After a long search for the perfect RV, making an offer sight unseen, and flying to Oregon to bring her home, Harmony, our 2001 Chinook Concourse XL sat proudly in our driveway. She was a bit of a guilty pleasure. It is common knowledge that an RV spends most of its time sitting in a driveway or in storage, so it hardly seems like a wise investment. With those thoughts, I was pretty money conscious about putting a lot of money into my new hobby. (For the record, now that we have enjoyed our Chinook for some wonderful trips, I think the purchase was actually a fantastic investment.)
At any rate, I had the winter ahead and six more weeks of work before we could plan for another trip, so I set my focus on restoring the Chinook to her former glory. Fortunately, the Chinooks were top of the line in their day and the 2001 was in the golden age of the Chinook brand. The quality of the vehicle and the interior cabinetry was excellent, although the condition had deteriorated during the years of light use and storage. In other words, the Chinook had “good bones” as one might describe a fixer-upper house. There were also some significant technology improvements since 2001 that could be integrated to make the RV better than new.
We were fortunate that the previous owners had not made any major modifications, so we started with a configuration pretty close to what left the factory. The woodwork finish, especially the wine cabinet/dining table were in dire need of refinishing. Fortunately I had considerable experience refinishing furniture, and the “golden oak” woodwork is my favorite.
However, my first purchase was a replacement for the brass Coca Cola bottle opener that had been removed for some reason. The bottle opener was almost a trademark Chinook feature. Perhaps the original owner kept it as a memento of his Chinook experience. At any rate, an authentic bottle opener was found on eBay, and I got it for about $15.
It sounds silly, but the bottle opener has been a very useful appliance and I have used it many days on the road, usually for opening a cold imported beer following a long day of driving. Its utilitarian value and the convenience of its location right across from the refrigerator is just one example of the amazing attention to detail Trail Wagons put into their product. At any rate after seeing it prominently displayed in so many Chinook interior photos, I was disappointed to see it missing and happy to see it replaced.
Our brief experience driving the Chinook home to Santa Barbara identified some immediate needs for improvement. First was a better console for the cab. One of the coolest advertised features of Chinooks in our vintage included heated and cooled cup holders in the front console. The usefulness of the hot and cold was diminished by the fact that you needed “special” metal travel cups to take advantage.
I think soda cans would work but I never found out. Unfortunately, the console was a modified version of an already tiny console, with some venting required to keep the cup holders from overheating. In our case one of the vents was damaged. But the biggest problem was that we could not put anything on the console (e.g. cell phone, GPS) without having it slide off onto the floor (or more likely, dangling from the charge cord). There are two 12V charging ports available on the dashboard, but both are on the driver’s side, so the cords are draped across the console getting in the way. I wouldn’t have thought of replacing the console, except I had seen in my Chinook research that many owners had found cheap and better replacements on the Internet (thank you eBay). It turns out that Ford has stuck to the same console mounting brackets in their E-350 from the late 90s to the present, so several different styles had been produced during those years.
It was also common for shops to replace the factory console with a customized version, especially in RVs, so the factory “takeoffs” were generally available for (at the time) about $50. I was lucky to find just such a deal, a 2014 version on eBay for about $50. It was one of the last ones I have seen for sale, and the price for consoles now has risen to more like $150 or more, due to the declining use of the E350 platform for RVs (thanks to Sprinter and the like).
The new console was a huge improvement, providing three fully functional cup holders, and numerous bins and cubbies to hold all of our paraphernalia.
The third item to be addressed was the need for additional convenient charging ports in the cab. The new console and the original wiring for the drink heater/coolers provided a perfect opportunity to add charging ports to the console.
I found a nifty Charging Port device on Amazon, which took a 12V input and provided two USB charging ports as well as two more conventional 12V (think cigarette lighter) ports. Here is a link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000PB8CQI/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 I mounted the device inside the new console, which had a nifty shelf inside the main compartment, and connected the input wires to the 12V wires behind the console which used to feed the cup holders, and our charging port and wiring problems were solved. All the cords would now originate inside the console, and stay mostly out-of-the-way. I found some electric travel cups that have built-in heating elements that plug into the 12V sockets, so I could get back at least half of the hot and cold cup holder feature. I have found that the heater is pretty unnecessary. since an insulated cup holds heat longer than it takes to drink a cup of coffee. The cooling function could have been valuable in a more desirable housing, because the E-350 transmission gets HOT especially when mountain climbing, and the console rides right on top of the transmission. Cold drinks warm up quickly in the cab. Often, I will put some bottles of water in the freezer, and let them thaw out in the cup holders while driving, to provide some cold water in the cab on hot drives.