Back to the East

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We waited for the Denver rush hour to end and then headed out towards our first stop on our way BACK TO THE EAST, North Platte, Nebraska. It didn't take long to realize that we were now fully into the Fall season. It was rainy and chilly both days that we were in North Platte. We just kind of stayed at home, except for a ride out to the Bailey rail yard per a suggestion made to us by Jim and Patty Hammond. We had a little trouble finding it, but we finally did. Unfortunately, we weren't able to tour the facility as did the Hammonds and Veaches when they were traveling together to Indiana for the 2000 Fall Escapade. However, we did look around and saw the railcars coming down the hill to be linked to a train. This rail yard was a classification, or "hump" yard. We talked to some folks about the rail yard and found out there were 65 tracks in two sections for trains going East or West. The owner of the rail yard is Union Pacific. Although we didn't get to see the inside of the tower overlooking the railcars, it was interesting to watch them hooking up to the trains.

Our route back east would take us across the mid-western states as we made our way to the Newmar factory in Nappanee, Indiana for some warranty work on our motorhome. Along the way we would stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa for a Newmar rally, the Nebraska-Iowa State Rally. As we were getting ready to leave North Platte, our lights and safety check indicated that we had no brake or directional lights. A check of the fuses that seemed to be the ones that controlled the lights didn't show any bad fuses. I was at a loss. I saw in the Newmar dealer directory that there was a dealer in Grand Island, which was in our path to Council Bluffs, so we decided to drive there and see if they could help us. It was a Sunday when we left, so we knew they would not be open for service, but we figured we could park in their lot and try to get help on Monday morning.

We arrived safely at Rich & Sons RV Sales in Grand Island and found the gates to the lot were open. We parked the rig and settled in for the evening. Although the place was closed, there were people there looking at RVs. I saw someone drive a Newmar Mountain Aire into the lot and park it, so I went over to chat with him. That's how we met Jim and Vonnie Lee who lived in Grand Island. He left, but returned to ask if we would like to join him and Vonnie for dinner at a dinner club. We said sure and had a great time meeting new folks and chatting about RVs and travels. They had recently purchased their motorhome and were also heading to Council Bluffs for the rally.

Jim told us that someone would come to lock the gate at 8 P.M. and, sure enough, that's what happened. We felt quite secure and slept soundly. I was up early the next morning to check in with the service department to see if they could help us out. Their first reaction was that they were booked up with service appointments. I explained that we were full-timers and had no brake or directional lights. One of the technicians came out to the rig to check out some obvious things that may be the cause, like FUSES. Sure enough, the ONE fuse that I didn't check had something to do with ALL of the lights. I didn't feel too stupid because it wasn't intuitively obvious given the labeling on the fuse panel. Sigh. Oh well, I learned something. The technician changed the fuse and we were on our way. No charge.

Let me tell you about I-80 through Nebraska and Iowa, and I guess you can include Illinois, too. It was one of the worst roads we have driven since we started roaming America. Absolutely horrible in some sections that shook the motorhome. It really is a wonder that all of the stuff in RVs work at all after such shaking on the roads.

Well, we got to Council Bluffs and checked into the campground at the Bluffs Run Casino. The rally was scheduled for Tuesday through Thursday, September 11-14. We had seen an ad in a newspaper about the Monday seafood buffet at the casino, so we decided to arrive a day early. The buffet was great and, of course, we contributed to the local economy in the casino. There were a couple of other rigs that arrived on Monday, but most folks would arrive on Tuesday.

