We are now TEXANS!
After the great time we had in Maine visiting our friends, Tom and Tish, and at the FMCA in Brunswick, it was time to move on. We had a great time in Maine and will be sure to return. I didn't mention in the previous travelogue that we also sold our house while we were in Maine. We actually got the offer when we were in Pepperell, but the closing was August 15. Everything was done via phone, fax, and the power of attorney our daughter had to sign all the documents. Some folks have asked us how we felt when we sold our home of 18 years and whether we would miss it. The answers are 'relief' and 'no'. The house was too big for two old folks anyway. I always joked with people that we were going to sell it anyway and downsize because I couldn't catch Diane anymore in that big house. ;-) It was purchased by a young couple who had no kids, but a couple of dogs. We wish them well with the house.
Our next commitment was to attend the Escapees Fall Escapade in Goshen, IN followed by two days of warranty work at the Newmar factory in Nappanee, IN. We were excited about this part of the trip because it meant we would hook up with some of our RVing friends, Norm and Linda Payne, and John and Libby Veach. It also meant that we would finally meet Jim and Patty Hammond who had been email friends for months. What I didn't know at the time was that we would meet Hawk, and that he would become part of our little gang. I'm getting ahead of myself, so let me pick up from where the last travelogue left off at the FMCA. This travelogue is actually "Friends and Family Tour - Part 2". :-) You can click on "photos" to get directly to the first photo page, which has a connector to the second page, or you can click on specific links in the text to get to the photos associated with that part of the travelogue.
Diane and I had originally planned to get to Indiana by going back through the Hudson Valley and then through Pennsylvania and Ohio. We discussed some options and decided that since we were so close to Canada, why not just go up into Canada and across to Michigan and then down into Indiana. This would offer me the opportunity to stop in Bromont to visit some folks who were the subjects of a Y2K audit I worked on in January 1999. It also afforded us the opportunity to visit Montreal, which I hadn't been to since I was a young boy, and Toronto, which I had been to twice, for four weeks each time (in summertime) to work on audits, but which Diane had never visited.
I would like to say our trip to Bromont was uneventful, but that would make for a boring story. It was far from uneventful. We positioned ourselves near the exit to the Naval Air Station at which the FMCA was held because it would provide for a quick exit on Monday morning. Although many motorhomes left on Sunday, there were still a lot of the 7,422 motorhomes still on the base that had to get off the property by noon. Even with being near the exit, which did get us off the base quickly, it still took us a half hour to get to the interstate. Why? Because they routed motorhomes that exited from the gate we went out onto a road that had a right turn that was about 125 degrees. That was my first experience with such a turn and it turned out to be fairly easy to make. However, you don't make such a turn fast and the motorhomes were lined up so they could make the turn one at a time when there was no oncoming, or cross, traffic. I bet the line went all the way back to the base by later in the morning. It was not a good choice for the locals to route hundreds of motorhomes that way.
We finally got to the interstate and were on our way. The plan was to go across Maine and New Hampshire to Vermont and then up I-91 to Bromont, Canada. That would have been a great plan had I not made a wrong turn in Lewiston that put me going in the wrong direction. We figured out how to get back on track and finally were going in the right direction on Route 2 through New Hampshire. We stopped at a rest area and some folks from Canada in a motorhome told us how they were going via 115 and 302. We decided they must know the way better than us, so we followed their directions. WRONG MOVE! Route 302 was TORN UP all the way down to the dirt in three spots. It was really rough and bumpy and we lost more time. We probably lost 1 1/2 to 2 hours and we were on the road for about 8 1/2 hours to cover under 400 miles. I guess we could have stopped, but it was early and I wanted to get to Bromont. Ah, the challenges of travel.
When I worked in Bromont for four weeks in January 1999, it was up to 45 below zero, and that was Fahrenheit. I had never experienced cold like that in my life. Not in my youth growing up on Long Island, or when I went to college near Rochester, which was mighty cold, or in my days living in the Hudson Valley. Let me tell you it was COLD. We did stay at a great hotel that overlooked the ski slope which, when lighted at night, was quite beautiful. It did snow every day we were there. It was much nicer to visit in summer. Thankfully, I was able to fly home all three weekends that I worked in Bromont.
