My family has always been avid campers. Granddaddy retired after my grandmom died. She did not like to travel. He had always wanted to see the country. So when my grandfather remarried, they bought a motor home and started traveling. They were voted King and Queen of some national camping association when he was well in his 70’s. They traveled to most of the continental USA including Alaska and parts of Canada. They wore out the first motor home and put 30,000 miles on the second.
My granddad had had open heart surgery in his late 70’s which led to him losing his right leg just above the knee when he was 80. He bought a hand control for the motor home so he could keep traveling. He also put a trailer hitch on the front of his truck when he could no longer back his boat trailer in the barn. He would get it as close to the barn as he could, unhitch it, turn his truck around, hitch the trailer to the front and drive it into the barn.
But this story isn’t about my granddad, it is about the motor home.
When my granddad died at 85, my mother inherited the second motor home. He had not driven it in about a year. My mother had remarried after my dad died and her second husband, Mr. R had never been anywhere except Ohio and Alabama. So when she inherited the motor home, they decided to head out on the road to Arizona where his son in law lived.
My mom made lists, planned, cleaned, and packed the motor home. Mr. R had the oil changed, aired the tires, and put the bicycles on the homemade rack attached to the back bumper. Mr. R didn’t believe in cell phones so they took a couple of rolls of quarters for payphones. Before first light, a very excited elderly couple hit the road headed west.
Before they got an hour from the house, they blew a radiator hose. They flagged down a car driven by one of my mom’s distance cousin’s to get someone to help change out the hose. They sat on the road for a couple of hours waiting but were not deterred. Off they went again once the repair was completed.
They were halfway between the Alabama state line and Jackson, MS when a car motioned them over. He had been trying to catch up to them for about 20 minutes because sparks were flying out from under the motor home. The weld holding the rack on the back had broken loose and was bouncing off the highway. One of the bikes was almost bounced out of the rack. Mr. R said that these things were bound to happen since it had not been used in a year. He opened the side door and put the bicycles inside on the bed. They took up most of the interior room but it would work until they could get someone to re-weld the rack. They thanked the man, used bailing wire to hold up the now empty rack, and continued merrily westward.
Upon reaching TX, they decided to find a campground for the night. They were tired and behind schedule due to the unexpected complications. They paid, found a spot and started setting up camp. Mr. R went to unlock the side door to remove the bikes so that they could go to bed. The door would not unlock. His excitement about camping was wearing thin by this time. Mom went in through the passenger door and tried to open the door from the inside…no luck. The door lock was broken. The bikes were too large to fit over the seats or get out of the doors so they could not be removed from the camper. So, they both slept together on the “couch / gaucho” seat that couldn’t be folded down because one of the bikes was in the way.
Even mom was not very happy when morning came and Mr. R was just down right disagreeable. They walked to the campground office and found a number of someone that agreed to come to their site to fix the lock. He fixed the lock and re-welded the rack. Mom did some major talking to convince Mr. R to continue on their trip. She finally succeeded and shortly after lunch, with bikes firmly reseated in the outside rack, they apprehensively continued on their adventure.
About halfway across TX in the middle of nowhere in pouring down rain, they had a blowout. It was a rear inside wheel so mom didn’t feel it blow. They only knew that they had yet another problem when they heard the ruined tire slapping the underside of the wheel well. Mr. R went put out in the pouring rain to place his warning triangles. Mom turned on the flashers and they waited and waited and waited…..6 hours and two state troopers later, a trucker stopped and asked if they needed help. He called a tow truck for them and waited with them till the tow truck arrived. They were towed to town to a tire dealer. The shop had already closed for the evening so without dinner, they got ready to go to bed in the parking lot.
When they opened the cabinet over the tire well to get their sheets and clothes, they found everything soaking wet. The blown tire tread had beaten a hole in the underside of the cabinet slinging gallons of water into the cabinet. Mr. R started cussing …a rarity in front of my mom…..and my never swearing mom even said, “Well I’ll be damn!”
They walked to a motel and rented a room. The next morning, they were told that all the tires were dry rotted and had to be replaced to the tune of $700. He could not fix the tire well but found a motor home repair shop in the next town. So they paid for the tires and drove to the next town. It took 4 days and $1200 to get the hole fixed. Meanwhile they had to stay in a motel.
They never made it to Arizona but decided to return home before anything else broke. Mr. R said that IF they made it home, he planned to drive the thing into Smith Lake. Mom never said a word. They made it back to Alabama but never took the thing home. They stopped at the first motor home dealership and left it with a big “for sale” sign on it. They called a friend to come get them and take them home.