Sunday, March 18, 2012

Why live in a little metal box on wheels?

Why live in a little metal box on wheels?

Now, that’s a good question.
Because it’s better than living in a cardboard box under the bridge!
Not a bad answer.  But maybe not what you were looking for, so let’s try again.  The trouble is … I’m not sure where to begin this story.  I could begin with the purchase of our first fifth wheel trailer.  Or I could start with that tiny broken down travel trailer that we used a couple of times before the ass-end fell off of it.  Maybe I should begin with all those years of tent camping for extended periods.  However, I have a feeling that I should begin a long time before that…

            I grew up on an acreage in an unincorporated area known as Johnston Station.  The name came from the stop along the railroad tracks between the cities of Des Moines and Perry Iowa.  It is just south of  Camp Dodge military base.  Camp Dodge had been a busy training location during the second world war.  However, by the time I was born, the war was over, the train station was gone and Camp Dodge had become a training ground for the Army Reserve/National Guard.
            The area was neither city nor country and yet not a suburb either.  Our home was a small five room house on a dead end street near the end of the residential area.  To the north were open fields on the flatland before climbing a steep but not high hill.  The hill was the gift of the last ice age to cover this area.  From that hill southward it is mostly flat to gently rolling hills until you start approaching the Missouri boarder.
            To give you a better idea of the size of this community, there were around thirty kids in my kindergarten class and most of us were together for our entire scholastic experience through high school.  By graduation we had added about ten more kids when Grimes, the town to our west, lost its school and combined with ours. 
My kindergarten class

            Our little community had a school, kinder- garten through twelfth.  There was one ma and pa grocery store, a bait shop, a barbershop, an ice cream shop, a gas station and a key club (this was before you could buy liquor by-the-drink in Iowa).
            As you can tell, there was not a lot of things to do except, climb trees, ride bikes and go swimming at the big pool in Camp Dodge.  (At the time it was built, it was the largest swimming pool in the world.  And later when they added filters, it was the largest filtered swimming pool in the world.  Alas, like the old school and the grocery store, the pool is now gone.)
            The point of this rambling is that I grew up living more outside than inside.  Most pictures of me taken before high school show me wearing nothing but cut-off shorts.  Except for the company of apes, my life was exactly like Tarzan’s.  I grew up loving the world outside.  I loved fishin’ an’ campin’.  I’d make teepees out of blankets and sleep in them as often as Mom would let me.  As a Cub Scout, Webelo and Boy Scout, I loved it every time my pack or troop would go on a campout.
            As an adult with a family I didn’t do much camping.  My wife’s idea of ‘roughing it’ was the Motel 8 instead of the Marriot.  The few times that we did go camping just never turned out well.  Eventually we just quit trying.  It wasn’t  her fault that we didn’t camp more.  However, now I really regret that I didn’t just take the kids and go camping without her. 
Looking into the tent from the screenroom
            The second wife, Ella, loved camping as much as I did.  We started out with a borrowed umbrella tent.  Over the years we progressed to larger tents combined with conversion vans.  As a matter of fact, the reason we bought our first little travel trailer was really to haul all of our tent camping stuff.  I had been looking for just a regular trailer (not an RV) to load the 12x17 tent, the 15x20 screen room, the shower tent, the 20x60 ground cloth, the 20x60 tarp and frame that went over the whole setup. 
Looking into the screenroom from the tent
When a friend of my stepson needed to sell his little travel trailer I thought it would be a nice addition to our setup … not a replacement.  Unfortunately, we only used it a couple of times before the rear wall rotted off at the floor.  We ended up giving the trailer away to our granddaughter’s boyfriend.  (I will not get into that any further than to say, he was a mistake we both made.)
We came to realize that we had reached an age and health condition where it was just too difficult for us to continue to tent camp in the manner to which we had become accustomed.  It wasn’t the camping that was so difficult.  Even the setup wasn’t too much for us to handle.  The tear down, however, had become and onerous chore.  After rolling up all that canvas, it was increasingly difficult to get up off the ground.
Rather than give up the time we enjoyed living simply (relatively) and close to nature, we began to look at recreational vehicles (RVs).  I was drawn to the size and convenience of class A motor homes.  Ella on the other hand, was completely turned off by them.  “I don’t want a steering wheel in my living room!” was her reoccurring chant.  And I became convinced that having your home and transportation in the same package might not be the best idea for us either.  We were already thinking of living fulltime in an RV once we retired. 
If you’ve separated the transportation from the living area, you’ve eliminated all the motor homes (class A, B, C etc) and truck campers.  What we were left with was the choice of a travel trailer (TT) or a fifth wheel (5er)  trailer.  A 5er requires a pickup truck as a tow vehicle and we did not own a pickup.  Therefore, we began looking at TTs which could be pulled by our conversion van.
Here we began to become confused by the information we were receiving from RV dealers about the towing capacity of our van.  Some dealers would show us only small travel trailers, stating that our van was  not capable of pulling the larger units.  Other dealers were telling us that the van would pull anything on their lots.  With all the conflicting information making my brain hurt, I decided to ask an expert. 
Here is the van when we just picnicking. 

When I explained that, because we were both still working, we would be staying local for the immediate future.  We did intend to do a lot of traveling once we retired, however.  Being a good salesman, he immediately showed me a three quarter ton GMC pickup that he had just taken on trade.  It had both a frame hitch (for a TT) and a fifth wheel receiver hitch.  We bought the truck.
Road Ranger and the GMC Sierra pickup
That same weekend, we expanded our shopping to include 5ers and ended up purchasing a thirty five foot Road Ranger fifth wheel.
Our intentions were to take the Road Ranger (RR) out for a weekend of camping.  Which is what we did.  Only, we came home and loaded more stuff into it and went back out to stay for a week or two.  We came back and loaded more stuff into it and went our for a month … two months …!  We came back six months later and only then because all the parks closed for the winter.
Over the winter, we bought a membership to Cutty’s Des Moines Camping Club, a private camping club with a campground/resort that is open all year around.  Cutty's - Des Moines Camping ClubThe lure of the fulltime RV lifestyle combined with the increasing expense of owning and maintaining a house, finally convinced us to move into the RV fulltime.
We now have all the conveniences of home without all the expense and upkeep of a house.  And as and added bonus, outside is just a few steps away.  We’ve found that we like keeping the home and changing the yard by moving around.

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