September 11, 2001 was a nice day in Council Bluffs. Diane and I had coupons for free breakfast as part of the rally, so we were up fairly early. As I was waiting for Diane to finish getting ready, I decided to call my mom to say hello. The first thing she said to me was "did you see the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center?". I said no because I didn't have the TV on that morning. There was an hour difference in time, so it was somewhere around 9 A.M. EDT when I called my mom. I quickly turned on the TV and was shocked to see the second plane go into the tower. Diane and I were speechless as the events were unfolding on the TV. I said goodbye to my mom and Diane and I walked over to the casino for breakfast. They had TVs along the wall on each side of the restaurant so we could see what was happening. All of a sudden, I saw the screen split and it said Pentagon. It just kept getting worse. It is difficult to express the feelings that I was having as I watched the horrors on the TV. I'm sure I will never forget where we were on September 11.

The rally was a small one, nothing like the 5,000 or 7,000 RVs that we had seen at FMCA conventions. This one had 30 RVs, all manufactured by Newmar given that it was a Newmar rally. The campground at the casino was OK. There was lots of food to eat at the buffets for breakfast and dinner. There were two trips scheduled as part of the rally, one to Boys Town and one to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) museum, both in Omaha, Nebraska.

Boys Town was one of my favorite movies that I saw as a kid and I always wanted to visit it. I was moved more than I thought I would be. Part of the Newmar rally was a tour of Boys Town and we had a very knowledgeable guide on our bus. On the ride to Boys Town, the guide took us through Omaha and I was surprised at some of the names associated with the city. It is home to Warren Buffet; Gayle Sayers went to high school there; Robert Redford spent months in Omaha while his son was awaiting a liver transplant. Also, back in 1956 someone had an idea to cook a meal, freeze it, and sell it to people who could warm it up later and eat the meal. Voila! Swansen TV Dinners was born.

Our bus took us through the campus of what is now named Girls and Boys Town. It was founded by Father Edward J. Flanagan in 1917 and has grown considerably since then. Our guide explained how the boys and girls lived there. The rules are strict and not all the boys and girls stay. Unless their stay was court ordered, they are free to leave. Girls and Boys Town has numerous locations around the United States, from Southern California to New England. The main campus is actually an incorporated village of the State of Nebraska. Boys Town has 76 family homes, a U.S. Post Office, fire and police departments, Catholic and Protestant chapels, two schools and a working farm. The village is run by a duly elected Village Board of Trustees, which is independent of the Home’s National Board of Trustees, and is responsible for maintaining roads, buildings, sewers, water and public safety. Boys Town received its U.S. Post Office in 1934 and was incorporated in 1936.

We made a stop at the Catholic church and it was there that I was very moved. They built a small rotunda attached to the church to serve as a crypt and moved Father Flanagan's body there. Our guide told us that this was sacred ground in Girls and Boys Town and I understood why as we walked around the rotunda.  I'm sure he is a saint for everyone who has been involved with the town.

We also toured the museum. One of the statues in the museum was the familiar "two brothers statue". This is the image that people around the world associate with Boys Town, the image of a boy carrying a smaller boy on his back. The Boys Town motto was derived from this statue - "He ain't heavy Father, he's my brother". Also in the museum was the Oscar that Spencer Tracy won for his role in the movie. He gave the Oscar to Father Flanagan.

The next day there was a trip to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) museum in Omaha.  It was very interesting to see the planes and helicopters on display in the museum, including a B-52.  It was huge.  There were some movies playing in different sections of the museum and they were also interesting and informative.

After contributing to the local economy in the casino, it was time to move on after the rally ended. Our next stop on the way east would be the Amana Colonies in Iowa. We spent the weekend there and walked around the town and ate weinerschnitzel. We also toured the Barn Museum. It was the life work of Henry Moore who designed and built miniature replicas of small town Americana. His replicas were built in the scale of one inch to the foot, so some of the buildings were quite large, even in miniature. Several of the towns were quite impressive and one could see the work that was involved in building the houses, barns, stores, etc.

