Comparing The Dream Machine and The S&M Motel

April 25, 2013

Last year we traveled around Europe by motorhome for 9 months. Our friends Sue and Martin loaned us their camper van (British for motorhome) which we nicknamed The S&M Motel. Now that we’ve been traveling in our own motorhome (recently named The Dream Machine) for 3 months, we’ve been able to appreciate some of the differences between our North American motorhome and those that are commonly available in Europe.

The S&M Motel Camper Van in front of a grassy field with mountains and a castle in the background

The S&M Motel

What follows are some of the differences between our Forest River Solera 24S and how we traveled in Europe. Most of these differences would apply generally to all Class C and Class A motorhomes in North America versus their European counterparts. This comparison is not in any way intended to be a criticism of The S&M Motel nor our generous British friends who took a giant leap of faith in loaning it to us.

Our motorhome on a gravel road by the river

The Dream Machine

Note — This comparison is lengthy and detailed in places.  Feel free to skim to the topics you’re interested in.

Size — Our Solera, although it’s on the small end of the scale for North American motorhomes, is longer, wider, taller, and heavier than most in Europe. At 24 feet 6 inches (24’6”) it is 5’8” (1.75m) longer than the S&M Motel, not including the bike racks on the rear of either unit. At 11’6” (3.5m) it is 2’3” (0.68m) taller and at 7’7” (2.3m) it is 5” (0.13m) wider.

Engine – To power our bigger, heavier coach, the Dream Machine has a 3.0 Litre 6 cylinder engine while the S&M Motel has a 2.8 Litre 4 cylinder engine. Both are turbo diesel and seem to have sufficient power, especially on hills where the diesel engines really shine.

Fuel Economy – Our larger engine gets lower gas mileage, currently averaging around 15 mpg (15 L/100km) versus the S&M Motel’s 21 mpg (11 L/100km). Our motorhome has a 26.6 gallon (121 Litre) tank for a theoretical range of 400 miles (645 km). The S&M Motel has a smaller 21 gallon (80 Litre) fuel tank but a slightly greater range of 440 miles (725 km).

Fuel Cost – Diesel fuel is cheaper in North America than in Europe. I’ve estimated a blended rate of $4.58 per gallon for our route (lower in the United States and higher in Canada). The lower fuel economy and less expensive fuel balance each other out though, and both vehicles have an operating cost for fuel of about $15 per hour. However, the distances are much greater in North America.

Transmission – The S&M Motel has a 5-speed manual transmission, which is more common in Europe.  The Dream Machine has a 5-speed automatic transmission with overdrive and tip-shift, which also allows the gears to be shifted manually while driving.

Handling – With a longer wheel base, the Dream Machine isn’t as maneuverable. It drives well, but requires more room to turn, especially ‘U’ turns. With a longer overhang behind the rear wheels, the ‘swing out’ is greater and needs to be considered in tight spaces. Being taller it tends to sway a bit, particularly at slow speeds on uneven ground like speed bumps traversed at an angle or potholes.

Interior Space — Our Solera is 7 feet (2.13m) tall inside, which will allow our height-endowed friend Martin to walk comfortably inside. It’s a much tighter squeeze for him in the 6’5” (1.96 meter) tall S&M Motel. When our coach is parked the slide can be extended which adds an additional 23.6 square feet (2.2 sq. m) of floor space and 142 cubic feet (4 cu. m) of interior space. Although the Dream Machine is still very usable with the slide in, it is positively spacious with the slide out. The difference between in and out is like night and day.

Storage – Because of its larger size, our Solera has a lot more interior and exterior storage. Even though we have a lot more stuff with us, we have room to spare. The limiting factor is weight not space.

Cook Top – The S&M Motel has a 4 burner cook top (3 gas and 1 electric). The Dream Machine has 3 burners, all gas. Having an electric burner is great because it saves on gas when connected to shore power. We’re thinking of buying an electric frying pan to achieve the same result.

Oven – The S&M Motel has a decent-sized oven and a separate broiling compartment. Despite both ovens being about the same overall size, our oven compartment is only 5 inches (13 centimeters) high, barely enough for a casserole dish, and has a questionable broiler underneath.

