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Adventure Stories

Three Strikes To Recovery

For part two of Truck Camper Magazine’s accident story there are insurance realities, new truck trials, and an outrageous tailgate scandal.  Oh, and there are two more car accidents!

The Road To Accident Recovery

Please read our Lessons from a Camper Accident article.  It might just help if you are in a similar situation.  We share insurance tips and how to deal with the entire experience.

It was a strange sensation to wake up in a different truck camper and then remember that (a) we had been in a bad accident and (b) our truck and camper were seriously messed up.

That morning the rally attendees went to Northwood Manufacturing to tour the Arctic Fox and Wolf Creek production facilities and we returned to Thunder RV to help separate our truck and camper.

Lance from Captain Hook’s Towing arrived soon after to fetch our truck.  With our truck winched once more to Lance’s flatbed, Thunder RV’s Wayne Barnes and Doug Miller used a tractor and forklift attachment to support the forward driver’s side of the camper.

The corresponding front driver’s side jack had been sheered off during the accident, and the damaged truck would have impacted the jack even if it had remained in place.  Held by the forklift arms, the truck could be pulled out from under the camper on its three remaining jacks.

Truck Is Free But Damaged

With all hands on deck, the truck slowly moved out from under the camper and onto the flatbed.  It was so sad to see our beloved truck hauled away – seemingly damaged beyond repair.

Forklift Holding Camper Up

Once the truck was removed from under the camper, Wayne and Doug reattached a jack to the front driver’s side and backed a rolling platform under the camper.  Resting safely on the platform, the camper was pushed to the side of the lot to await the insurance adjuster.

Starting The Insurance Process

On Wednesday night, a few hours after the accident, we initiated contact with our insurance company, Progressive.  Our truck and camper were insured through Progressive on two separate policies.

On Thursday morning, Progressive quickly assigned separate claim numbers, representatives, and adjusters for the truck and camper.  The truck and camper adjusters requested photography of the accident scene, truck, and camper, which we submitted via email.  So far, so good.

Progressive was handling our claims because the other driver’s insurance company had no resources in Oregon.  After settlement, the other insurance company would pay Progressive back through what’s called a subrogation agreement.

The next morning was Friday the 13th – a story day for Truck Camper Magazine.  With some irony, we published, “Truck Camping Out of the Box”.  The title seemed oddly perfect as we found ourselves wading into an ocean of variables…

Would our truck be deemed repairable or totaled?  If the truck was deemed repairable would we want it?  If our truck was totaled, would we buy a new or used truck?

Would our camper be deemed repairable or totaled?  If they totaled our camper, would we buy it back and fix it, or would we need a new one?  And what is this all going to cost?

The Emergency Room

By Friday, Angela and I were starting to feel increasingly sore from the accident.  Neck, shoulder, and back pain was becoming harder to ignore and we weren’t sleeping very well.  That’s when we decided to get checked out by medical professionals.  Better safe than sorry, but where to get help?

LaGrande, Oregon Hospital Visit

Long story short, none of the La Grande, Oregon doctors had availability for at least a week and the local walk-in clinic would not see anyone who had been in a car accident.

When we talked to Progressive and our health insurance company, they both said the same thing; “Go to the emergency room and get checked out.”  That seemed rather extreme, but we complied the following Monday.

After physical examinations and scans, we were informed that we had soft tissue injuries to our necks, shoulders, and back areas.  We knew that, but they also said nothing was broken and our injuries should slowly heal over the coming weeks.  We would survive to continue to torture – I mean inform and entertain – the truck camper community for years to come.  Lucky you!

Our Truck Is Lost

All during this time Angela and I were handling wide-ranging communications from Progressive insurance representatives and adjusters.  The time involved with this process was dumbfounding.  We kept saying, “We really need to work on the magazine” as we took another insurance-related call or engaged another insurance-related item.

