In Great Plains summer heat and sunshine, if you don't run the AC continuously there is a good chance interior temperatures will go higher than you want, and you won't have the AC capacity to get them back down where you want them until the sun goes down. My RV, sitting in the sun on a 80 -90 F day, will get to well over 120 F ina couple hours. Sometimes the most effective thing I can do for cooling is open the windows and run the power vents to pull in that "cooler" outside air.
You can run your RV AC 24/7. That's the duty cycle for RV and window units. The manufacturers know we buy on cost, and tend to greatly undersize for maximum heat loads.
A tandem axle trailer is slightly more resistant to changing direction of travel. Whether tat works for or against you depends on trailer - tow vehicle geometry and your own skills. From personal experience, a short single axle trailer is easier to back into very tight places but can jack knife very quickly.
Truck stops don't usually have reservations, time frames, and often don't have fees. Either there is space when you pull in, or there is not. Similarly for rest areas or roadside parks. Add to this "friendly" parking lots like Walmart and Cracker Barrel in some places.
I still don't understand whether you are looking for some sort of family travel, camping, sightseeing experience, or getting across the country in minimum time. For me, the two approaches are different. The trip I most often take is about 1000 miles from NE Oklahoma to SE Michigan, and it can be driven without overnight stops with enough drivers, two days with one driver, or 3-4 days as a family RV road trip experience.
Is there a bucket list of places to see, or is this a trip to get as quickly as possible to some California destination at lowest possible cost? Or something in between?
Leveling for AC is not critical. It could probably run OK upside down, but condensation drains into a pan, you want openings low enough that the pan doesn't overflow. Leveling for refrigerator os more critical and usually good enough for AC.
I actually level for my stovetop, so bacon grease and eggs don't run to one side, or over, the griddle. My rig, this puts the refrigerator well within safe range and AC draining onto the roof. If staying for a long time, in hot humid weather, I might mislevel slightly to control where the condensation runs off the roof, preferring to send it to streetside gutters rather than drpping on my head as I go out the door.
My Itasca Spirit (29B) isolates the drain valves sufficiently that they can be replaced without doing anything to the waste tanks. My experience generally with Winnebago motorhomes makes me expect that level of care in design of all models. Drain valves go into readily accessible "utility" compartments.
I think you need a better service provider. Freeing up the valve should be first choice, before considering replacement. Replacement of the valve should not normally involve removal and replacement of the waste tank. You've not specified year and model, so I can't look up the plumbing design diagrams.
It shouldn't be $60 a night once you get out of the East, until you reach California where high land values push rents back up into the stratosphere. Everything in California is expensive, just like everything in the D.C. to Boston Megapolis is expensive, but it is not that way in the rural middle of the country.
Through most of the middle of the country the RV parks serving travelers have been in the $25-40 range for me, the lower number overlapping fees in the nicer state parks, and not much higher than fees for Corps of Engineers properties (although you might be eligible for 1/2 fee camping on the Access pass. State parks generally, the more complete the facilities, the more expensive they are.
We used to travel without making reservations ahead of time. This means avoiding weekends at popular recreation areas near cities, in season, and avoiding urban areas generally (because high real estate values mean either high rents or no RV parks at all). I think this has gotten more difficult as more and more public facilities are abandoning their "first come, first served" policies and catering to a new generation's expectation that everything needs to be reserved.
Because reservations for a whole trip don't fit our flexible mode of travel, what we usually did was figure out around noon where we would be at the end of the day, look up facilities that distance out, and call for reservations for that night. This works for commercial parks, not so well for public parks, which tend to require reservation 24 to 72 hours in advance, partly because of communications issues between remote locations and a central reservations system.
When we did this in the 60s (family of six children, my parents and grand parents) we just pulled in somewhere to sleep at the end of the day: sometimes parks, sometimes city or county campgrounds, sometime RV parking at gas stations. Hookups weren't necessary, our travel trailer was essentially self contained and self sufficient for how we were using it, i.e. alternative to a tent. However, if what you want from a RV is a modern house on wheels, it is harder to do that without attaching to the grid. Only larger, more expensive RVs are self sufficient at that level.
Look at what your friends have, what you like and don't like about them (the RVs, not the friends). Visit dealers and look at RVs, and RV shows if the search goes into show season. What you are looking for is "how would we live in this?" Or "are we going to live in this or just sleep in it" because our family's first travel trailer, early 1960s, handled our whole family for sleeping only; living had to be outside.
You also probably have a budget to fit, and an idea for a tow vehicle the RV has to match. If you want more RV than you can tow, the budget has to include an adequate tow vehicle. My 2004 search, almost a year and a half, established that my wife wanted more room to live in than could be handled by our mid-size SUV (6000 pound max but more like 4500-5000 with family along), so enlarging the budget to include a larger tow vehicle opened the possibility of motorhomes as alternatives, and that turned out to be the less expensive solution and a better fit to how we wanted to use it (road trips).
