First Time (for Tracy) Dealing with the Black/Grey/Fresh Tanks

Although the RV tech work for Lee has largely been a non-starter so far, luckily Lee had booked some free lance camera jobs in Phoenix with a company he used to work for many years ago.  One of his best friends still works there, and when his friend found out he was going to be in the area they hired him as a freelancer to work on some of their live business events.  Lee was pretty excited, because he hadn’t had the opportunity to work with the company in 15 years, but a little nervous because he was 15 years older.  We talked about moving the rig closer to Phoenix, but since these would be long days I really wanted to stay in Quartzsite with our friends.  So Lee agreed to make the 2 hour drive each way on the days he worked, but we had to figure out what to do about the tanks.  He is working Tues, Thurs, and then Sat-Fri and no way would he be able to take care of the tanks also.  He gently broached the subject with me and I immediately said it was time for me to learn.  Yes, I will still need to borrow a vehicle to transport the portable tanks, but I wanted to be as self sufficient as possible.  Plus there are three big things I still cannot do that make me nervous about my ability to be self reliant if something happened to Lee.  Hitching/Unhitching comfortably, driving on a 6% grade, and tank management are the big three and after a year on the road I am pretty embarrassed that I cannot do these things yet.  So his work opportunity was also a blessing in disguise because it forced the issue.  Sometimes in life you just have to put your big girl pants on and do the tough thing.

Thankfully Lee is a wonderful teacher.  He has a soothing, calm voice and is very patient.  The hardest part was stopping himself from taking over when I struggled, but he got into the spirit of it and started saying, “Hey, I am in a coma remember, you can do this by yourself.”  At a couple of points I really was starting to resent that fictional coma!!  I am going to walk you through the steps as he taught me, but keep in mind everyone’s system is a little different and this has way more steps because there are no hookups here.  In general though the actions are the same for everyone and if I can do this anyone can, because trust me I am NOT mechanically inclined. 

The first thing we did was drive to empty the Blue BoyOne of the nice things about a Blue Boy is you can fill it and the gray water can stay inside until you have time to empty it at a dump station, assuming you aren’t pulling it behind your truck. They have wheels, and are designed to be pulled like a tiny little trailer, but some people, like us, keep it in the bed of the pickup so pulling it around on those little wheels doesn’t ruin it. Obviously when it has liquid in it you can’t lift it. Ours is 35 gallons, and water weighs about 8 pounds per gallon, so when it’s full, it’s a hefty 300 lbs. Emptying an already full Blue Boy was a nice way to start actually because it only involved a couple of steps.  I got myself a pair of blue rubber gloves, jumped into the driver seat and off we went.  La Posa has two dump areas, one for the rigs and another smaller one for Blue Boys only.  Since the stations with rigs were very full, we went closer to the entrance and used the Blue Boy dump station. I actually wanted to use that one because it is all by itself and I thought I wouldn’t have an audience.  Unfortunately, one of the camp hosts was stationed there (probably to ensure rigs didn’t use it) and couldn’t refrain from commenting as we went along.  When I said I needed to learn I hoped he would back off, but he watched every move and even said “I am enjoying this,” at one point.  OK, side rant here.  Not cool.  I don’t care if you are a girl or a guy, when you are doing something for the first time it is tough and shame on people who stand around and watch, or worse, pass judgement.  It actually stiffened my resolve though.  No better way to motivate me than to tell me I can’t do something and I pulled down the tailgate and started.  Lee talked me through it step-by-step and the hardest part for me was connecting the sewer hose to the Blue Boy hose. It’s completely manual and involves turning a plastic piece and “latching” it with another, and obviously you want this to be tight so it doesn’t leak.  I almost gave up, I really did, and the guy looking on didn’t help, but finally I put the hose between my legs for leverage and twisted and it locked in.  Then I did the easy part which was to put the connector into the hole (I held my breath first so I wouldn’t get a full whiff of waste) and then opened the vent hole on the blue boy, which allows air in so the vacuum of draining liquid doesn’t collapse the tank, and then opened the waste valve unlatching it so it lays flat in the truck.   Hooray the water started to come out. 