Once our 2014 RAM had been towed away from Thunder RV lot, we started the process of searching for comparables to prove the true value of our truck.  If the insurance adjusters deemed our truck totaled, the value of the insurance claim would be based on the market value of our truck at the time of the accident.  The more valuable you can prove your truck was at the time of the accident, the more money the insurance provider will offer.

We were able to find two 2014 RAM 3500 6.4L HEMI dually SLT trucks for sale approximately one thousand miles from the accident location.  These two trucks were similar enough to our truck to show true market value.  We also ran Kelley Blue Book values and documented the exact make, model, and options of our build for Progressive.  The adjusters were actually very thankful for our research and admitted that it significantly improved the cash value of our rig.

“I’m sorry. Are you saying that Progressive lost our truck?”

We had to do the exact same thing for our truck camper.  We did our best to find comparable truck campers for sale like ours.  That was even harder than the truck, but we found enough comparables to demonstrate a value.

With all of that done, the really hard part started – waiting.  We had been promised an answer about the fate of our truck on Monday, but that turned into Tuesday, then Wednesday.  On Thursday morning, our Progressive representative went on vacation.  Fortunately, we had another contact at Progressive, called her, and got things back on track.

Well, almost.  Our new adjuster quickly learned that our truck was missing.  It was supposed to be on a Progressive lot in Portland, Oregon, but they had no record of it, and didn’t know where it was located.

“I’m sorry.  Are you saying that Progressive lost our truck?”

She laughed. “It looks that way,” she answered, and proceeded to call her contact at the lot.  Her contact quickly found our truck in the oversize lot and got it immediately scheduled for evaluation.  I can honestly say the decision whether or not to total our truck would have taken much longer had we just waited for our original representative to contact us.  That was frustrating.

“A Progressive adjuster called to declare that our truck was indeed totaled.”

The following Friday we published, “10×10 Mod Tournament 6: Mini Mods”.  Later that morning, a Progressive adjuster called to declare that our truck was indeed totaled.  It was now 9 days after the accident.  The same adjuster requested our truck comparables and promised a speedy valuation and offer for our truck.  It was slow going, but things were moving forward.

Camper Damage Assessment and Repairs

That Monday marked 12 days since the accident.  Our camper was still off to the side at Thunder RV waiting for a Progressive adjuster to evaluate it.

Camper Waiting To Be Evaluated By Progressive

Above: Our damaged camper waiting to be evaluated by an insurance adjuster

That morning we were in the midst of sending a few, “What’s going on?” emails to Progressive when came a knock on the door.  It was Wayne Barnes from Thunder RV. “Josh Arendell is here from Progressive to see your camper.”

A minute later were were outside our camper with Josh as he evaluated the damage.  And you know what?  He was great!  He asked us to stay with him to point out any damage we had seen, took lots of photos, and talked to us about how things would proceed.

Broken Propane Line

Above: The exterior propane line on our camper was pushed in, pinched and severed

Before he left he presented us with a fair valuation for the camper’s damage and ordered a check sent to us immediately.  He also said, “Tell the Thunder RV guys to start on your camper as soon as possible.  Let’s get you guys back on the road.”

His proactive attitude and positive demeanor was exactly what we needed.  Besides, God help him with Angela had he been less than helpful.  After 12 days of waiting, she was ready to take somebody out.

Two days later a check for the camper repairs arrived from Progressive.  A few days after that we received checks for our damaged belongings and borrowed camper.

The First and Second Truck Valuations

We received the first truck valuation on Tuesday and it was a good start.  The Progressive adjuster asked us to look over the report and let him know if anything was inaccurate.  The indication was that if the valuation was accurate, it was essentially carved in stone.

Digging into the details, there were a number of problems with the valuation report.  The deductible had been subtracted despite the other driver being at fault.  The overall condition scores were reported lower than we thought were fair.  Our one year old set of 6 Michelin tires were not properly recognized.  There was a fee that made no sense.  It also appeared that the comparables had not been properly documented, but that ended up being our misinterpretation.