Refrigerator – Our refrigerator has 2 separate compartments for fridge and freezer, each with their own door, and is much larger than the one in the S&M Motel. Ours runs on propane or 110 Volt electricity when connected to shore power, but can’t run on 12 Volt electricity during travel like the S&M Motel’s fridge. Ours runs all the time, automatically switching between propane and electricity if it is available. This means that we always have cold food, cold beer, frozen food, and ice in the refrigerator.

Microwave – The Dream Machine has a small microwave that is great for defrosting and reheating. It requires 110 Volt electricity though, so to use it we either need to be plugged in or start the generator.

Bed – Our rear corner bed is available all the time, and doesn’t need to be made every evening and morning.

Shower – The Dream Machine has a separate shower, so the toilet area stays dry. This uses more space, but makes cleanup easier. Perhaps because of the dedicated shower, leg room on the toilet is limited.

Vanity – We have a small sink, mirror, and cabinets located just outside the bathroom. This sink can be used while the toilet or shower are occupied, and provides convenient access to a second sink in the main living area.

Batteries – Our motorhome has 2 household batteries rather than 1, providing more capacity. We connect a small power inverter to the batteries to get AC power without a hookup (e.g. for charging camera batteries).

Electricity – The S&M Motel uses 220 V European power and requires a few adapters for the different plugs used in various countries. Ours uses 110V North American power and we also need adapters to fit the various RV plugs available (20, 30, and 50 amp).

Generator – The Dream Machine has a 3.6 kilowatt generator which runs on propane. This provides us with 110 Volt electricity if we need it, but we try to limit its use, especially if the noise might disturb someone.

Interior Lighting – Our coach has more interior lights. They are all flush mounted and so they aren’t directional, which would be nice for reading. We have installed LED lights throughout, which use less power than florescent or halogen lights.

Entrance Step – The Dream Machine’s electric step extends automatically when the door is opened and retracts automatically when the door is closed or if the engine is started.

Door screen – Our Solera has a screen door, great for keeping out the bugs.

Windows – The Dream Machine has fewer and slightly smaller windows. For its size, the S&M Motel has larger windows that any motorhome I’ve ever seen (in Europe or North America). Our motorhome is more typical of motorhomes in both countries, with smaller windows and a slightly darker interior. It has tinted, frameless, awning windows (jalousie or louvered windows with a single large glass panel) which tilt open a few inches at the bottom by turning a knob inside. This style of window, in addition to being stylish, can be left open during most rains. The drawback is that they don’t open fully. The S&M Motel’s large side windows swing up to create a glorious open feeling and are also handy for visibility at angled intersections.

Skylight – Both motorhomes have 2 roof vents in the main living area, plus one in the bathroom, but the S&M Motel also has a nice skylight.

Black and Grey Water – Our black water tank is built-in and does not utilize cartridges that can be emptied by hand. Both the black and grey water tanks must be drained via a large sewer hose at a dump station.

Tank capacities – Our fresh water tank is 41 gallons (155 Litres) versus 17 gallons (65 Litres) for the S&M Motel. Our grey water tank is 33 gallons (125 Litres). Our black water tank is 35 gallons (132 Litres) whereas the S&M Motel toilet cassette holds only 4.6 gallons (17.5 Litres), a huge difference! Larger tank capacities mean that we can easily go a week or more without filling or emptying fluids.

Propane tank – The Dream Machine and the S&M Motel both use propane gas for the cook top, oven, refrigerator, and furnace. Ours also uses propane for the generator. We have a single, fixed propane tank while the S&M Hotel has 2 separate but integrated refillable cylinders. Both coaches can be filled easily at a propane filling station. Our propane tank has 9.8 gallons of usable capacity (80% of a 13 gallon tank) and the S&M Hotel has two 6 kilogram tanks which I estimate have a total usable capacity of about 5 gallons of propane.

Furnace – Our furnace is propane only, whereas the S&M Motel furnace will run on propane or electricity. We carry a very small electric heater with us to use when we have shore power.