We added a step stool into our truck which helps make it easy to get in and out

We added a step stool into our truck which helps make it easy to get in and out

Me twisting the cap on

Me twisting the cap on

Happy the water was coming out

Happy the water was coming out

Unfortunately the good feeling didn’t last long, because the self-appointed tank watcher said, “It will drain faster if you tilt the blue boy up.”  So I jumped into the truck and of course when I tried to lift it it was still too heavy.  I lifted the hose a tiny bit, being careful not to pull out the end that was in the ground, and it went a little faster and then I tried again.  when it was about a third full I could lift it and indeed it did go faster.  By the way, all of the liquid does not come out but you can get most of it that way.  The I screwed the cap back on the vent hole, shut the waste valve and relatched it in the upright position, and pulled the hose back into the truck.  Feeling pretty happy that I made it through the first step we headed back to the RV fill it up with black water.

To be perfectly clear, Lee would have just as soon skipped the black tank, but I was adamant.  We can go two weeks without emptying our black tank, and Lee prefers not to use the Blue Boy for black water if it can be avoided, but If I was doing this, I was all in, and really there isn’t that much difference.  We have a macerator pump which turns the poop into what we affectionately call a poop milkshake (think garbage disposal).  So really the only difference between the gray and the black tank is the smell and the mental fact that if it gets on your hands it’s poop.  Technically there was no difference between the two and I just decided that one was the same as another.  When we got back to the truck I disconnected the hose (again needing to put it between my legs and twist several times to get it loose) and then unclamped the garden hose from the rig.  Lee hangs the dumping hose , with a clamp, facing up on the wire on our slide out so that the waste water remaining in the hose does not run out on the ground.  If you are going straight into full hookups this is not necessary, but since we had to pump the milkshake into the blue boy there would be some remaining in the hose.  I unclamped it and held it up as instructed and then climbed back into the truck.  Taking the very top of the hose I screwed it onto the valve on the blue boy.  There was nothing in the end I used so no mess other than a few drops of water. I opened the waste valve on our tanks and no leaks.  Next I took the extension cord Lee made with tiny power clips and hooked them to the truck battery.  Lee’s ultimate goal is to hard wire power directly from the RV but for now this is an acceptable way to get power to the pump.  It works just like jump starting a battery.  Place the black clip on negative and the red clip on positive…in that order.  I then opened the vent hole in the blue boy again.  The air in the blue boy has to go somewhere when it starts to fill up so this was an important step.

Attaching the hose to the valve

Attaching the hose to the valve

The valve connected

The valve connected

All hooked up

All hooked up

Ready to turn the pump on I looked at Lee.  He shook his head and I walked through the steps.  Duh, I forgot to open the waste valve on the blue boy so I would be pumping the water into a dead end at the valve..not good with a poop milkshake.  I open the waste valve on the blue bloy and started the pump with a red button controller.  I asked Lee how I would know when the blue boy was full and he said that when the little red ball on the vent hole popped up you have about 10 seconds to shut off the pump before over flow.  Yikes!!  He is comfortable enough at this point to wander around, but I stood right at the disconnect switch never taking my eyes off the small vent hole.  Suddenly the pump started to make a different noise and I looked up in panic.  Lee had me look at the clear connector we have on the hose and saw hardly any water was running through, because the black tank wasn’t even close to half full.  Many people won’t do clear connectors because they think it’s gross but we have them on both ends of the hose.  How else can you see what’s going on?? I stopped the pump, closed the black tank and then opened the gray.  Water started coming in and I once again used the red button to turn on the pump.  A little while later the red button popped up and I quickly turned off the pump.  Next I stood in the bed and lifted the hose to eye level so what was in that end drained out.  I then unscrewed the hose, again with just a little coming out and quickly held it pointed up.  Back on the clamp it went and voila, one full blue boy.  I shut the waste valve on blue boy but first upon my request I got a piece of tape and wrote Open Valve to Fill on it.  I knew that might be a step I would forget again and this note will help me remember.  Then I screwed on the vent hole cap and back we went to the dump.  

The macerator pump

The macerator pump

The pump connected to our power

The pump connected to our power

The pump start/stop button

The pump start/stop button

We have electric valve switches that Lee had installed. Makes it super easy

We have electric valve switches that Lee had installed. Makes it super easy

Out clear connector and waste valve at the tank. Yes it's gross but you can see what's happening

Our clear connector and waste valve at the tank. Yes, it’s gross but you can see what’s happening

The blow hole

The vent hole.  The red ball pops up when its close to full.

My reminder note

My reminder note.  Lee said it’s open to empty also but that is what I need to remember.

