The Motorhome

There are many, many ways to “Recreate in a Vehicle.” Truck campers, pop-ups, travel trailers, fifth wheels, Class B, Class C, Super C’s, Class A…… Go to any large RV show, Hershey PA in the fall is one of the bigger ones if you want to see a lot, and at the end of the day your head will be spinning.

We’ve owned several varieties over the years. I will not get into the discussion here about the pros and cons of them, lets start with the fact that we decided we wanted a Class A Diesel Pusher, and after that it was a matter of price, size, layout and decor. After much looking we ended up with The Dragonship.

Going from a gasoline powered unit to a “Diesel Pusher” is a big step in the world below the floor. The large diesel and the air powered suspension and brakes make a huge difference in capability and ride quality. It’s also a big step in price.

We can place the Berkshire as an entry level diesel pusher. There are more, and much more expensive diesel pushers but the differences are not as big as the step up from the “gassers”. Engines get more powerful, transmissions more capable, and systems and decor in “the house” become more luxurious but the basic design remains the same. Until you get to the truly rarefied world of the really high end units made by names like Prevost and it’s authorized up-fitters which build multi million dollar coaches on chassis designed to do millions of miles as buses and touring cars.

We look at these units as two separate pieces together. First is the Chassis. In most cases, as in this one, it is manufactured by FCCC, The Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation, a member of the Daimler family of companies and a very close cousin of the Freightliner Commercial Truck division. It delivers a driving chassis complete with it’s dedicated electrical system, tank, steering and instruments to the RV manufacturer, in this case Forest River, who manufactures “the House”. If you need preventive maintenance or have problems with the chassis you call Freightliner, for the house you call Forest River or the manufacturer of individual components as directed by them.

Our chassis has a Cummins ISB340 6.7 liter diesel, coupled with the Allison 2500 Transmission. An engine mounted compressor provides pressurized air for the suspension and the braking system. There’s a 100 gallon fuel tank.

More specs including details of the up-fitting of the chassis and construction of the house are described in the manufacturer’s literature:

http://www.forestriverinc.com/brochures/2017/2017berkshirebrochure.pdf

Note that the brochure is for the 2017-1/2 Coaches. Mid 2017, basically starting with the 2018 model year, there were a few changes to the coaches. The big one was that the electrical system went to a Precision-Plex (multiplex) system, like cars had done a while before that. An oversimplified explanation is that before if you turned a light on with a switch, you completed a circuit from a battery to a bulb. Simple. Now, you send a signal to a control module which operates a relay that closes the circuit. Not simple. But, it allows a lot of cool features, like turning that light on from your phone via an app without having to get out of bed. OK, that’s cool….sort of. It also allows centralized monitoring of tanks, electrical system and other things, data being collected through a variety of sensors and modules. OK, cool….. sort of. I’m ambivalent about all this. Yeah, the gadgets are cool, but it’s another level of complexity that adds maintenance and failures increasingly harder to fix with commonly available tools. Yes, you can get into the digital world and do a lot yourself, but is it worth it? Lets just say the days that I am happy to have the last of the “Steam Coaches” far exceed the days that I miss the gadgets.

The modifications described on this blog are mostly to the house. The chassis is a pretty darn good product. It is easy, fun and very comfortable to drive, and it was built to drive a lot more miles than we will ever put on it. I can’t think of any part of it I’d like to change other than maybe having a side radiator as opposed to a rear radiator. The former has a LOT more access to the engine and accessory components. But, this choice was Forest River’s to make, Freightliner built it to their specs.

As mentioned before, we’ve owned a variety of RV’s, some better built than others. We are pretty pleased with the design and execution of The Dragonship. It is a very comfortable, very well designed unit and we can tell that the people that put it together wanted to do a decent job. We did a cruise out of the box pretty much “as is” and though we came home with a list, most of the items on it were “would like” and not “must have”, with a few noted exceptions.

UPDATE…… The one year mark.

13,000 miles and a LOT of nights. Hey, if you’re gonna own one of these things, use it. Don’t let it rot in the backyard. Overall thumbs up. We love the layout, the decor, the comfort, the features. Aside from the hot water issue a few minor things, but nothing that grounded us, and no indications of major problems in the immediate future. We got lucky and got a unit that was put together by people having a good day. I have found little or no shortcuts or crappy workmanship. No leaking roof, no slides crapping out. Do have the “rollers cutting into the bottoms of the slide” problem but the plates are allegedly in the mail and when installed they will take care of that. Look for a writeup on that one. (Edit…. they arrived and were installed: Slide Roller Plates…..)

That said, as a whole I think the RV industry has a few light years of catching up to do compared to the auto or boat industry. We should be riding around in bullet proof one piece units…… A leaking roof should not be possible.

As far as the chassis……Freightliner done good is all I can say. Again, it must have all been put together when people were on the ball, or maybe with hundreds of thousands of rigs with the FL logo rolling around out there they have actually figured out how to build one pretty darn well. Cummins…..well, they know how to build an engine. All the other parts and pieces, knock on wood, maybe the fact that these companies make a lot of stuff to mil spec has rubbed off and trickled down. It’s pleasure to drive and holding up quite nicely. The only gripe I have is that compared to modern passenger vehicles and light trucks the maintenance requirements are a bit behind the curve. You buy a one ton GMC or Ford pickup you’re talking oil/filter and maybe a set of brakes until you get to 100K….. Here, well…..it’s a lot more. I know, as I have discussed on the maintenance preamble, it’s written for the toughest of uses and ours is on the other end of the scale, so some common sense alleviates some of this.

Would we buy another brand if we had to do it again? Maybe but not likey. This one had the layout and the decor. Value wise it’s on par.

UPDATE: Two year mark.

23,000 Miles…. Knock on genuine simulated wood…. She’s going strong. Routine maintenance aside I haven’t touched the chassis. There’s a few little projects in the works, but they are just cute, and not because something is impeding our enjoyment, with the noted exception of the fact that it is impossible to keep the cabin warm when driving in very cold weather (30’s and below). But there’s a fix…. see Cabin Heat. As far as the chassis and the drive train…. roll on baby, roll on.