Other than the weather, I enjoyed my stay in that small town. I saw that there were a couple of campgrounds and thought that, one day, I would try to come back with our motorhome. I just didn't think it would be in the first year. I made contact with the person who led the auditee's team in Bromont, Carole Mackie-Hebert, and told her we'd be in the area for a couple of days at the Camping Carrousel campground. She alerted some other folks who worked on that audit and we got together for lunch one day at the campground.
After our stay in Bromont, we moved down the road to Montreal and parked the motorhome in a campground just east of the city, Camping Alouette. Rather than take the car into the city, we found out that we could take a bus tour of the city, so we opted to do that. It was a six-hour tour that took us to the major sites in the city, such as the Olympic Stadium (now home of the Montreal Expos), Notre Dame, the botanical gardens near the stadium and, of course, Old Montreal. We used the tour to decide where to return the next day for a closer look at some of the sites. We returned and walked all over Old Montreal and enjoyed the street festival that was going on that weekend. Since Diane is a big baseball fan, we decided to take in an Expos game. Diane enjoyed being in a domed stadium and the game, although it would have been better if her Atlanta Braves were in town.
Our next stop would be Toronto, which we figured to be a 2-day drive. We decided to drive as far as Kingston, Ontario and spend the night there. We stayed at Rideau Acres Camping Resort, which was located on the Rideau water system. We had some time on our hands, so we went to check the Rideau locks. We got there just as the last boats were passing through before the locks shut down for the night. There were three boats traveling together and making their way back home to the US side of the lake. We stood on the bridge above the lock and chatted with some of the folks on the boats. They were as interested in our lifestyle as we were in their long trips on their boats.
Then it was on to Toronto. I had been there to work a couple of times, so I had spent eight weeks in Toronto, each time in the summer, thank goodness. Diane had never been there, so we decided to spend a couple of days touring the city. We found a campground right in the city, Indian Line Campground, that was convenient to a train station for us to get into the city. We did a lot of walking as I showed her some of the places I had been to during my stays there. We ate dinner one evening at Movenpick, which is a Swiss restaurant more well-known in Switzerland. They have great ice cream, but we got there after the ice cream counter shut down for the evening, much to my surprise and chagrin. We both love ice cream and we both love Movenpick ice cream. But we still had a nice dinner sitting out at one of the tables on the sidewalk. My friend Peter and I used to eat at Movenpick when we worked in Toronto.
There were a couple of shows in town that interested us, especially The Lion King. Lots of luck. SOLD OUT until sometime in late 2000, and this was August. I knew that one of the places I had to take Diane was to eat dinner at the top of the CN Tower. It is one of those revolving restaurants with incredible views. Before we went to dinner, we took a cruise around the bay. It was a very pleasant evening and very peaceful out on the water. The view of the skyline from the boat was great. The nice evening made it especially great watching the lights come on in the city as we dined atop the CN Tower. I do remember one time that I was there and it was cloudy and the visibility was poor. This time it was great. Diane really enjoyed the evening up there.
Labor Day Weekend was at hand and we thought we had a place to stay for the weekend. I had made reservations at a Coast to Coast park in Michigan and figured we'd stay there until the crowds cleared out after the weekend. These are membership RV parks, and we are a member of such a park. However, when I called to confirm, and to tell them we'd be there a day earlier than planned, I was told that they don't take the $6 per night coupons on holiday weekends. I told her I had a reservation and was cleared for the stay by using the coupons. Her answer wasn't a good one - "The person who told you that doesn't work here anymore." SIGH!
So now we found ourselves sort of homeless. Not actually homeless since we travel in our home, but logically homeless in that it's hard to find a campground with openings the day before the last 3-day weekend of the summer. A few calls got us into a campground for Thursday night in Jackson, MI. I figured if we couldn't find a place for the weekend, we'd just hop around to different Wal-Mart parking lots for the three nights over the weekend. When we got to the campground, Greenwood Acres, I explained our predicament to the lady checking us in. She said she could give us a site for the weekend, so we decided to just stay there for the weekend. This was one huge campground, with more than 1000 sites. It used to be a farm, then a drive-through type zoo, and finally a campground. There were some huge towers on the property that intrigued me. I finally found out they were remnants from a big rock concert that was held there in the 70s. They also had a 9-hole par 3 golf course. Well, sort of. It was a big field with nine holes of golf layed out. The greens were unique to say the least. They were concrete circles covered with artificial grass and a hole cut in the center of each one. Obviously, one doesn't hit the ball to the green and expect it to stop. Diane and I took some clubs and balls with us and played one day just for kicks.
