Dicromantispa interrupta

Dicromantispa interrupta

Friday, March 3, 2023

Pipsissewa Wilting

After building my house and moving into it, it seemed worthwhile to rent the adjacent pad where I lived in an RV travel trailer during the construction process. I signed up with hosting platforms Airbnb and Hipcamp, prepared site profiles, and then stood back, poured myself a cup of French roast, and waited for new friendships and income to roll in.

Both hosting platforms provide extensive and helpful instructions and advice to new hosts like myself. I was particularly impressed with the ability for prospective tenants to review host sites within standardized formats for ready comparisons. There also are provisions for hosts to provide additional information that does not fit into their standard forms’ boxes, and there are several ways that hosts can get further advice on setting up profile webpages; e.g., phone the platforms and talk to real humans, peruse competitor site profiles as examples, and join Facebook sites where hosts can advise each other.

One piece of advice that I took to heart was to put into my site profile how tenants could deal with any issues particular to my site. Consumers deserve fair warnings before plunking down their bucks. One fair warning I gave was about my driveway. I pointed out it was steep, and in the beginning surfaced with loose gravel that would make it difficult or impossible for small front-wheel-drive (FWD) cars to ascend.

There were two warnings that could have been added, but I was not experienced enough to know about them. One was that self-contained RVs or trailer towing vehicles must have strong engines due to the steep driveway, and the second was that self-contained and trailer-towed RVs both must be limited in length due to tight quarters. But I had no idea how powerful their engines needed to be or what maximum RV lengths can be accommodated on my site. So, what were my options in trying to determine these things? I could (1) get experience over time – good, bad, and ugly; (2) ask competitors for advice (right!); (3) seek guidance from RV consultants (but just try to find one in the yellow pages); and (4) ask the hosting platform companies (but they do not make site inspections). The last three took me back to alternative #1, so I hoped that experienced RV owners would know what their engines were capable of and how to shoehorn their RVs into tight slips. I knew those things when I lived in an RV.

The first tenants to arrive were able to drive their RV up to the site; however, they had to park their small FWD car down the hill a little way, still on the property but not adjacent to the RV. They were understanding about my newness to the business and gave me a good review, bless their hearts.

The second tenants never were able to make it up to the RV site. Their towing vehicle may or may not have had sufficient horsepower, but that did not matter as their trailer wallowed in the gravel and the towing vehicle’s rear wheels just spun ineffectually. I tried to refund their deposit, but my newness conspired to make me unable to figure out how to do so.

Friends and relatives also had trouble getting up my driveway, so I bit the bullet and paid $14,900 to have it paved with asphalt.

My third tenants (Evie & Harrison; via Airbnb) have now come and gone. They intended to stay for 28 days in a “skoolie” (refurbished retired school bus), accompanied by their minivan. I do not know how old the skoolie was or how well it had been maintained by previous owners, but it was long past “new.” These tenants drove here from Jacksonville, Florida. For the unaware, the Jacksonville School District is (was?) the only school district in the continental USA that does not own and operate its own school buses. Instead, the district’s buses are owned and operated by individuals, some driving their own buses and others hiring drivers, and the school board contracts with these owner-operators to ferry the kids around. Those buses are kept in service for many years, and their treatment and maintenance levels vary widely.

In the 1970s when I worked at a mountain summer camp for kids, Jacksonville school bus owner-operators were often hired to transport campers to local swimming holes, forest trails, and other attractions. I remember one owner-operators complaining to me that his bus had just blown its engine when being driven uphill on a mountain highway. He related that the bus was old, but thought it would have lasted another five years if it had been limited to flatlands.

When Evie & Harrison arrived, they were unable to back their skoolie into my RV site, so they opted to enter nose first. There were several reasons for that inability, IMO the most important being that their skoolie’s diesel engine was underpowered. It roared loudly as it inched slowly up the paved driveway and was loathe to move forward whenever the steering wheel was turned even slightly away from straight ahead. Another apparent issue was that the turnaround site had shrubby vegetation too close for easy radial steering, so I later used a chainsaw to cut the shrubs back another 6 to 8 ft. A third issue was that we were in the midst of a rainy spell, so the ungraveled ground at the edge of the site was soft. These three issues prevented the skoolie from maneuvering effectively during their 10-point turnings, and as a result the skoolie’s left front tire hit a soft spot and sank into the ground 6 to 8 inches. Because their skoolie had no way to be leveled as typical RVs do, this caused their floor to be slightly tilted in that position.

After being here a little over a week, they decided that the tilted floor was unacceptable. They tried to jockey the skoolie over to harder ground that was only about a yard away to the side, but the skoolie’s engine was unable to extricate the tire. Another issue with their skoolie, and presumably many other school buses, was that its rear axle had neither double-lockable wheels nor positraction, so gunning its engine when one rear tire was spinning on soft ground robbed power to the other wheel that was sitting (and unmoving) on solid ground. As a result, the bus went nowhere, so they gave up on this attempt and called a towing service.