It was time for us to have some annual maintenance work done on our motorhome and we decided to have it done at the Spartan factory in Charlotte, Michigan. We continued across I-80 and through the Chicago area. What a horrible drive that was. The road is horrible and under construction and the traffic was bad, even in non-rush hour. We were glad to get through and east of that area. We stopped in a Coast-to-Coast park in Hartford, Michigan to spend the night. It was off season, so the office was closed. I called the office from the cell phone and it was answered by the owner who said to just take a site and settle up in the morning. It looked like a nice park, but our site had horrible power from the post. The hot and ground wires were crossed, so we didn't use the power and just used our inverter. It also turned out that the site wasn't very level, but we decided to not dump the air and just live with it for a night. The final blow was that we were in the trees and couldn't use the satellite dish. It wasn't one of our more delightful evenings.

We arrived at the Spartan factory a couple of days early to see if they could take us early. They were booked and couldn't, but we were able to stay in their customer lot in a site that gave us electricity. We found out where the best movie theater was located and went to see a movie. We paid for our tickets, got our popcorn and soda and sat down outside the theater waiting for the show to end and people to exit so we could go in. It seemed like it was taking a long time, so I asked one of the ushers when the show would let out. She told us that it just started about an hour earlier. It was then that we realized that we were no longer in central time, but in eastern time. Sigh. Luckily, another movie, Rock Star, was about to begin, so we went to see that one.

We met two couples, Kathy and Bob (in a Gulfstream), and Sheila and Howard (in a Zephyr), at the Spartan factory who were also having work done on their motorhomes. Bob was pretty amazed at what we got in the Dutch Star for the money. The conversation started when I walked into the office to see if we could get an earlier appointment (we couldn't) and I heard Bob say to the other couple that he heard that "no one leaves the Newmar factory happy". Now you know I couldn't let that pass, so I apologized for overhearing that, but said it was absolutely untrue. He was nice about it since he was passing on info he heard from others and asked me to say more. I told him about our trip to Newmar last year and Norm and Jim's trip there recently. Then he wanted to know more about our Dutch Star and what was in it. He ended up convinced that he paid $24K more and got less, like heat pumps and other items. He would have preferred Michelins over the Goodyears. It was their first coach.

Sheila and Howard had only been married three years and were big time hunters. He showed us photos of his trophy room (he said it was actually a trophy building) with bears (black and grizzly), elk, wild animals from an African safari. She shot her own bear. They have them stuffed. I asked him how much to stuff the grizzly and he said about $3K. They travel about nine months a year. He was funny. He said his accountant told him he should just go ahead and buy the Prevost or Newell because he's going to get there someday anyway. We went to dinner with them one evening to a Chinese buffet in town and then Kathy and Bob arrived later. Kathy and Bob had to stay in a motel because Spartan had to keep their rig in the shop. Spartan paid for the motel and gave them a vehicle to use. Cool.

Spartan had our rig from about 7:15 A.M. and were done by 10:45 A.M. We  decided to spend the night at Spartan as there was no reason to drive to Newmar early since our appointment there was for Monday morning. It was a fun time here chatting with the new folks we met.

We got everything done that needed to be done at Spartan and then headed to Nappanee, Indiana and the Newmar factory for our warranty appointment. We spent four days there as Newmar fixed the list of things we had put together for them. Most were small items, none were major. The folks at Newmar had a great attitude, which was one of making sure we left as happy campers and happy with our rig and with Newmar. Got some stove grates on which the paint was wearing off? Put new ones on. Have paint peeling on the underside of the front cap from the mask rubbing against the fiberglass? No problem, just paint the front end. Not all manufacturers will be as receptive to fixing everything that needs fixing, but Newmar is one that is receptive to honoring their three year warranty.