We documented all of the above and asked for a revised valuation.  Our adjuster agreed with our points and said the new valuation should be done in a day or two.  It took a week and only affected the total value by about $400.  Worth it?  Sure, but we were getting pretty tired of the insurance process by this point.

We accepted the second truck valuation and a check for the truck was in our hands two days later.  If only our bank had a branch in La Grande, Oregon.

Get A Hold of Yourself!

From the moments following the accident, we had a strong suspicion that our truck would be totaled.  Even if it had been determined repairable by the insurance adjusters, we were uncomfortable with the idea of loading a nearly 5,000 pound (loaded and wet) truck camper on a repaired truck.  We needed a new truck.

2014 Ram 3500 Brand New

Our 2014 RAM 3500 (shown above) was not your typical dealer build.  With the help of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles corporate, we had carefully special ordered a truck that maximized payload while adding back only the exact options we wanted.  The resulting truck was a 2014 RAM 3500 SLT, 6.4L HEMI, crew cab, 4×4, long bed, dually, with a 3.73 rear axle ratio.  For us at that time – perfection.

Cargo Weight Rating 2014 Ram 3500

When it arrived, the RAM had 5,851 pounds of payload on the all-important “TIRE AND LOADING INFORMATION” sticker.  The cost was in the low-$40s off the dealer lot.

With that truck we were able to represent a responsible and safe truck and camper match while also demonstrating the relative affordability of a brand new one-ton dually truck.  As they say, practice what you preach.

HEMI 6.4 Liter Engine in Ram 3500

Four years later, every truck decision from 2014 still held up. For those of you saying, “Get a diesel this time!” or, “Buy a Ford you knucklehead!”, I kindly refer you to my point-by-point analysis in our 2014 RAM announcement.  I remain firm by every syllable.

We were extremely happy with our 2014 RAM 3500 with the 6.4L HEMI.  We consistently achieved between 10 and 11 miles per gallon with the camper loaded, and were impressed with its overall handling and performance.  The rig did suffer from sway, but we were about to address that with a new sway bar and upgraded shocks. Other than that, we loved our RAM HEMI.

Had Ford of GM debuted a gas engine that bettered RAM’s 6.4L HEMI with its cylinder deactivation, we would have seriously considered changing brands.  They haven’t, so we decided to get another RAM 3500 dually with the 6.4L HEMI, and started our search.

As a side note, I have to tell you that just about everyone in the town of La Grande, Oregon asked me why we didn’t want a diesel.  Some of them were quite persistent in their pro-diesel campaigning.

It started to remind me of the scene in the movie Airplane where the lady won’t get a hold of herself.  Everyone had to come up to me and ask, “Why are you insisting on a gas engine?”  Even the local nuns came out to give me a good whack and talking to (kidding of course).  It’s tough being a gas guy in a diesel world.

If we had the time, we would have simply special ordered another truck, but the wait time was at least three months.  From recent experience, the folks at Legacy RAM warned us that the wait could be much longer.  We needed to find a truck in the field.

With the help of our contacts at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Legacy RAM in La Grande, and our own exhaustive searches via Cars.com, CarGurus.com, and AutoTrader.com, we found exactly a dozen possible RAM 3500 6.4L HEMI dually trucks that fit our requirements – in the entire United States!

There were three RAM 3500 HEMIs within 1,000 miles that were used, but all of them had condition issues that ruled them out.  Going new, there were no trucks within 1,200 miles.  The two that really fit the bill were in Missouri and Texas – both approximately 1,800 miles away.

Arctic Fox And Alpenlite

Above: The Arctic Fox we were staying in (left) and our accident-damaged Alpenlite (right)

RAM Accident 2: Too Far. Too Fast.

After much deliberation, we chose the 2018 RAM 3500 6.4L HEMI dually in Waco, Texas.  The next challenge was getting it shipped 1,834-miles to La Grande, Oregon.  According to Google Maps, it was 28 driving hours away.

