As a youngster and Boy Scout, I enjoyed camping out with the campfire, sleeping bag, outdoor cooking, etc., so as an adult I naturally looked forward to having a camping trailer to continue that outdoors style of fun in a little more comfort.
In 1967, a few years after beginning my teaching/coaching career, things came together so that we were able to squeeze in a week one summer to go camping. My brother Jack and I worked out a plan to take our young families on our first, honest-to-goodness, vacation camping trip. Ignorance is bliss!
Growing up and living in dry, flat West Texas, we decided we’d head to the cool, lush mountains of Colorado. After some planning and searching on our travel map, by mid-July we had all the plans set. We had located Buffalo Creek campground in the mountains west of Colorado Springs as our destination. Perfect! It was exactly what we had in mind. Now, all we needed was to rent a trailer somewhere en-route and get to Colorado.
Since our aunt lived in Amarillo we thought that would be the perfect place to rent a camp trailer right on our way to Colorado Springs, saving a couple of unnecessary rental nights coming and going. While camping, the plan was for the wives and kids to stay in the trailer while Jack and I would bed down in the open bed of the pickup. For traveling, the wives and three small children would ride in his air-conditioned 1965 Falcon, and he and I would pull the trailer with my non-air conditioned, single-cab truck. Perfect!
With the pickup bed loaded with all sorts of camping gear, just prior to departure, both wives decided they didn’t want to drive the Falcon with the three small kids, so the plan naturally altered to each family in its own vehicle, which meant Sandie, Glenda (3), Glenn, Jr. (1), and I would be in the non-air conditioned pickup while Jack, Chris, and Bryan (1) would be in the Falcon. No problem!
After staying overnight with relatives in Amarillo, we immediately used the Yellow Pages to seek a rent trailer. Oh, ignorance is bliss! Little did we know that you don’t drive up and rent a camping trailer anytime, let alone mid-July! This dawned on us after only 2 or 3 calls. We began to think about what Plan B was going to be, but, lo and behold, Nimmo Trailer Sales had just received a brand new unit – an 18 footer without a bath that they were willing to rent out for a week. It did not have a bath, but since we had a port-a-potty, no problem. Perfect! It would easily sleep the two moms and three kids and more than meet all our needs.
Jack had been told of a nice campground en-route to Colorado Springs called Monument Lake, so we headed out. Our first stop was for lunch at a very popular buffet spot, so this camping thing was working out very well!
Later that afternoon, as we neared the Monument Lake campground area, Jack informed me that he had been told some time back that firewood was very difficult to obtain in most campgrounds, so we should stop and gather some before reaching Monument Lake. We came upon a good area to gather wood, and since I had brought my long-handled ax, we loaded a couple of 8’ dead limbs in the truck and anticipated our first night of camping. Cutting firewood with an ax was a perfect way to enhance camping.
We easily found the campground at Monument Lake and picked out a nice spot that we could back the trailer into. This was one of those wilderness-type areas with basically open selection of sites. With Jack’s help, I began to negotiate the tight fit, and it required a pretty tight, near-jackknife backing skill to avoid a limb but I felt I could do it. As I was about to perfectly maneuver the trailer into this great spot, one of the longer firewood limbs in the bed of the truck slid to the short side of my truck-trailer arrangement and was promptly shoved through the front of the trailer, punching a hole in the front of the one-day old, rented trailer about the size of a 105mm howitzer, sans explosion! We felt badly, but accidents happen. We were sure Mr. Nimmo had insurance for such unfortunate events to his trailers.
After some re-arranging, searching, and probing, we were able to come up with most of what we needed for this first night’s stay, and began to get into the real fun of camping. After all, we were relatively new at this and basically worked things out as we went. By the way, we didn’t need to bring any firewood – there was plenty all over the place.
About the time we got set up, a family pulling a similar camp trailer (but no hole in the front of theirs) with a station wagon, chose a nearby spot. The driver expertly backed the trailer in and shut off the engine. It took him about ten seconds to acquire a lawn chair and cold beer from the back of the car and sit in the shade as his wife and kids went about setting up in a very efficient manner. I was totally impressed! It was perfectly choreographed and a thing of beauty. Jack and I remarked as to that being the ideal way to camp! We mentally filed it away for future reference but unfortunately never got to apply it.
After an uneventful first night, with map in hand, we headed out to Buffalo Creek campground, which appeared on the map to be about 4 or 5 hours away.
As we worked our way back into the mountains west of Colorado Springs, the traffic became less and less as we got higher and higher. The pavement ended and the road became more narrow and less maintained. Eventually we were on a rough road with very little room to maneuver. By this time the kids were tired and hungry, the wives’ nerves were frazzled from the narrow, no-guardrails road, and we were frustrated from not finding the campground. It was handy to have our own port-a-potty, but another issue arose when the tension latch on the trailer closet door was unable to keep it securely closed as we traveled, and the rough road soon had popped it completely off, pulling the hinges’ screws from the wall. I placed the door on the bed for safe-keeping since it had a full-length mirror on it. Later, I was unable to locate all the screws to re-attach it, so I “borrowed” a few from nearby cabinet hinges. Throughout the rest of the trip, that door refused to stay attached when we were on the move.