One thing I learned about our first holiday weekend as a full-timer. The campgrounds are crawling with kids over the summer. I forgot what it was like when we used to camp with our kids on Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day Weekends. Now the shoe was on the other foot. I also now understand why full-timers long for Labor Day Weekend to end so they can have the campgrounds back to themselves. Actually, this campground was geared towards families and had a great clubhouse and lots of activities to keep the kids busy during their stay. Nice place for family camping.
The next leg of our journey was to hook up with some RVing friends in Elkhart, IN. We made the short drive from Jackson to Elkhart on Labor Day figuring that space would be available since people who had to work the next day would be heading home. That was a correct assumption. We arrived at the Elkhart Campground on Labor Day; John & Libby Veach arrived early Tuesday; Norm & Linda Payne arrived Tuesday afternoon; Jim & Patty Hammond, whom we had yet to actually meet, arrived on Saturday after getting some warranty work done at the Newmar factory in nearby Nappanee. These are all people that we met first via email and bulletin boards, and finally in person.
It's actually pretty interesting how we meet out on the road and the friendships that develop. I met John Veach via the RVAMERICA bulletin board way back in 1996, long before we had a motorhome. We had decided that 2000 would be the year and we had increased the intensity of our research into the lifestyle and RVs. John was a frequent contributor to what is the best RV bulletin board, in my opinion. I learned a lot by monitoring that board. Even though I was traveling 100% on my job, including extended trips abroad, the bulletin board was always available. John and I were also emailing each other as he was answering lots of my questions. Then one day around the Christmas holidays, he mentioned that he and Libby were coming down from Blairsville, GA, which was a little over an hour north of where we were living in Marietta, to look at Saturns. I told him the Saturn place was only about 2-3 miles from our house and why don't we meet for lunch. So we met at Williamson's Brothers BBQ. My dad had just died in October, and my mom was up to spend the holidays with us, so I suggested she come meet some folks with us. Well, let me tell you.....we ended up having a 3-hour lunch as we talked and talked and talked. That's how these friendships develop.
John and Libby had owned many motorhomes over the years, so they were very knowledgeable about the subject. They were both Bell South employees and planning early retirement, which they eventually did. They ended up buying a Discovery and living in it while selling their house and possessions. They took their motorhome to Alaska in summer of 2000 and what an adventure it was. We had been following their trip via their website, but were anxious to get together and listen to some of the stories about their adventure. Diane and I hope to make the trip ourselves sometime, maybe in 2002.
I met Norm Payne the same way, via the bulletin board and email. I sent him a note once from my IBM email address (ibm.com) and Norm, being a retired IBMer, recognized the address and asked me if I worked for IBM. So now we had other things in common other than RVing. Norm and Linda retired early and started full-timing in the same motorhome that we were planning to buy, a Dutch Star. However, they were about nine months ahead of us, which was great because we could use their experiences to help us get ready to full-time.
Although I had traded some email with Jim Hammond about the Dutch Star they were about to purchase, we never had an opportunity to meet until Indiana. They were both retired Delta employees from Oregon, which is where Diane and I flew through (Portland) on every trip we made to Tokyo. Interestingly enough, as soon as we saw Patty, Diane and I recognized her from a flight we made where she was working the section we were in. Small world.
