a guy thing )and think about.

I'm glad someone is educating people about the larger trucks. We learned the hard way.

Steve and Nancy O'Bosky
1998 Peterbilt 330 400hp 1028 torque
1995 collins two slides
(AKA Pete and Pete's draggin')

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Old 09-15-2002, 05:52 AM   #3
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Warpath, you wrote an exemplary article on the use of class 8 versus everything else that falls into a lesser category. I would not have anything less aftere reading your article. I tow a t/t as opposed to a fiver, so will only need to remember your article when I decide to full time and move up to a BIG fiver. Thank you for an intelligently thought out, fully expressed, totally complete narrative.
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Old 09-15-2002, 09:03 AM   #4
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Posts: 193

Just a clarification. The article above was written by Larry Zeigler.

Warpath contacted me, and asked if I would be interesting in contributing to his new forum. I agreed to do so. The article above was originally written by me on The Escapees Forum.

I told Warpath he could publish any of my articles and/or pictures on his website.

Warpath properly listed me as the author at the top if the page when he posted it on his forum.

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Old 09-15-2002, 02:08 PM   #5
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As mentioned above Larry is the one the credit goes to, glad to see this information is helping others out.


1995 FL FLD120, M11, custom interior.
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Old 06-28-2003, 09:51 PM   #6
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I have a '98 FLC120 (Freightliner Century) w/70" Condo. It is suspended on air bags. Does anyone have any ideas on decreasing the bag specs to yield a smoother ride for a RV 5th wheel trailer.
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Old 06-28-2003, 10:40 PM   #7
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Location: Hanford,CA,USofA
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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by DesertWat-Bill:
I have a '98 FLC120 (Freightliner Century) w/70" Condo. It is suspended on air bags. Does anyone have any ideas on decreasing the bag specs to yield a smoother ride for a RV 5th wheel trailer.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
I understand one way to soften air suspension is to put a tee fitting into the pressure line to the airbags, then run a line from the tee to a tank. The tank allows expansion room for the air to go when you hit a bump or obstruction. One line from near each air bag (2 total) would soften it more by allowing for more air movement. I hope this helps.
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Old 06-29-2003, 09:49 AM   #8
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In addition to Gary's ping tank suggestion, you might lower your air bag height by 1/2". Lowering the vertical rod on the leveling valve 1/2" will accomplish this.

Check with your Freightliner dealer for allowable height tolerances.

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Old 06-29-2003, 10:50 AM   #9
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Posts: 68

Hi Bill -- --

In my opinion -- You're considering the wrong approach --- changing the air bags. Follow along --

You've a 3 - axle tractor .. ment to carry 25,000 (appx.) pounds on the Holland hitch -- To gross 34,000 on the drives. In towing a 5th wheel RV -- You may reach 4,000 pounds pin weight. Obviously -- the rear suspension -- is rated far in excess and the ride of the 5th wheel will be "Stiff".

This is what I recommend -- 1st off a "Ping-tank" will do you no good at present.

The first thing you need to do is loose one drive. This will eliminate 2 - air bags and cut your rear rating in half. If yo need more softening -- Try this ......

If you've an adjustable pin box on the 5th wheel -- pull the 4 bolts and lower the pin box one hole -- 2". To compensate -- do this .....

Slide under the rear of the Tractor and adjust the ride height control rod as it mounts to the lower frame that supports the bags -- You'll want to shorten the rod 2" to compensate for the pin box. What this does -- is to lower the air pressure in the 2 - air bags as it adjusts the frame lower to the ground. Keep in mind also the shocks -- If you've stiff aftermarket shocks -- this also works against you. Need more softening .. ..

Then -- You may want to consider either an Air Hitch -- Or an air pin box.

As to a ping tank -- This is using a typical 7 gallon air tank purchased at Walmart -- and adpting it to the 2-rear air bags. The tank is made for high pressure and low volume. For our purpose we need to change this to low pressure -- high volume. Considering pressure -- no change needed -- just use as rated. For high volume -- we need to add several more paths from the air bags to the tank. Easiest way -- is more "T's" in the crossover air line connecting the 2-bags. How many -- I don't know --- as I dropped the ping tank idea -- as my Tractor had one on it -- so I've towed with my Tractor both ways. It made no difference. Need more -- --

If you've a sliding 5th wheel -- slide it full back -- as you will use this "lever" to your advantage. Like using a length of pipe on a breaker bar. Need more ......

Some folks bolt steel plate as far rearward on the frame as possible. Need more ......

Have a steel bed made with storage boxes.

I've incorporated the above suggestions -- into the development of mine -- with the exception of a bed. If you'd like to view -- click here:

A lot of geometry is involved to attain as close to a perfect setup as possible.

Have you weighed you setup combined/bobtail -- as this is the starting point to evaluate.

Here is a link to where I've posted my weights:

In closing -- the additions/alterations I've done to mine -- now afford me -- with a rear entertainment center -- never having to remove anything from the enclosed glass cabnets. Here's a link to the interior of mine:

Hope this has provided some insight -- in your question of softening up the ride for your 5th wheel .......


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