Two days later, a mechanic driving a lifting-flatbed tow truck arrived to pull the skoolie out of the hole so that it could then be driven onto the firmer graveled ground. The mechanic had two ways he could do this. He could either use the truck’s power winch or pull the bus with a chain. He chose the latter. In his first attempt, he attached one end of his chain to the back of his tow truck and the other end to a steel hook welded to the back frame of the skoolie. This attempt ended suddenly when the chain’s end-hook popped off the bus hook. Harrison then re-hooked the chain and they gave it another go, slowly at first, and when that did not provide enough oomph, the mechanic powered up and suddenly soft-jerked the skoolie backward out of the tire-hole. Success! Or so we thought.

Harrison then drove the skoolie forward onto firm ground; however, the bus floor was still tilted. Evie told me the next day that the combination of the bus being tilted for the week and then winched out meant that the frame had been bent or other serious damage inflicted to the bus. They planned to have an insurance claim inspector diagnose it. There were two things wrong with Evie’s assertions: (1) vehicle frames as stoutly manufactured as school busses do not warp by sitting on uneven ground, and (2) the bus was "yanked" backward by the tow truck rather than being moved slowly by winching. Yanking a vehicle with a second vehicle is well-known to sometimes cause serious damage to one or both vehicles. Frankly, I am surprised the mechanic did not use the winch to pull the bus, as he confidently stated that the winch was capable of it. FWIW, I stood back and watched the operation; I did not lift an assisting hand due to red flags and liability concerns. The tenants elected to leave my site sooner than scheduled. I do not know if their plan was to move to a different RV site or to a garage to have the bus repaired.

Their effort to drive away three days later proved once again that their bus was underpowered for the mountains, as even on the asphalt driveway, the skoolie could not move forward even an inch when the front wheels were even slightly steered to the right or left. Also, with the shrubs now trimmed well away from the driveway, the skoolie still had turnaround issues, so they decided to back down the driveway to leave. Their original concern about being hemmed in by shrubbery was thus a third false claim.

As they prepared to leave, Evie informed me that the “damage” was to a shock absorber rather than to the bus frame. I do not know who made this determination, nor if it was even correct, as she had already made several false determinations. Relieved that their bus had not been seriously damaged, I agreed with her request for a pro rata refund, as they stayed for only 11 nights instead of the originally booked 28. Evie then said she would not give my site a review at all. I assumed she realized that their engine was underpowered for the mountains, their skoolie should have had leveling (and stabilizing) equipment, my shrubbery had nothing to do with their turnaround issues, flatlanders like themselves have a lot to learn about mountain living and driving, and they too wanted closure on this event. I therefore reciprocated the intention to give them no review either. We shook hands all around and they left.

However, any relief that I may have felt at that moment was dashed later that day upon learning that she had about-faced and submitted a review (her fourth false claim). I then learned that I cannot see her review until I give her one, kind of like buying a pig in a poke. At that point, my own angst rose to Code Orange. Evie’s unwarranted accusations that the soft ground had damaged their RV implied potentially thousands of dollars of liability, yet she offered no apology upon learning that she misspoke. Now she has given me a review that I cannot see, one that potentially adversely impacts my future income. This concern was aggravated by Airbnb rep “Jose,” who tried to get me to agree with something that Evie told Airbnb. Unfortunately, Jose’s Spanish accent was so strong that I had great difficulty understanding him, and had to ask him to repeat several things that he said. When I could not understand exactly what he was trying to get me to agree to that Evie claimed, I grew annoyed and instead put my own words into my mouth, after which he “agreed” with my wording.

Oh, by the way, Evie and Harrison released their pet cat to wander around outdoors unrestrained. My site profile states that all tenant pets must always be under positive control. I am a biologist who would rather have wildlife in my yard than someone else’ predatory pet.

I am now up in the air as to whether I want to continue to host an RV site at all. I am gestating on Evie’s misspeaking and failure to apologize, her telling me she was going to do one thing before asking for a partial refund and then doing something else after I agreed to the refund, they deliberately ignoring my pet control rule, Jose’s oft-incomprehensible English during communications regarding liability, Airbnb’s one-million-dollar “coverage” not actually being insurance, and my own uncertainty as to what requirements need to be placed on engine horsepower and RV and trailer maximum lengths. I think I will take my RV site off the market until I am back to Code Green and I know the maximum lengths of self-contained RVs and towing-towed combos for my site. In any case, NO MORE SKOOLIES!!!


  1. I opt for a peaceful existence without Airbnb or HipCamp, do you really need the $$???

    1. Every little bit helps, but that is the question, isn't it?

    2. One thing I forgot to mention is that I upgraded my internet service upon their telling me they needed bandwidth for his job. I was already mildly dissatisfied with the preexisting service, so their need precipitated the upgrade. Regardless, I am now happier with the upgrade than I was with the previous service. I mention this only to indicate my wish to adequately service the needs of my tenants.

  2. As for me, I’d rather be a Walmart greeter than put up with that kind of idiocy!