We meet some interesting folks out here, and this next section is about one of them. We were all in Elkhart in preparation for the Escapees RV Club Fall Escapade to be held the following week in Goshen. The campgrounds were full of Escapees, mostly referred to as SKPs. Every afternoon at 4 p.m., there was a gathering of any SKPs in the park who wanted to attend, as well as a potluck dinner one evening. We went to one of the afternoon meetings where everyone introduced themselves. Sitting next to us was an older guy who introduced himself as Hawk Milner. His real name is Graham "Hawk" Milner, and he was a 79-year old full-timer, an ex-WWII B-17 pilot and ex-POW who was captured by the Germans after his plane was shot down on its 23rd mission. Hawk had been full-timing for nine years and also lived in a Dutch Star. He lost his wife three years ago and decided he could either mope around and feel sorry for himself or travel solo. He got a small dog and decided to travel solo. He tows a convertible that he refers to as the "chick mobile", and has a small, cute dog that he refers to as "chick bait". :-)
I found out that he wrote a book about his WWII experience, so I bought a copy from him. He was shot down near Munich on his 23rd mission, was captured, and spent time in a POW camp. His book is hard to put down as he explained his experiences as a POW. He's tall, but must have been taller since he's a bit hunched over now. He wears his B-17 Flying Fortress hats proudly. He has a white beard and long white hair that hangs down to his shoulders. Cool guy. We were going to be four rigs driving over to the rally, so I asked him if he'd like to make it five. He brought up the rear as we made our way to the rally, which was about a 20 mile drive from Elkhart. The cars, except for his, were driven by the wives, so we had nine vehicles to caravan over. It was interesting, especially when I (#4) got stuck waiting for two trains to pass. The other three motorhomes (plus three cars) were able to pull off to the side to wait for us until the trains went by. We all stayed in touch via our CBs. It was our first time in any kind of caravan. It was cool.
I asked Hawk if he experienced any post-traumatic stress after the war and he said he did. Writing the book was his catharsis and helped heal old wounds. It's quite a story. He was shot down near Rott, Germany and aided by some anti-Nazi Germans until his capture. He got caught just short of crossing a bridge on the way to freedom in Switzerland near Lake Constance. He even had an escape attempt that was almost successful until one of the dogs sniffed him out. It was an interesting week we spent chatting with Hawk. I expect we will meet many more interesting people as we continue on our journey around the USA.
While we were in the Elkhart area, we had some maintenance done our our Dutch Star at the new Onan/Cummins Service Center. I found it very interesting how they lifted a 30,000 pound vehicle in the air. They use a lift under each wheel. Talk about trust. If any one of those four lifts decided to fail, there would be quite a messed up motorhome on the ground. Check it out.
The Escapade was our second RV rally, but was quite different than the big FMCA convention in Maine. That was limited to motorhomes, whereby Escapees come in all sizes and shapes, from motorhomes, to trailers, to fifth wheels. SKPs are a huggy bunch, which is right up my alley as those of you who know me can attest. It's more like a big family on the road. We attended seminars, spent more money on stuff for the motorhome, went out to eat a lot, and socialized. What a life. Diane and I even volunteered an afternoon to drive one of the trams that provided transportation around the fairgrounds. It was the first time I drove a real tractor.
It was also the place that we met Stan and Betty Bober. This was another of those email relationships that develop into friendships. Stan and Betty are retired, but not yet on the road full-time. We hope to see them out there soon though.
One of the seminars we attended was put on by Disney World and it was standing room only. We had visited their booth and found out they were there to recruit retired full-timers to work at DW. The more we learned about it, the more excited we got about working at DW for a few months over the winter. You automatically get free passes to all the parks plus discounts on all merchandise and half off food at their restaurants. And after three months, you get three free guest passes that can be used to bring in family and friends. What a deal. They had lots of jobs to fill, so getting a position didn't seem all that hard to do. We decided that we'd look into it when we got to Florida.
It was finally time to start saying our goodbyes to our friend as everyone was going off in different directions. As they say, parting is such sweet sorrow. We were going to the Newmar factory in Nappanee for some scheduled warranty work. The Paynes were also going to stay in the area to get repairs done to their motorhome for damages sustained during a vicious hail storm when they were in Wyoming last summer. So we made plans to see a show at the Amish Acres theater. Actually, we ended up seeing two shows together because Diane and I went to All Brands, which was the business that was doing the repairs on the Paynes' Dutch Star, and we spent two nights there before heading off on the next leg of our friends and family tour. We all went to the huge flea market at Shipshewana one day. It is the biggest flea market I had ever seen. Diane and Linda talked about going back another day, which is why we ended up staying an extra two days in the area. Needless to say, one day was enough for Norm and I, so we just hung around that day.