The team at Legacy Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in La Grande recommended having one of their drivers fly down to Waco, pick up the truck and drive it back.  Evidently dealerships routinely send drivers to retrieve trucks from long distances.

Having traveled cross-country multiple times, we know how grueling long-distance travel can be.  And the last thing we wanted at this juncture was somebody getting hurt on our behalf.

Robb Gregory, our salesman, explained that their drivers loved the opportunity to retrieve vehicles and that they routinely drove long distances like the one our truck mission required.  Nothing to worry about.

That Friday we published, “Never Follow The Crowd”.  That afternoon, Robb called to tell us the driver had flown to Waco, Texas, picked up our new RAM 3500, and was now on his way back. “Please tell him to be careful,” I said, “And we want to thank him when he arrives.”

“He should be here at some point tomorrow,” Robb answered. “That seems really fast,” I answered.  “Our camper isn’t even ready yet. Please tell him he can slow down.”

At approximately 3:00pm the next afternoon, the phone rang.  The truck had arrived in La Grande, but it had driven off the road in Utah and we needed to come see the damage.  I honestly thought Robb was kidding, but he assured me he wasn’t.

Angela and I jumped in the Thunder RV shop truck, drove to the dealership and saw our new truck.  The front grille was cracked.  The front hood was dented.  The front bumper was deeply scratched.

Snow Pole Crunch

The passenger’s dually fender had some minor dents, scratches, and paint chips.  The driver’s side dually fender had some minor scratches.  It was all repairable damage, but not what we had hoped for with our new truck.

New Truck Arrived Damaged

We talked to the Legacy team about how to proceed.  They promised to replace the damaged bumper, grille, and hood and repair the dually fenders and paint.  They were very apologetic, and determined to make things right.  As it was Saturday late afternoon, the new parts and repairs could not be done until the following week.

The following Monday morning we returned to Legacy with a few important questions and a plan.  We asked to see the truck on a lift to examine the under body for any further damage.  On the spot they put the truck on a lift and we saw no additional damage.

For the damaged grille, front hood, bumper, and dually fenders, we asked that only brand new RAM parts and original RAM paint be used.  Using original RAM parts and paint was already Legacy’s existing work practice.

Since the original grille was destroyed, Angela requested the RAM Limited grille.  We had passed on a much more expensive RAM Limited, and the Limited grille was the one thing Angela was bummed about not getting.  Legacy agreed.

Finally, we stated if the truck wasn’t in brand new condition once all the work was done, we would need to renegotiate.  Again, they agreed.

RAM Accident 3: Fifth Wheel Attack!

With our new truck being repaired, we did our best to get back to magazine work at Thunder RV.  Our camper repairs were being fit between other previously scheduled Thunder RV appointments.  When Wayne and Doug had a moment, they got a lot done.

Wednesday marked three weeks from the original accident.  That morning Dan Woollard, Owner of Thunder RV, was standing in the door of our camper talking to us with the RAM 3500 shop truck parked immediately behind him.

After the first accident we were able to use Thunder RV’s shop truck for local errands.  During the weekends we explored the town and sampled a few local restaurants – just to get out.

Suddenly another RAM and fifth wheel came around the bend too fast and tight and turned into our borrowed shop truck.  With a horrible crunch and scraping sound, the fifth wheel impacted the rear passenger’s side of the RAM shop truck and ripped into several feet down the side of the fifth wheel.

Fifth Wheel Hits Shop Truck

On the RAM shop truck, the rear tail light was toast, the rear Torklift tie-down was bent, and there was some significant sheet metal damage.  The side of the fifth wheel was badly dented and gouged.  Shattered glass, plastic, and metal littered the parking lot.  Not again!

Shop Truck Taillights And Fifth Wheel Crunch

The female passenger in the fifth wheel rig was extremely upset and Angela went to console her.  The driver went inside Thunder RV to share contact and insurance information.  As far as we could see, everyone was physically okay – but what a mess.