On the way to Atlanta we made a one-night stop at the Kentucky Horse Farm RV Park to visit with Ron and Barb Hofmeister. Turned out that Cec and Judy were there, also, so we all went out to eat dinner together and catch up on travel stories. We hadn't seen them since the Life on Wheels Conference in Moscow, Idaho in mid-July, which was about 2 1/2 months ago. We had a nice visit and headed out the next day to spend a weekend visiting with John and Libby Veach in Blairsville, Georgia. They had returned there to take care of some medical appointments and visit old friends they used to know when they lived there. It was nice to see them again and we got a site right next to their rig. John was installing an Internet satellite dish, so I helped him with that as Diane and Libby went out shopping. One day we went for a ride and they showed us around the area in which they lived for several years before starting to full-time.

It had been almost eight months since we left the Atlanta area to start our journey to the West. It was the longest that we were ever away from the Atlanta based kids and grandkids and everyone was excited that we were getting close to seeing them again. We arrived back in Douglasville on October 2 and spent two weeks catching up on everyone's lives. Of course, that also meant going out to eat and going to the movies. Those of you who have been following our travels remember that our newest grandchild, Ashley, was born in October 2000 with an abnormal colon and needed surgery twice in the first two months of her life. Well let me tell you, she grew a lot in the time we were away and was just about to start walking. We all celebrated Ashley's first birthday. She is a real character and had us laughing. She seems quite healthy at this point.

Our next stop would be south to Florida to stay ahead of the cold weather as there is never any telling as to when it would come south. We drove to White Springs to spend the night on our way to visit my mom in Ocala. Mark Nemeth had arrived there and we wanted to stop by and say hello. It turned out that Mark informed us that he was coming off the road for a while to build up some resources. He started full-timing about five years ago and it was to be a two year thing. It turned out to be five. You can view Mark's story on his website entitled Mark's Fulltime RV Adventure.

After a week visiting with my mom, Diane and I headed over towards the Gulf to the Encore RV Park in Crystal River. We had a coupon for $99 for a month's stay and decided to take advantage of it. It was a nice park, except for the "noseeums" (aka sand fleas). They ate me up. But they didn't seem to bother Diane. We found out that Calgon Morning Glory did a good job of keeping these little buggers away, but you have to get used to the sweet smell. I met some guys who liked to play golf and swore by the stuff. It was funny to be around a bunch of guys smelling so sweet, but I guess it beats having the noseeums eat us alive.

While at Crystal River, we met some folks across from us who came in a few days after we did, Jim & Sue Grove. Our paths to full-timing have been almost identical. They picked up their rig in May 2000, as did we, and they hit the road in July 2000, as did we. We went out to dinner and had several other chats while we were there. They workamped at an RV park in Wisconsin this past summer and are in Crystal River until next March. They have owned boats in the past and bought a 25' Pro-Line boat with lots of toys on it, such as Garmin GPS and depth finders, radios, etc. Two engines.

They invited us out for a ride and we did that one Monday. We went up the Crystal River where we found several manatees. Jim put on his snorkel and got in the water to see if any would come up to him. One did and stayed for several minutes as Jim petted it and played with it. Then we headed out about 10 miles into the Gulf and turned off the engines to let the boat drift while we ate lunch. Later, we started back at a 4mph pace with the thing on AUTO PILOT. So cool to see it take control of the wheel and keep the boat on course. Sue and Diane sat in deck chairs chatting while Jim and I sat up on the bow looking for dolphins. We didn't see any until we got back into the river and then we saw a couple. They jumped out of the water twice, once doing a summersault. What a day. It just doesn't get much better than this. :-) We enjoyed their company and hope to cross paths with them again sometime in the future.

We are NOT early birds at all, but we got up at 4:30 A.M. to watch the Leonid meteor showers and what a show it was. It was cool, but not cold, so we set out a couple of chairs on the empty concrete pad behind our site and watched. We lost count, but we saw somewhere around a hundred meteorites (or whatever they're called). Some were quite spectacular. We sat out there until almost 6 A.M.