I had been to Springfield, IL once before. I was working in the Chicago area and spent a weekend in Springfield visiting my boyhood friend, Charlie Vrabel, and his wife, Dee. We had a grand time reminiscing and I vowed I would return someday after we got on the road. Given the route we were taking to our ultimate destination of Livingston, TX, this was the perfect opportunity to spend a weekend in Springfield. Off we went via I-80. BAD MOVE! It took seven hours to get to Springfield via I-80 through Gary, IN. It was bumper to bumper for no reason. Hundreds of trucks. I could have made the same time by going down US 31 to Indianapolis and across to Springfield, but our Street Atlas software said the I-80 route was the preferred route. Sigh. We did finally arrive in Springfield and parked the motorhome at the Holiday Trav-L-Park, which happened to be on US Route 66, for our stay in Springfield.
After we got set up, I noticed several scrapes on the underside of two bay doors and one inch square gash on the trim between two bay doors and a scrape on a door. All that happened on the way from Elkhart to Springfield. We have no idea how it happened, although we think we know when it happened. Somewhere on I-55 we heard a bang and I said "what the hell was that?". Usually, it's a closet door, or cabinet door, or drawer that opens. Diane didn't find anything amiss inside the coach. So we now think the bang we heard was from the outside, but have no idea what it was. Car or truck touched us? Big rock (and it would have to have been very big)? I don't remember anyone being along side us when we heard the bang. Bummer. Our friends said that we would get some nicks and the first ones were the toughest to deal with.
It was great to once again visit with Charlie and Dee, talk about old times, go to the big Apple Festival, the Septoberfest in Springfield, and eat out. It has been great seeing some boyhood friends during our travels and I hope to see more over time. There was a great group of kids back then, and we had lots of common interests, especially sports. We did things that my kids, and my grandkids, don't do, such as lots of pick up baseball, football, and basketball games. If we didn't have time, or just didn't want to play 'hardball', we'd play stickball, or curb ball (a derivative of stoop ball that I learned in NYC and taught the non-city boys how to play). If we didn't want to trudge up to the field to play tackle football, we'd play touch football in the street. What a life it was. Not a care in the world over the summer months and always busy.
The last time I was there, Charlie took me to New Salem, home of Abe Lincoln when he was a young man. I knew Diane would like seeing it, so one day we drove to New Salem and spent a few hours there. As is customary with places like this, there was a short film describing the place and its significance. I haven't seen a film yet that I didn't like in historic places. New Salem was interesting in that it sort of sprung up out of nowhere and only lasted a few years. Not too long after Lincoln left, New Salem just sort of disappeared as a town. The narrator on the film said it great when he said that it was as though the town appeared only to mold and shape the man who would become our 16th president.
There were two more stops to make as we made our way to Texas. From Springfield we headed south to the northwestern part of Tennessee, to Dover, TN in the area known as the "Land Between the Lakes". The 7-hour trip was done in rain and very gusty winds, which wasn't really much fun. We also decided to come down The Trace, which is between the lakes. It looked like a good road on the map, and I guess it was pretty good, but it had long stretches where it was narrow and had no shoulders. Driving a big rig in those conditions isn't nearly as much fun as driving it in good weather on wide road. But we arrived safely and parked our motorhome at the L.B.L. Big Pine Campground for a few days.
Jim Darke was my second line manager during a period that I worked in Atlanta. It was a fun and challenging time for our group as we were getting out a new customer support product. However, it was also the time of many downsizing activities and it was always tense when those were happening. I don't know how Jim did it, but everytime there was a threat of downsizing, he took his charts north to corporate headquarters and was able to justify why the business needed our group and why it needed all the people who were in the group. We all owed Jim a debt of gratitude for pulling that off time after time. Finally, it was time for Jim to call it quits and he and his wife, Carolyn, retired to a farm in Dover. We stayed in touch and I knew one day we would visit them after we started full-timing. And what a great place they live at. It is so peaceful and quiet, a couple of champion dogs, several horses, something around 800 acres of great property. Again, it was great to visit and reminisce. I even got to play a round of golf with Jim and a couple of his friends.