Air Conditioning – The Dream Machine has air conditioning in the dashboard (part of the Mercedes-Benz chassis) and ducted throughout the coach ceiling from a roof-mounted air conditioner. Running the 110 Volt rear air conditioner requires shore power or the generator to be running.

Arctic package – Our grey and black water tanks have electric heating pads that can be used to prevent them from freezing, but only when the RV is connected to shore power.

Bike rack – Like almost all European motorhomes, the S&M Hotel has a built-in bike rack high on the rear of the vehicle. On ours we had to add a rack on the rear receiver (aka trailer hitch) which led to some other issues (see << LINK Layed Up in Lynnwood >>).

Safety – Our motorhome has smoke, carbon monoxide, and propane gas detectors, which are standard in all new North American coaches.

Multimedia System — Our Solera has a built-in flat panel television that can receive ‘over the air’ high-definition television broadcasts using the adjustable roof antenna or display video (DVDs) from the cab multi-media system. This system can also display images from a CD, DVD or USB storage device. There is an iPod docking station and auxiliary input for other devices. The same multimedia system provides in-dash navigation with voice commands integrated with the audio.

Design – Overall I would say that the practicality of its design and the quality of the S&M Motel are slightly better, despite it being a few years older. Our Solera, though newer and probably prettier (though nowhere near as cute), isn’t quite as robust. Although all motorhomes seem fragile compared to houses or apartments, European design and attention to detail are noticeable.

Overall, I would say that each coach has its advantages. With its smaller size, the S&M Motel was excellent for Europe where roads are narrower, parking is scarce, and fuel more expensive. Its large windows and skylight create an open feel despite it being a smaller coach. The Dream Machine, due primarily to its larger size, has the advantages of more interior space and storage, a dry shower, a bigger refrigerator, a microwave, a flat screen television, an extra battery, and larger fluid tanks. It also has a generator, which isn’t common in European motorhomes. Each coach is well suited to its environment.

Note — all gallons referred to in this article are US gallons because The Dream Machine was made for the US market.

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Diane’s Diner

April 19, 2013

We eat most of our meals at Diane’s Diner, the exclusive restaurant in the Dream Machine.  Diane’s serves a variety of locally-inspired and classic dishes at very reasonable prices.  The chef works with limited kitchen facilities and creates everything without recipes.

Diane cooking in the small galley kitchen of our motorhome with roasted green chilies on the counter

Behind the scenes at Diane’s Diner

STARTERS

Guacamole

Fresh avocado, tomato, onion, garlic, lime, and cilantro served with organic blue corn chips.

Tuna Salad

A fresh blend of romaine lettuce, green onions, grape tomatoes, avocado, olives, and tuna dressed with olive oil, lemon, and red wine vinegar.

Caesar Salad

Romaine lettuce, shredded parmesan, and a classic dressing of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, minced garlic, ground anchovies, and spices.

Tostadas

Small crispy tortillas baked with fresh tomatoes, green onions, cheddar cheese, and Queso Fresco, served with chipotle salsa.

 

ENTREES

Chicken Spezzatino

An Italian stew of boneless chicken thighs, kidney beans, tomatoes and other vegetables.

Spaghetti Koroluk

Creamy bolognaise sauce over spaghetti noodles.

Strip Loin

Grilled strip loin streak served with crispy rosemary potatoes.

Turkey

Roast turkey breast with pan-fried potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce.

Patrick seated at the table with a roast turkey dinner on the plate in front of him and a glass of wine

Turkey Dinner on my Birthday

New Mexican Rice & Beans

Sautéed chicken with fried rice, black beans, corn, and jalapeno.

Tacos

Ground beef, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, salsa, and fresh guacamole on small, warm corn tortillas.

Burritos

Ground beef, re-fried beans, tomatoes, green onions, salsa, lettuce, and shredded cheddar wrapped in a grilled flour tortilla.

Tex Mex Skillet

Sliced grilled pork and red potatoes fried with a tangy bar-b-que sauce.

Green Chilli Burger

A beef burger smothered with roasted green chilies sautéed with onions and garlic on a toasted bun.