When the fifth wheel folks left Thunder RV, the team gathered around the damaged shop truck.  Everyone was stunned at our continued bad luck.  As Caleb from Thunder RV put it, “I park there all the time. It could have been my truck”.  He also happens to own a RAM, and joked that we keep our distance from it.

This was the third RAM-related accident in three weeks!  You would think the auto body shops in La Grande had hired us to drum up new business.  At this point they might be the only folks in the town sorry to see us leave.

Our New 2018 RAM 3500

New Ram 3500 Truck With Limited Grille

The following morning, our 2018 RAM 3500 truck was repaired and ready for pickup.  We drove to the dealership and examined the truck.

Our new RAM looked stunning!  The new bumper, hood, and Limited grille really gave the truck a more aggressive attitude.  The dually fenders were repaired and smooth.  There was no evidence of dents or buffing.

Even better, the new truck’s payload is 5,889 pounds.  That’s a full 38 pounds more than our previous RAM!  Just don’t tell Angela or she’ll want to get another cat.

Doug And Wayne At Thunder RV

Above: Doug Miller and Wayne Barnes of Thunder RV installed the Torklift tie-downs and repaired our camper

An hour or so later the paperwork was completed and Angela drove our new truck – very, very carefully – back to Thunder RV.  Less than two hours later, Wayne and Doug had installed new Torklift tie-downs, Upper StableLoads, and wiring harness.  Things were starting to really move forward.

A Fox Pulls Our Tail To Southland RV

Somewhere along the way it dawned on us that we would have to do something with our new truck’s tailgate.  Everyone joked that we could tie it to our roof (not happening) or have it between us in the cabover (also not happening).  Then Angela had the idea of asking Northwood Manufacturing to ship it to the East Coast in a truck camper.

When we broached her freight-hopping idea with Lance Rinker and Rich Zinzer at Northwood, they didn’t hesitate.  If all goes well, our tailgate will be waiting patiently for us at Southland RV in Norcross, Georgia.  Want the real scandal?  Our tailgate was evidently shipped in a travel trailer!  Oh what will they say?

New Truck + Repaired Camper = Our New Rig!

In this corner, our new 2018 RAM with fresh Torklift tie-downs and Torklift StableLoads installed.  In that corner, our camper with new Rieco-Titan jacks and fresh repairs – ready to load and go.  Let’s put these two together!

As Angela slowly backed our new truck under our camper, something wasn’t right.  The camper was level to the truck (we always check that when things get wonky), but the tops of the rear bed rails were clearly too tall for the camper.  What the heck is going on?

Had we lowered the camper any further, we would have impacted the top of the rear bed rail ends into the wing walls of our camper.  There I am, the guy who literally wrote, “How To Match A Truck and Camper” and detailed the process of how to check overall fit compatibility – and we’re having a fit issue.

In my defense, I had absolutely no idea that our new 2018 RAM – which looks exactly the same as our 2014 RAM on the outside – had any dimensional differences.  To the best of my knowledge, it was exactly the same model and body style.  It never occurred to me to break out the measuring tape and check, like I tell everyone to do when matching a truck and camper.  Lesson learned.  Always measure!

New Truck And Old Camper Together

Dan Woollard of Thunder RV recommended a horse mat to lift the camper the quarter-inch we needed to clear and give the camper a bit of breathing room.  That worked like a charm.  Remind me to ask RAM what else they might have changed.

Pig Train in the La Grande Parade

That afternoon we went with Dan, his wife Moneta, and their granddaughters to an honest to goodness small town parade in downtown La Grande.  Dan and Moneta are very active in their community and brought what they described as a “Pig Train” for children to go down “Main Street” in the parade.  Heck yeah we wanted to see this.

Piggy Train In La Grande Oregon

Folks, this was as old school a parade as you can imagine.  We’re talking politicians in old cars, antique and modern fire trucks, and children tossing candy into to the crowds.

It was very charming, and so much fun to see a small town in our country still kicking it with tradition.  Maybe Angela and I should put roots down right here and stay.  You can have your congested highways, towering high rises, and mega box stores.  Give us small town America any day.