Our next stop was in Gravette, AR to visit Tom and Mary Monie. Mr. Monie, as I knew him in high school, was a Physical Education teacher but, more importantly for me, he was my high school baseball coach. He was one of those people who has an influence on people's lives. I ate, slept, breathed baseball as a kid. Although I was never a good hitter at that time, I was a great fielder, and I was fast, and that is why I made the team. I have some great memories of playing baseball in high school. As a matter of fact, my dad took a new job in upstate NY and the family was moving in spring of 1961. It would mean missing my final three months of high school, as well as baseball. Luckily, we had great neighbors, and a neighbor offered for me to stay there for the final three months of high school. Thanks to Tom Monie and his influence, I continued to play baseball during the summers in an American Legion Rookie League in Newburgh, NY until I was 21 years old, and then played fast pitch softball during the years I worked in Poughkeepsie. Without a great coach in high school, I may have just given it all up after graduation.
The Monies showed us around the area, including a trip to Eureka Springs, known as the Little Switzerland of the USA. Diane and I weren't aware that Wal-Mart started up in northwestern Arkansas, in Bentonville, which was not far from Gravette. So one day we drove to the Wal-Mart welcome center and museum. It was the original Wal-Mart store and was full of memorabilia, including Sam Walton's first and last offices. Now if only I had bought a few shares of Wal-Mart stock when it first came out. Wow. It would be worth a small fortune today.
Finally, it was time to head to Texas to 'move' our home from Georgia. We decided to go south via Oklahoma and through the Ouchita National Forest. It was a nice drive. We stayed at the Escapees headquarters park at Rainbow's End. The Hammonds preceded us by a few days and were there when we arrived. We did get to visit and get out to eat, but we knew we had a lot to do to complete our move to Texas.
When one is a full-timer and has no home base, it is possible to declare any of the states as 'home'. It's called a domicile. Obviously, one would select a state that is advantageous, such as no state income tax (Georgia is 6%, so I got a 'raise' in my pension); a state that is RV friendly, such as Florida, Texas, and others. Georgia has an ad valorem tax on vehicles. It would have cost me $2300 to register the Dutch Star in Georgia. NOT! It cost under $200 to register it in Texas. When one declares a state as home, it is wise to show intent that this would be one's home state. So we planned to get our drivers licenses, register to vote, transfer insurance policies, get wills made up, etc. We got it all done in two days, but we sure were moving all day, every day.
However, nothing is perfect and there are some glitches, such as having to have the vehicles inspected annually. It is OK to drive out of state with lapsed inspection stickers, but the vehicles need to be inspected when re-entering Texas. Also, and this was a potential biggie, some states require a special license to drive a rig weighing more than 26,000 pounds. Ours is currently rated at 29,000 pounds, but is actually 31,000 pounds. We must have stepped in the right stuff, because we got real lucky when we went to get our licenses. I was prepared to get the book, study it, take the written and driving tests to get the required Class B non-CDL license required to drive the big rig. Diane was just going to get her Class C license to drive the car. When we got to the motor vehicle office, the lady asked to see my license. Well, in Georgia, all RVs are in the same class as the license to drive a car, so no special license is required. The lady wasn't sure what to do with that, so she asked the lady who was just returning from giving a driving test, and she said I didn't need to take the test. All that was required was to fill out an exception form. Well praise the Lord! Both Diane and I got Class B non-CDL licenses without having to take any tests. And the licenses are good for SIX YEARS.
There is controversy among RVers as to whether special licensing should be required for ALL RVers who drive big rigs. Although I agree it's a good idea, I'm glad I didn't have to go through any of the testing. I'm sure I would have passed easily enough, although I had heard they made motorhome drivers parallel park which, of course, is totally idiotic because there is no way one would parallel park a motorhome. Diane has her license for emergency purposes and has no plans to drive in the near future. We both plan to take the RV Driving Course offered at the Life on Wheels conference we plan to attend in July 2001.
So with everything completed, we could say "WE
TEXANS"! We relaxed a bit and made plans for our
back to our daughter's house in the Atlanta area and await the birth of
grandchild #6. Ashley Brooke was due to arrive in mid-October.
that's another story.
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