Toasted bun with a hamburger piled higher with strips of green chili on a wite dinner plate

Green Chili Burger

Chicken Enchiladas

Strips of chicken sautéed with tomato, green chilies, black olives, onion, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, chili powder, oregano, salt, and pepper, wrapped in flour tortillas, covered in enchilada sauce and baked with cheddar cheese.  Served with rice, salsa, fresh guacamole, and sour cream.

 

LUNCH

Tamales

Masa filled with potato and green chili wrapped in a corn husk.

Grilled Ham & Cheese

Sliced ham and cheese with a hint of mustard on bread grilled until brown.

Turkey Quesadilla

Roast turkey, cheese, and fresh tomato layered between grilled flour tortillas.

Greek Salad

Chopped cucumber, green pepper, roma tomato, black olives, and feta cheese in a light dressing

Picante Cristo

Ham, pepper jack cheese, and red onion sandwich dipped in an egg and milk mixture and fried to a golden brown.

 

BREAKFAST

Banana Oatmeal Muffins

Healthier muffins containing oatmeal, ripe bananas, fat free vanilla yoghurt, and cinnamon.

Pancakes

Klondike cakes with mixed fruit and syrup.

Diane seated at a picnic table with pancakes and gruit ready to eat with a lake in the background

Pancakes with a view

Oatmeal

Hot oatmeal with a mix of fresh cut bananas, apples, oranges, and strawberries.

Crepes

Thin crepes with melted butter and sugar or mixed fruit.

Omelette

Onion, tomato, greed pepper, and cheddar omelette with roast potatoes, buttered toast, and jam.

Breakfast Burrito

Scrambled eggs with red onion, sweet orange pepper, grape tomatoes, cheddar cheese and Queso Fresco topped with chipotle salsa and wrapped in a grilled flour tortilla.

Banana Double Chocolate Chip Muffins

Sweet muffins made with ripe bananas, dark chili chocolate, and Ghirardelli chocolate chips.  Equally good for dessert!


And the Winner Is…

April 18, 2013

I am very pleased to announce the winner of our Help Name our RV Contest. I would like to thank everyone who participated in this, the first ever DreamBigLiveBodly.com contest. Many creative suggestions were submitted, and picking a winner wasn’t easy, but…

The winner is Janice Ebenstiner, whose single entry was selected by an international panel of judges (Diane and me). Her single entry was our favourite.

Henceforth, the name of our motorhome will be… The Dream Machine.

We liked The Dream Machine the most because:
• it makes reference to ‘dream’, incorporating a key element of my philosophy, the blog name, etc.
• ‘dream’ conjures up romantic images of all the dreams we can fulfill while traveling in our motorhome
• ‘dream’ also suggests that we’re living our dreams
• ‘machine’ helps others know that we’re talking about a piece of equipment (namely our RV)
• it rhymes
• it’s easy to remember, and most importantly
• it just feels right

At first I thought Janice might be making a retro reference to the van from Scooby Doo, but theirs was called The Mystery Machine (admittedly a better name if one is solving crimes, but not as good in our case). Nor is this the name of the van from Josie and the Pussycats, which was nameless as far as my crack research team (me) can determine.

As the contest winner, Janice will receive:
1) The pride of knowing that she is among the most creative and ingenious of this blog’s readers
2) The self-satisfaction of seeing the name that she proposed used regularly in this blog and our vernacular
3) Our heart-felt gratitude
4) The option of a guest blogging spot on DreamBigLiveBodly.com
5) A framed photograph of The Dream Machine taken during its naming ceremony

Patrick and Diane standing in front of the Dream Machine holding a bottle of sparking wine

The Naming Ceremony

Patrick and Diane standing in front of the Dream Machine holding glasses of sparking wine and signs that say 'Dream' and 'Machine'

Formal attire for the ceremony (I put on fresh shorts)

Thank-you again to Janice and to everyone who participated!


Reminder – Help Name our RV Contest closes in just 3 days!

March 21, 2013

Thank-you to all of you who have contributed suggestions in our Help Name our RV Contest. Only 3 days remain to get your entries in, as the contest closes on Sunday, March 24th at 11 PM PST.