Thankfully when we went back to the dump, the camp host had wandered off, but this time half way through there was an older gentleman waiting in line.  He seemed somewhat offended by the fact that Lee was just standing there with his hands in his pockets while the “little woman” did all the work, but thankfully he was mostly silent.  This time it went better but I was definitely more cautious when I was trying to get the hose latched.  Finally after some finagling it clicked into place but it was still pretty tough.  I followed the same steps as before for the grey tank and stayed up-wind.  The one extra step I added was to take a fresh water hose they had nearby and run water into the hose when it was done.  Then back we went for round three.  The third go round was easier and we emptied the gray tank completely dry.  We probably could have skipped this last trip, since the blue boy was not completely full, but you always want to “rinse” with gray after running black and a blue boy is no different.  I was starting to get the hang of the latching though and it was much easier the third time.  Wow, I was pooped, but felt really proud of myself and Lee took the picture to prove it.

Victorious!!!!

Victorious!!!!

 

After the tanks we took a little break and started on fresh water.  There are numerous options for containers and we haven’t really found the perfect solution, so we borrowed Red and Jim’s hard plastic tank and also brought our collapsible rainwater container.  After strapping them down we drove up to the freshwater station.  Most people here will not drink the water, but I will say I drank some from the hose and it tasted fine.  Speaking of hose you should not use regular garden hose for this but pony up the money for a separate drinking water hose.  We attached one end on the spigot and the other end to the attachment on the barrel.  Next you open the hole to once again equalize pressure and turn it on.  Easy peasy.  It does take quite awhile to fill the barrels (think kids plastic swimming pool time) and you need to stand and watch it, but it was pretty easy.  We drove back to the rig and it got a bit more complicated.  We had to buy a totally separate water pump (without the macerator) for fresh water and once again we powered it up to the engine.  You stick one end of the white drinking hose into your rig and the other end into the barrel.  Turn the pump on and wait.  Our pump only does 3.5 gallons per minute and since we have a 81 gallon fresh water tank this can take awhile.  You also need to keep an eye on the barrel and when the water gets low tip it up to get as much out as possible.  Plus the only way on our rig that we know the fresh water is full is when the water starts to run out of the bottom.  Not the best warning system, but compared to the grey and black this was a snap.  After the fresh was filled up, Lee took the remainder over to Steve and Deb.  It’s a nice gesture to give your excess to a close neighbor and we were paying forward the kindness that Red and Jim did for us earlier.

Hose connected to the rig

Hose connected to the rig

We have to turn the red, blue, black areas at the top to fill

We have to turn the red, blue, black areas at the top to fill

Fresh water pump

Fresh water pump

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The white barrels are sold at the local hardware store

Hose connected to solid barrel

Hose connected to solid barrel

Connector on our collapsible barrel

Connector on our collapsible barrel

Another little break and  Lee taught me how to take our propane tanks off.  I know how to go get them filled, but had never taken them off and I wont go into the details since they are all so different, but again pretty easy just make sure you shut the tanks before you take them off.  So now I can deal with having full tanks, empty water, and low propane all by myself.  I do feel very confident that I won’t forget how, but just like driving need to continue doing it occasionally to stay in practice.  Lee will have the truck, but our friends have all volunteered their vehicles when I need them and I am super happy that I can do this by myself.  This was a very big deal for me and feels fantastic, so if you are putting off learning this because it’s scary…I totally get it, but feels really nice on the other side!!

Another beautiful desert sunset

Another beautiful desert sunset

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15 thoughts on “First Time (for Tracy) Dealing with the Black/Grey/Fresh Tanks

  1. Great job. WOW that seems like so much work but you did it!! I know my hubby usually does all the stuff like that but I guess, like you, when we hit the road I will have to learn as well. Hope all is well and the weather is nice for you there. Have a great weekend.

  2. Huge accomplishment!!!!! Way to completely move beyond your discomfort level and charge forward, particularly with that tool of a camp host making it worse! I’m always amazed at smug people like that who conveniently forget that they too were not born having the particular skill set they seem hell-bent on mocking in other “newbies”…. I would like to see how well he would do writing a successful blog or doing the job you did in the corporate world. Regardless, I’m very impressed, as I must say the tanks and actually driving/backing up the rig are two big scary points for me to consider in doing the RV thing. Well done!

    P.S. Also, congrats to Lee for getting the freelance work, as that too is a big milestone that is deserving of a fist-bump!

  3. Pingback: Second Year – The Emotional Arc – Camper Chronicles

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