Warning, this blog contains content that may not be comfortable for the squeamish.
We have been dealing with a nasty problem, and while we still don’t know what caused it, after a lot of trial and error, and even more frustration, we seem to have solved it. At least for now.
We are very careful about avoiding waste tank clogs, always waiting until our black tank is at least ¾ full before dumping. I also power flush our black tank on a regular basis to avoid any buildup.
Saturday a week ago, while we were at Pleasant Valley RV Resort in Mission, Texas, I dumped and flushed the black tank and everything was good. The next day we drove to Lone Star Corral in Hondo and spent five days, and when we were getting ready to leave Thursday morning I pulled the handle to dump the black tank, and nothing. Not one drop. Nada. Hmmm… that’s not right.
I was still dealing with my cold and we needed to get on the road, so I decided to close the valve and deal with it at our next stop. We drove over 400 miles that day, which should have shaken anything in the tank up pretty good. But when I tried to dump again the next morning the same thing. I use a clear elbow when I dump so I can tell when things are running clear. Or, in this case, when things weren’t running at all.
Instead of the standard T-handle dump valves a lot of RVs have, our Winnebago Ultimate Advantage uses a cable valve system and I suspected the cable had come loose, which happened once before. Once we got to Deming Friday afternoon, I stopped at the local RV repair shop, which was highly recommended, and talked to the owner, who suggested a couple of things that might be causing the problem, including a clog. But it was the end of the day and he is closed on the weekends, so the best he could do was try to fit us in Monday morning (tomorrow).
In the meantime, out tank was now full and we resigned ourselves to using the bathrooms here at Dream Catcher RV Park, which are nice and clean. But we’ve reached an age where late night trips to the bathroom are common, and it’s quite a walk to the bathroom, especially at 2 a.m. on a chilly, windy night!
I posted a query on a couple of RV internet bulletin boards Friday night, and called a few people for advice yesterday morning. We took the panel off that separates our pass through bay from where the tanks are, and the cable was attached to the rod of the valve. Pulling the handle in and out moved the rod back and forth. Hmmm… did the rod come off the blade that slides back and forth inside the valve?
Phil Botnick, one of the best RV techs in the business, suggested drilling a small hole in the plastic housing of the valve on the opposite side from the direction the blade moves and using a pick or metal probe to push the valve open. That way we could at least empty the tank. We tried that and discovered that the blade was working properly and was opening and closing as it should when the handle was pushed. And the probe came out of the hole dry. Curiousier and curiousier. That means there was a blockage. But in just five days after I had power flushed? And a blockage so solid that not one drop of liquid would get through after over 600 miles of bumping down the highway? Even Phil thought that was odd.
The next step was to get a plumbers snake and see if I could go in from the dump tube and try to dislodge whatever was in there. But the plumbing system is laid out in such a way that I couldn’t get the snake in. Somebody had suggested that maybe there was a clog in the vent tube that goes through the roof, so Terry climbed up on top and ran the snake down the vent tube. About 2/3 of the way down she felt resistance, so she kept spinning the cable and suddenly it let go and went all the way down. I was at the sewer bay watching for anything to come through the elbow. Nope, still nothing. And when Terry pulled the snake back out of the vent pipe there wasn’t anything on it.
A couple of neighbors had come by to observe all the fun. By then it was late in the day and I had stopped having fun hours ago. One of the neighbors suggest trying to flush the tank again, but it was so full we’d have had an overflow out of the toilet. Then the suggestion was made to leave the black valve open and try to force water in through the sewer drain and see if that would do anything.
What did I have to lose at that point? I had a sewer cap with a hose connection on it and, with Terry in the bathroom watching in case the level rose any higher and the neighbor standing by to turn the water off in a hurry, we gingerly gave it a try. I filled it up until it was backing up in the clear elbow, took the cap off and attached the sewer hose, and Terry said that ever so slowly the level was dropping. But the strange thing was that all we were seeing was clear water coming out. Eventually it stopped flowing and we repeated the process, and again all I was seeing was pretty much clear water, but the level inside went down. Okay, let’s try again.
Eventually Terry could look down through the toilet and see that the tank seemed empty. (I told you this post wasn’t for the squeamish. But if you’re an RVer, it’s information that might save you an expensive trip to the shop.) We repeated this procedure several more times, and suddenly as the water was going in I heard an audible “pop” and suddenly a deluge came out so fast that it actually blew the clear elbow apart! And unfortunately, it was sludge, not just the clear water I had been seeing. I managed to get the black valve closed and cleaned things up, but by then it was dark and time to stop for the day.
Today I plan to power flush the tank a few more times, just to be sure. And I still don’t know what caused the clog in the first place. I never saw any big wads of toilet paper coming through or anything that would indicate a problem. And again, we’ve been fulltiming well over 15 years so we know and follow all the rules to maintain a healthy sewer system. I called Phil Botnick back and gave him an update, and he said it over 30 years of working on RVs he has seen a lot of amazing things in RV tanks, including toys and eyeglasses. He said it’s possible that something was dropped down into the toilet long before we bought the rig and lay down there all this time waiting to move around and cause a problem. I’ve also heard that sometimes in the manufacturing process, when cutting holes into the tank, the round plastic disk from the hole falls into the tank and is left, and can later come back to haunt the RV’s owner. Who knows? At least we don’t have to walk across the campground in the dark to go potty, and we’ve saved ourselves a trip to the RV shop, and hopefully some money.
Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing for an audiobook of Crazy Days in Big Lake, the third book in my Big Lake mystery series. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening.
Thought For The Day – Above the clouds, the sun is always shining.