When the family I grew up in got down to Mom, Dad and 3-4 kids, they got rid of the travel trailer we had used for road trips and got a tent camper for camping at the state parks and recreation areas for long weekends and 1-2 weeks at a time. My experience is while you can use almost any RV any way, motorhomes work best for road tripping, popups can be a lot of extra work putting them up and taking them down daily, so thus more suited to longer stays, while towables work about as well for either use.
I'm at the edge of the Flint Hills (only down here they are the Osage Hills) and most of my road trips have either been into cooler parts of the Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan) or west (Colorado, New Mexico, West Texas, Utah) in autumn when it is getting cool, or to Mississippi and Texas Gulf Coast in winter. Road trips were to places my wife and I were interested, mostly historical. Your road trips should be to places you and your family are interested in, not what interests someone else. But for ideas, you might look at regional travel books, what you might find in Missouri, Eastern Oklahoma, Eastern Nebraska, Western Iowa, Eastern Kansas. About a 200-300 mile radius from where you live for a day of travel each way, or if really road tripping, about 800-1000 miles if you have a week, 1500-2000 miles if you have two weeks. On the longer trips, I've always worked out loops within that travel radius, so we saw different things on the way back than we saw on the way out.
For weekends and a few days at a time, a lot of trips to nearby campgrounds (mostly Corps of Engineers) on the reservoirs in the Arkansas River basin. Most of these are in NE and North Central Oklahoma. In Kansas more of them are state parks, or city-county fishing lakes.
One less engine Ford has to assemble. Once the Transit came out, the E-series cutaway was the only platform left using the 5.4 and 6.8 Triton engines. All other truck series had moved on to a new line of V8 engines (or V6 Ecoboost) that did not fit in the E-series.
Most of the 5.4 E-350 cutaways were going to a (non-RV) market that has moved on to the Transit platform now that a T-series cutway is available in the E-350 GVWR range. Transit and Sprinter are almost the only game in town, as Express cutaways have been unavailable for almost two years now.
To go through 25 gallons in 50 miles it has to be leaking fuel somewhere. It cannot be pulling that much gasoline through the carb and still be running, you would have large volumes of liquid fuel washing through the intake manifold and into the cylinders, a mixture too rich to usefully burn. "Runs great" says this is not happening.
Leak could be at the tank or anywhere from tank to carb inlet. 37 years old, there are a lot of gaskets and o-rings that could have deteriorated enough to not hold fuel under pressure. To say nothing about rubber or plastic segments in the fuel line.
I like the point where the depreciation has knocked the price down to about two-thirds of what it cost new, but I would buy newer if it was the right RV. The one I have now I bought at 18 months out of the factory, only 5000 miles. But it did cost more than several brand new C's of similar size with fewer features.
Since cost is linked to age, the "right" age is the age at which the cost is what you are able or willing to pay.
In 2004 I calculated some depreciation curves for several classes of RV from sale prices over 20 years of age, and the curves did not fit constant depreciation. The first 2-3 years can be pretty steep, and depreciation gets much flatter after 10 years. 20 years and beyond looked like condition mattered a whole lot more than how much more age. Today's market could be quite different.
Check the voltage under load. Motor loads like an A/C will draw more current at lower voltage trying to produce the rated power of the motor. You might be experiencing brownout conditions, at least locally.
For most models of Firestone's RideRite helper springs, there is a minimum pressure (usually 5-10 psi) and a maximum LOADED pressure (might be around 85-100 PSI). Exact numbers vary model to model.
The pressure you should inflate them to is somewhere in between. What accomplishes your purpose. What they do is increase the spring rate, thus making the ride more firm and raise the ride height. To some extent they take some load off the steel springs, thus help carry load.
I've found that I can adjust mine by measuring height at the rear bumper in my "empty" configuration with minimum pressures, and inflate to the same height after loading. I find them useful to level from side to side (15-20 PSI difference) because I'm heavy on the street side when empty, but much of the load goes to curb side. So if I did not have separate inflation points for each side (two valves in the same utility bin, in my case) they would be less useful.
Most models are sized so that a set of two bags carries 5000 pounds at maximum inflation pressure.
Unless you are talking about something else entirely, because Ride Rite is not a shock absorber or a damper, it is a Firestone brand name for an air spring.
Routine service should be basically the same cost as servicing a van, since the chassis is the same (at least as far as things that need chassis service are concerned). The length of the vehicle really doesn't enter into that at all...
I have an E-350 regular length van, in addition to the motorhome. At the dealer I use, size does make a difference, at least for routine service. I can take the van in for the Quick Lane $9.95 oil change (which is more like $13 with taxes and disposal fees) as the technicians can use the same lifts used for pickup trucks, making the job quick and easy.
The motorhome needs a scheduled appointment if it needs to go on a lift, because there are only two large truck bays with lifts. That runs up the price to the $25-30 range. The alternative is to pull it about 1/3 of the way into one of the Quick Lane service bays (only of the four fits this way) where the technician can crawl under it. The clearance is not great, not every tech fits, not every tech is willing to do this. So this comes back around to scheduling a large truck service session.