Please click this link for contest details. The suggestions that have been made so far are visible in the comments at the end of the post linked above, and may get your creative juices flowing. Among the good suggestions made so far, there seem to be a few themes emerging – dreams, our names, travel, and Germany. Can you come up with something new?

The winner, which could be you, will have the satisfaction of having the name they suggest used in perpetuity on this blog, and will be awarded a top-secret, fabulous prize. Have fun!


Help Name our RV Contest

March 13, 2013

We need your help!  We’ve been traveling in our motorhome for almost 2 months but it doesn’t have a name yet.  I read somewhere that it’s best not to force a name on one’s vehicle, far better to let it come naturally.  Perhaps we can help that process along a bit.

Readers of the blog already know lots about our motorhome and our plans (please see the archives in January and February), but here is some information.  Our motorhome is a Solera manufactured in America by Forest River.  The chassis is a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter made in Germany.  Our names are Patrick and Diane and, to the best of our knowledge, we were made in Canada.

The Prize – In addition to the glory of winning and our perpetual gratitude, the winner will receive a prize.

Contest Period – This contest will close on Sunday, March 24th at 11 PM PST.

How to Enter – Leave a comment on this blog posting.  Up to five entries can be submitted by each person.  The contest is open to everyone.

How to Win — A single winner will be chosen by the judge.  The judge’s decision is final and I am the judge.  The winner will be the person who proposes the name that best fits our motorhome and us.  Preference will be given to creative and fun names.

Details — The winner will be announced on the blog and notified privately by email.  The winner will have 7 days to respond with contact information or will forfeit the prize in which case the prize will be awarded to the runner-up.  The prize will be shipped anywhere in Canada or the continental United States.  If the winner lives elsewhere, alternate arrangements can be discussed.

Have Fun!


And you said that I’m not handy

March 11, 2013

Things started out simply enough.  We wanted to get some extra keys cut for our RV.  We asked at a hardware store, but they didn’t have the blanks required to cut motorhome keys.  In Quartzsite, we were pleased to find a guy cutting keys out of his trailer, and he specifically caters to RVers.

The locks on the exterior compartments of our motorhome were stiff.  Sticky.  Downright difficult to turn.  While figuring out which keys to have cut, I managed to break one off in a lock (one that I’d previously bent and straightened in Mountain View), jamming the blade inside the lock cylinder.

I explained my dilemma to the guy who was cutting our keys, and he kindly suggested the rather complicated steps I should take to remove the lock cylinder, after which I could push the broken key out from the back side.  He loaned me a lock pick (aren’t they illegal?), and then reassured me by saying, “I’m not a locksmith”.

Patrick viewed from rear seated beside motorhome working on compartment lock wearing black down jacket and red hoodie

Tying to remove the lock cylinder

After a lot of trying I couldn’t get the door open using his technique, but I did manage to pick the lock and open the compartment.  I disassembled the latch from the inside, thinking I had my problem solved.  The latch came apart into many pieces, and eventually I was able to remove the lock cylinder and push out the broken key.

Patrick seated on small stool beside RV with compartment open and small screwdriver in hand

Success!

Reassembling the latch turned out to be tougher than I expected.  I knew the order of assembly, but could not for the life of me figure out how to put the pieces together.  So now I had an open compartment without a latch.

Patrick working on latch of motorhome compartment

Shit!

I reverted to Plan B, pulling out my ‘go-to’ tools – duct tape (I’m Canadian after all) and rope (I’m also a Queen’s Scout – yes I know that sounds kinda gay, not that there’s anything wrong with that).  I also incorporated a bit of bubble wrap, but I’m not bragging.

Patrick working on compartment latch with duct tape

Plan B In Progress

And Diane says that I’m not handy. What do you think?

RV compartment door without latch and protected with buble wrap and duct tape and tied shut with rope

Almost as good as new


Quartzsite

March 8, 2013

Quartzsite is a sleepy little town of about 3,000 residents during the scorching Arizona summer, but in the months of January and February it swells to over 1 Million people, almost all of them living in RVs.  Most of these people boondock in the desert, staying on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands surrounding the town.