When I was working in Atlanta and was traveling to Tampa for some meetings I met Dennis Gomas. Turns out he used to work in Kingston, NY, although our paths didn't cross there. We stayed in touch over the years and he finally retired. I told him if we were ever in the area, we'd get in touch for a visit. Crystal River was a close as we were going to get, so we made plans to visit. Dennis and Sue stay busy doing work for various charitable organizations. Dennis was a real technical whiz when he worked for IBM and is now using the skills that he developed to help others. We had a great visit catching up on what each other has been up to.

After our stay in Crystal River, we went back to Ocala to spend Thanksgiving weekend with my mom. She again loved the company and we took her to see a couple of movies. Then we headed to the Encore park in Orlando for a couple of weeks to visit with the Paynes, Hammonds, and Caldarolas. Hawk was there for a weekend and we got to visit with him for one evening. He was heading further south to River Ranch east of Lake Wales. My birthday was on Sunday, November 25, so everyone surprised me with a cake after our BYOF (bring your own food) gathering at the Hammond's Dutch Star.

The highlight of the two weeks in Orlando was a free day in Disney World. As we were getting set up the day we arrived, the guy across the street came over to say hi. It was Ray Greer. He and his wife, Earline, were at the park last year and worked at Disney World. They have an interest in the Dutch Star and he also recognized us from our stay in the park last year. Diane and I had wanted to work at Disney World this year, but the events of September 11 took care of that as attendance was way down and folks were being laid off. So we'll have to wait for another year to try and work at Disney World.

The Greers had some passes that were about to expire and offered to take Diane and me, plus friends into the park. We offered it to the Paynes and Hammonds, but the Hammonds had their heart set on going to the Cape to see the shuttle go up. Unfortunately, the countdown got to launch minus 10 seconds and then it was scrubbed. The Paynes and Diane and I went to Animal Kingdom and Epcot and had a great day. The first thing we did was the safari ride and saw lots of animals roaming around. We also went to see the Lion King Festival show and the movie It's Tough to be a Bug. We also went on the raft ride....TWICE. We got absolutely SOAKED. It took all day to dry out. But it sure was fun.

Epcot has long been a favorite for me and Diane. We really enjoyed the new ride, Test Track. It wasn't crowded, so we did it twice. The speed gets up to about 65 mph, but feels faster due to the short track and the banks on the track. We decided to eat dinner in the Germany pavillion and take in a couple of movies before the firework show, Illuminations. We were also in time to see a taiko drum group play outside the Japan pavillion. I love taiko drums and they were pretty good.

After a short stop in Ocala to get the ignitor on our stove repaired, we headed up to the Atlanta area for the holiday season. I like visiting the area. We lived there for 18 years and three of our four kids live there, as well as five of our six grandkids. We park in our daughter Jill's driveway and plug into the 30-amp service I had installed in summer 2000. The two older grandkids, April (12) and Richard (10) live there and they all like having us park our home in the driveway. They also like that we take them to the movies and out to eat and other stuff when we visit.

I particularly like the routine that I have when we visit. There is a big mall a few miles away that I go to almost every morning to walk after breakfast. Then I stop at the Starbuck's in the mall, get a grande cappuccino and read the paper. It's amazing how relaxed I feel as I sit there in a big, comfortable chair sipping my cappuccino and reading the paper and watching the people, especially during the Christmas season.

We will stay in Douglasville until December 30, at which time we will head to White Springs, Florida and spend New Year's weekend with Mark Nemeth. Our plan is to spend the winter months at various locations in Florida.

This will be the last travelogue for 2001. I will probably write a "What a Year -2001" piece to go along with the one from 2000, but I don't expect to write another travelogue until we start to make our way out of Florida in late March. The year 2002 promises to be as exciting and rewarding as this year was. The current plan is to visit the Canadian Maritime Provinces next summer. We are looking forward to that and we are sure there will be some great adventures along the way as we continue our journey.

We wish everyone who reads this during the holiday season of 2001 a happy holiday season.

Until next travels.

Copyright © 2001, Roaming America with Rich & Diane Emond - All Rights Reserved

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