Dan Driving The Pig Train In LaGrande

Above: Dan Woollard of Thunder RV putting the pig train back on the trailer

After the parade, we went out to dinner with Dan, Moneta and their granddaughters.  It was the perfect ending to a whirlwind chapter in our lives.

The next morning we got on Interstate 84 and piloted our new truck out of town.  We can’t thank the people of La Grande, Oregon enough for all the help and support they gave us.  We don’t know how we would have put ourselves back together without you.  Thank you!

More Thank Yous

We want to thank the La Grande, Oregon first responders who were on the accident scene in minutes and conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism.  They immediately brought law and order into a chaotic situation, communicated clearly with us, and made sure everything was properly handled.  Thank you La Grande, Oregon first responders!

Thunder RV Team

Above: Thunder RV Team (left to right), Dan Woollard, Moneta Woollard, Caleb Sampson, Wayne Barnes, Frank Thomas Mike Weinkauf, and Doug Miller (not pictured)

We want to thank the entire team at Thunder RV.  Dan Woollard and Caleb Sampson showed up at the accident scene to save our camper from probable destruction and then brought us back to their dealership to gather ourselves.  From there the whole Thunder RV family took care of us for almost a month.

Wayne Barnes and Doug Miller literally put of camper back together piece by piece.  Moneta, Melissa, Frank, Dave, and Mike were there keeping our spirits up and helping us move forward.  Thank you, Thunder RV!

Legacy Ram In LaGrande Team

Above: Legacy Ram team (left to right), Greg Thompson, Nick Alvarado, Jeremy Richards, Robb Gregory

The team at Legacy Ram in La Grande found us a 2018 Ram 3500 6.4L HEMI in the field (not an easy task), and had it shipped to us.  After everything that happened, they made sure we were satisfied with our new truck.  Thank you, Legacy Ram!

Doug Bakker and Rieco-Titan jumped in and helped us to quickly source a set of Rieco-Titan jacks from Northwood Manufacturing’s inventory.  He was then able to ship a new set to Northwood in time for their production, and we had what we needed to get our camper standing tall and strong.

The new Rieco-Titan jacks look great, and work so much better than our 14-year old Atwoods that it isn’t even funny.  Thank you, Rieco-Titan!

Jack Kay and the entire team at Torklift International helped us quickly diagnose the tie-downs and turnbuckles we would need.  Torklift International has long been known as a company with a big heart and we are very thankful for their help.

Lance Rinker and Rich Zinzer of Northwood Manufacturing jumped in to help us ship our new tailgate east.  Brett Hensley of Southland RV agreed to accept and store our new tailgate when it arrived at his dealership.  Without their cooperation, there would be a large metal object in our cabover right now.  Thank you, Northwood Manufacturing and Southland RV!

Adventurer Mfg Looking Camper Over

Above: Our camper at Adventurer Manufacturing for structural repairs

Dave Frampton, Greg Tucknies, Mario Mendoza, Brad Boyle, and the entire service team at Adventurer Manufacturing also need some serious kudos.  On short notice, they scheduled us in, studied our camper, and made some needed structural repairs.

Many members of Adventurer’s senior management team worked at Western Recreational Vehicles, the company that built our Alpenlite truck camper.  They know our camper better than anyone on the planet, and addressed our structural concerns.  Thank you, Adventurer Manufacturing!

Finally, we need to thank the team at Progressive.  Things did not go as fast or smoothly as we had hoped but – to be fair – our accident was in a small town outside their routine field office reach.  With some patience and prodding, we got a fair valuation for our truck and camper, and were paid promptly.  Thank you, Progressive!

Next: Truck Camper Accident Tips

We are preparing a, “Truck Camper Accident Tips” article for the near future.  The hope is that our experience can benefit fellow truck campers.  Expect our accident tips report in the coming weeks. If you missed it, click here to read about the original accident in “CRASH: The TCM Truck Camper Accident Story“.

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