Monday, September 3, 2012

Oh Shit...

RV Tip #1... If your rv's toilet has a slide valve between the bowl & the waste tank, make sure -absolutely sure- that the valve is closed before you tow the trailer! My bride made the mistake of leaving the valve open. Before leaving the campground I did a check of the tires, signal lights, hitch etc. but I didn't check the toilet. I will never ever make that mistake again! The toilet had only been used two or three times so we didn't dump the tank before making our return trip home. I figured a little sloshing around wouldn't hurt anything. Ya right! Now if you dare, use your imagination. Think sewage. Think open valve. Think sloshing. Accelerate = backwards slosh. Braking = forward slosh. Oh the inhumanity of it!

Sewage + open valve + sloshing = a mess of epic proportions! Thankfully the toilet lid was down. No doubt it helped confine the worst of the mess to the bowl. That, in a "Thetford Incident" like this, is a very good thing. Far worse is the fact that the lid didn't fully trap the slosh - some escaped! Upon entering the trailer I knew something was wrong. Very wrong. I opened the washroom door and witnessed (and smelled) a horrendous scene I will not soon forget. Unfortunately it is now etched into my brain. Nobody should ever have to experience such a thing and I fear I will have nightmares about it. Being a good husband I only ranted on my sweetie for half a minute. (Enough to get that blank "deal-with-it" look). I proceeded to hold my breath and clean up the toxic waste site (even though none of the wastes involved were my own). Turns out the Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, previously stocked in the trailer, were up for the job. It is hard to express how thankful I was to have that wonderful product available within 30-inches of the washroom door. The exterior door was also close by allowing gasps of fresh air. Small trailers have their advantages.

Thetford C200 Cassette Toilet
Our trailer is equipped with a Thetford C200cs Cassette Toilet rather than Livin' Lite's standard toilet with its underfloor blackwater holding tank. When we ordered the trailer we requested the cassette type for the convenience of being able to dump the removable "cassette" waste tank in a standard flush toilet. Such cassette toilets are common in European & Australian 'caravans' and North American truck campers, but are not common in North American travel trailers. If more rv purchasers were familiar with their advantages I'm sure these toilets would be more popular. The way they work is the bowl drains to a portable tank that can be hygienically removed from the rv's exterior. It is simply taken to a standard flush toilet and dumped. That toilet can be at a highway rest stop, gas station, or a toilet fixture at home. Our cassette toilet has an electric flush (a manual pump model is available) and is plumbed to the trailers fresh water system. (The manual flush model has its own water tank). In general it is a simple, easy to use, system. It is possible to have more than one cassette so when one is full it can be swapped with the second cassette allowing greater convenience and practically uninterrupted service. It takes less than a minute to swap the cassettes. Another advantage is the waste cassette is not under the floor like a conventional blackwater tank. Being inside the rv (although accessed from an exterior hatch) it is less likely to freeze allowing camping cooler temperatures without a tank heating system.

I wonder if the location of cassette tank directly under the toilet bowl contributed to the mess I faced and ultimately conquered? Perhaps if the valve were left open in a more conventional system the sloshing of the tank under the floor wouldn't find its way up & out of the bowl? My recommendation is don't experiment to find out! Or if you do - be prepared to get treatment for post-traumatic stress.

Regards, Ross  September 3, 2012


  1. A friend of mine stopped at a dumping station to empty the holding tank on his 5th wheel after a week of use before hitting the road.He unscrewed the cap to hook up the hose, before he realized the valve was wide opened.He wore the entire content of the tank in his lap.

    1. It probably happens to more people than will admit it. Did your friend gag & chuck his cookies? He must have swore a few choice words. I'll admit - I would laugh uncontrollably if I saw that happening to someone else. Perhaps I should hangout at the dump station with a video camera. Capturing such a moment could make me a star on YouTube.

    2. I'm sure he gagged. I used to have to field dress his rabbits when we'd go hunting lol. I guess his wife laughed her butt off. You're right that probably would be a good place to hang out. I used to hang out at a boat ramp in Toledo just for the laughs.

  2. That sounds horrifying! D:

    I'm so glad that my toilet isn't built like that. It has one valve that opens when you hit the "flush" pedal, but then automatically closes on its own when the pedal is released. No chance of something like this happening!

    1. That foot pedal that automatically closes the valve is a good idea. Funny thing is Thetford makes both kinds of toilet. If I'm ever in the Netherlands, I'm going to visit Thetford factory and hunt down the engineer who designed open-til-you-close-it valve and give him or her a raspberry! Seriously, I would have fun discussing it with them. In my work as an architect I've sometimes had to work with engineers who do nothing but design sewage treatment systems. Day in & day out they think about sewage. Funny thing is those people all had a sense of humor about their work. The Thetford folks are likely just as funny. I'll bet the quality control person is especially funny.

    2. Knock-knock...
      Who's there?
      Port-a who?
      Port-a-Potty Pee-pee Poo-Poo

      Sorry for that, but I hope you'll repeat it because it is some of my best work! The Thetford folks probably have better ones. "There one was a girl from Nantucket..."

  3. Yeah, like Misty the toilet in my Casita has a valve that automatically closes once you take your foot off the pedal. While your foot is on the pedal, water is actively running down the sides of the bowl and flushing the contents of the bowl down into the black tank. If the foot pedal sticks (seems like a pretty rare occurrence fortunately), you'll still have a problem because the water won't stop running and the valve won't close and...yeah, you can guess how that can end up.

    If the valve should stick open but the foot pedal doesn't, the water won't keep running, but you have the stink and possibility for splash back since at least in mine the black tank is directly underneath the toilet. To be honest I'm really glad the black tank is directly underneath though, since Casitas don't come with tank sensors, the only good way to tell if you're getting full is to peek.

    Anyway it seems like everyone who's been RVing for a while has a black tank horror story to share, it's like a right of passage or something. I'm sorry to hear that it happened, how unpleasant to clean up! But we can all hope that now that it's over and done with you're in the clear as far as future toilet troubles right? :)

    1. Right! I'm all done with toilet problems. Absolutely! Henceforth I'll worry about other things. There must be something else that can go wrong.

      I've read about others having their fridges open in transit - spilling everything to the floor where it can roll around. That's bound to happen sometime. It would be a drag (particularly if sticky things spilled) but nowhere near as bad as the "Thetford Incident".

      Perhaps our little dog could get skunked while camping - now that would be exciting! Dixie the dog did get sprayed once here at home. It was awful. The paint all peeled off the walls it was so bad. We could smell skunk for months. Clients and coworkers could smell it in our clothes for weeks. (People coming into our office buildings would say "What is THAT smell?" while their eyes rolled into the backs of their heads). The gagging kids wanted to be put up for adoption but no agency would take them. It was bad. It was really bad. Heck, the "Skunk Incident of 2009" was worse than the recent "Thetford Incident". Far worse - it lingered!

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I welcome your comments -- Ross