We pressed on into the mountains since there was no place to turn around. Soon we came upon a forest ranger who stopped us and asked what we were doing “so far back in here.” I explained our intent to reach the Buffalo Creek campground and showed him the place on the map. He pointed out where we were, which was close to our estimation, but then he dropped the bomb: “There’s no such campground in here. Nobody brings a trailer up here.” Well, we had, and intended to use it! He firmly instructed us to go on ahead a short ways to a pretty tight turnaround area and insisted we go back immediately, since some thunderheads were forming and we needed to get to a more reasonable area. Since we didn’t have any firewood limbs in the back of the pickup, it was easier to turn the rig around and head back. Also, by this time I was getting the hang of maneuvering a camping trailer.
We were able to reach Colorado Springs about sundown and our wives were pretty well fed up with camping, trailering, and traveling in general, and this was only the second day! We did find a nice motel with adequate parking for the rig and a nice restaurant, so for our second night we were able to get settled in pretty comfortably and quickly, despite having no lawn chairs or beer. Jack and I enjoyed the luxury of the trailer and it’s small, natural porthole for fresh air, not needing to wrestle all the supplies out of the truck bed for our pallet. Perfect!
The next morning we had breakfast in the restaurant, wisely preserving the month’s supply of camp food. As we were eating, the wives quickly and succinctly explained again that they had had enough camping and that we should head back to Texas immediately. At that moment, as if by Devine intervention, I found a flyer on the back of our booth, telling of an outstanding campground only a few minutes away with lots of shade, firewood, restrooms, and other comforts of camping. At the risk of causing a scene and possibly more serious consequences, I suggested we at least go look at it and check it out. The wives reluctantly agreed.
We easily found the campground and it was great. We quickly set up in spite of no lawn chairs or beer. The campground was everything as advertised and more. We stayed there 4 days, and the stay in the campground was enjoyable.
During our stay we took the Falcon to the top of Pike’s Peak and it was a wonderful experience, except that Glenda, the three year-old, got altitude sickness and vomited all over Jack’s shoes, and Bryan, one of the one year-olds, developed a severe ear infection, probably due to the altitude according to the emergency room doctor, that lasted until we got back to Texas. But, those are other stories.
We all crammed into the Falcon again for a day trip as Jack wanted to tour the NORAD facilities in nearby Cheyenne Mountain. He almost got us arrested by choosing to ignore the sign, “Do Not Proceed Beyond This Point.” His rationale, “After all, we’re on vacation” was lame even to me, so I was able to convince him to turn around.
One evening we were enjoying our stay at the campground when Jack noticed in the newspaper that the greyhound dog racing track in Walsenburg was open. When we discovered that Walsenburg was “only” 80 miles away, we decided it would be a fun side-trip to take in the greyhound races. The ladies didn’t want to go, but my three year-old daughter heard us talking about it and asked if she could go. “Sure! You’d enjoy watching those puppies race, wouldn’t you?” was my reply.
Jack, Glenda, and I took the Falcon, arriving at the track just before the evening’s first race. There was a HUGE sign over the entrance that said “NO MINORS ALLOWED.” When we tried to buy our tickets the official pointed at the sign and said, “She can’t go in,” explaining the state law about minors not allowed on sites that have para-mutual betting. The official offered to let her stay in a crude, plywood compound set up for kids, but I declined, so we went back the 80 miles to Colorado Springs, probably with more money than we would have had, had she been able to attend with us.
Upon our return to Amarillo, again we stayed at our aunt’s house so we could return the trailer to Mr. Nimmo. The next day, en-route to the dealership I kept feeling and hearing a bumping sensation but had no idea what it was and was still enough of a rookie RV’er to not have enough sense to check it out. Ignorance is bliss!
When we got to Nimmo Trailer Sales, Mr. Nimmo met us on the lot and immediately noticed the very large hole in the front of the trailer. I would guess that Mr. Nimmo had been to sea at some time in the past because his language would make any seasoned sailor proud! I don’t think he heard all of my speculation regarding his insurance covering accidents such as this. Seizing the moment, I felt his tirade was pretty well spent, so I took him inside and explained about the closet door, which was in its secure spot, lying on the bed. Wrong! He still had some choice words about that, probably not hearing my explanation regarding the sub-par workmanship and design flaws of the trailer.
When he disconnected the trailer from the hitch ball and discovered the ball nut had about one more revolution to go before dropping off (That’s what that shaking and bumping was!), he had indeed emptied his vocabulary bucket and could only shake his head. We thanked him for the opportunity to use his new unit and went on our way.
With that first RV trip I learned a great deal about RV camping and pulling trailers. Since then I have owned a 32’ hitch pull and a 32’ fifth wheel, having pulled them thousands of miles and stayed many, many nights at some wonderful places, but I’ve never had an RV trip like that first one, and I’ve still not adopted the lawn chair/beer strategy.
Submitted by Glenn Petty of Abilene, TX as a part of the RV Centennial Celebration “Share Your Favorite RV Memory” contest.
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