Many white RVs coating the horizon

RVs scattered across the desert

Quartzsite sits on the western side of the La Posa Plain along Tyson Wash.  It’s small, dusty, and poor, with a median family income around $26,000.  On the surface it might appear that there’s not much to see or do, but there are lots of activities that cater to RVers.

Diane standing in front of post office bside a post office box wearing purple fleece with sign behind

Diane in front of the Quartzsite Post Office

Many people enjoy hiking, biking, or riding quads in the desert.  There are also an innumerable number of gem shops, selling rocks, gemstones, and jewellery to rock hounds, collectors, and visitors.  But the main attractions to this tiny town are The Quartzsite Shows.

Quartzsite hosts a steady stream of trade shows during the winter months, primarily in January and February.  The largest of which is the Annual Sports, Vacation, and RV Show, a 9 day RV extravaganza held in the massive show tent just south of town.

Large white tent with multi-coloured flags on top and parked crs in the foreground

Quartzsite Show Tent

There are also gem & mineral, craft, classic car, and several other swap meet type shows, each of which attracts hundred of exhibitors and thousands of attendees.

Aerial photo of large white tent surrounds by motorhomes and other vehicles

Quartzsite RV Show from above

We arrived just in time for the last day of the RV show, something we’d planned to do in order to complete the outfitting of our motorhome.  We bought an aluminum folding table, some nice reclining lounges, and a lot of microfiber (a soft, quick-drying fabric that’s great in RVs for washing and drying just about everything).

Free camping is allowed in the Dome Rock Mountains, which overlook the town from the west.  There are no designated campsites, and you’re allowed to stay for up to 14 days.  We stayed here for three nights.

Patrick seated in front of motorhome in reclining lawn chair with martini in hand

Martinis in the desert!

On our first night at Dome Rock we met Bob and Beth, a nice couple who have been full-time Rving for almost 20 years.  Although they own a couple of ‘stick houses’ and tried to live in one recently, they couldn’t give up their life on the road.  They invited us to visit them at their ‘home park’ in New Mexico.  They also invited us to join the Escapees RV Club, a club that focuses on full-time Rvers, something that we’ll be doing for most of this year.  We joined the next day at the RV show.

A unique  economy has developed in Quartzsite to service the needs of all those seasonal RVers.  Very little is permanent and many things are mobile.  For example, trucks travel around to deliver fresh water and propane and to collect sewage, grey water, and garbage from RVs parked in the desert.  Many businesses selling RV services locate temporarily in the town during the winter months, when the RV business is slow in their cold home towns.  We had some work done on our RV by one such business, Erik’s RV Performance Center located in Sequim, Washington, but currently operating in Quartzsite.

We found that our Solera swayed uncomfortably on uneven ground at slow speeds.  Within a few days of buying it, we turned in to an upward-sloping driveway that had a speed bump at the top of it.  We crossed the bump on the diagonal.  Even (perhaps especially) at a crawl, the resulting sway managed to pop open our microwave door and send the glass turntable flying to smash on the floor.  We also noticed the sway when driving over potholes, when being passed by large trucks, and on cambered freeway ramps. We found this a bit disconcerting and so after some internet research, we decided to upgrade the suspension with Roadmaster RSS Anti-Sway Bars.  Roadmaster had a booth at the Quartzsite show, and recommended Erik’s to install their products.

A bent metal bar lying on the ground in front of our RV

One of our new sway bars

We had the rear factory sway bar replaced with an upgraded, thicker one, and we added an additional, forward-facing sway bar (also at the rear).

Our Solera on an outdoor lift with a technician working benearth

A flying Solera

The new sway bars reduce the initial sway and quickly dampen any subsequent rocking.  Unfortunately they also make noise, an issue that we’re still dealing with.

Quartzsite is a mecca for RVers, a pilgrimage site where the desert blooms with fiberglass coaches each winter.  It’s a unique place where you can be among others with the penchant (some say affliction) to live the mobile, warm-weather lifestyle.