Similarly for tire service, brake and suspension work, in many shops the work gets turned away or gets done out on the driveway, and there is sometimes a premium for the trouble. If I schedule into a truck service shop, either the rates are higher or the amount of labor greater, or both. But it is all relative, the Honda dealer charges 2-3x as much for the same job on my Honda Fit as I pay for routine service on the motorhome.
On my Ford E-450 based C, my local Ford (truck) dealer does oil change, filter, chassis lube and inspection for $25-30. If air filter needs replacement, the cost is just the part, because the box is already open. Wiper blades, pair of $12 blades, $8 labor.
Transmission fluid change every 30,000 to 50,000 miles, $200 for a flush.
Under trees, whether driving mistakes or falling limbs, what rips fabric can still be just a scuff-mark on the heavier Filon sheeting. It is not as heavy as a molded fiberglass cap (e.g. used on upper end Newmars) firmly backed up by being sandwiched with a foam core.
It eventually fades, discolors, but is unlikely to weather through in a human lifetime. Advantage over a comparable aluminum skin is no corrosion of the plastic.
But Winnebago is not the best made rig. It is a rig made to a range of mass markets, with the advantage over some competitors in the same price ranges of partially automated productions and a formal quality management system. "Best made" usually implies "cost is no object" and Winnebago does not build for the market category where prices start at $800K and go well over $2,000,000 so every piece can be the best available, everything carefully hand-crafted.
You may not need a router if that's all you want to do. The Chromecast should do peer-to-peer connections if the tablet will. At least mine will. Chromecast uses peer-to-peer connections for setup, for assigning it to a wifi network and letting it know the passwords.
Only problem with peer-to-peer, at least older protocols, most devices will not do a wifi network connection at same time as doing peer-to-peer, so you may be off the Internet while streaming.
The closest in physical appearance will be Winnebago's Trend, built on the Ram Promaster chassis, for which a gas V-6 is the standard engine. I don't know if anyone else is building that type of C on a Promaster.
The other possibility is somebody building on the newly available Ford Transit cutaway. Winnebago build the Fuse on this one, but engine chosen by Winnebago is the diesel, for its greater pulling power.
On the "full-size" Ford E-450 chassis, Winnebago builds the Aspect and Cambria, two models in each line are just under 30 feet. For this chassis, or the E-350, most major manufacturers and several smaller ones (e.g. BornFree, Phoenix Cruiser, Coachhouse, LTV) build B+ type RVs in a range of sizes. You will likely find some also on Chevy Express chassis.
I've bought repair manuals for most of the vehicles I've owned over the years. Most of these have been from Haynes because they are easier to find. Haynes repair manuals tend to be generic for a whole series, with tables of information to cover differences year to year. For example, the Haynes for your van now covers 1971 through 2003 model years (32 years building essentially the same van with running changes in bodywork and mechanical options). Similarly, the one for my Ford van is 1992 through 2014. It is almost the same van as the one covered by the Haynes for 1969 through 1991, got a new front end and new engines in '92. Dodge didn't get new engines.
I've bought Chilton manuals for a few import cars in the 60s and 70s, liked them better because they tended to be more year specific, and more detailed but that also made them more expensive and harder to find, because the year you're looking for can be sold out and out of print. For example, I can no longer buy the Chilton manual for my 1965 Renault R-8, nor for the '68 BMW or '71 Audi, but I could get them when the cars were more current.
My dad's repair shop usually bought the Chilton manuals if they needed information, before springing for factory manuals (or caging a look at a dealer's copy). Chilton manual for your van covers 1968-88 and include information about the cutaways and the small motorhome bare chassis.
Haynes manual covers a lot more work than I can do myself, and growing up around an auto repair shop, I've been doing or watching the work since about age eight or nine. Early imports particularly needed a lot of TLC.
Be aware that both manual series assume basic mechanical skills, some experience, and knowledge of the vocabulary. Haynes manuals have some basic how-to and safety information in each one, but not like having had an auto shop course. Which would not be a bad idea, if your local tech school has a course for hobbyists and owners.
I visited three different RV production operations before buying, two more since. Even in a common price range, building practices are not the same.
There are two places a company can manage cost, one is in the design or engineering and choice of materials, the other is in production methods. Even at the wages being paid, labor is still the biggest cost for most RVs, and the more the process can be automated, the lower the cost and better the quality. For automation, you have to come closer to building them all the same, which means the production worker is not figuring out where and how to route wiring and plumbing, deciding how many fasteners to use, etc. He has to be following specifications specific to model being built, another quality variable thus taken out of the equation.
Buying at entry level prices, I don't expect perfection, but by choosing a manufacturer using semi-automated production methods, writing detailed specifications for laborers to follow, having a multi-stage inspection program using independent inspectors rather than letting a production team write off its own work are all part of a process working toward quality management in mass production. I chose a brand because of what I saw of the process.
You can also get quality from "craftsman" builds, but you can't get that at low price points. However, that is a direction I might go if I buy another RV. The choices here are few, and you usually have to order it and wait for it to be built.