In 1973 I graduated from the University of Illinois and received my commission in the United States Air Force. I had gotten orders to go to training in California, then on to Cheyenne Wyoming for Missile Launch Officer duty. The year before I had bought a used El Camino. As soon as I found out that I was moving to Wyoming – I started planning the camping and hunting I could do in the Rocky Mountains. Being a poor college student, with student loans to pay off, I could not afford many options for camping. I decided that I would build my own camper, to fit my El Camino. With cedar siding and a wood frame, it wasn’t the most luxurious, but it was up off the cold ground, and I had equipped it with a portable sink, a porta-pottie, lights, a propane stove and heater. I was ready!
I had convinced my best friend from high school to drive out west with me – it would be an “epic road trip”. We wouldn’t have to pay for hotels, we had my “eclectic” truck camper! We’d see as many sights as we could see on the way, maybe duck down into Mexico, and see the California coast before we made it to Vandenberg AFB for my report date, and he flew home from there. So, we hit the road.
Three quarters of the way through our trip, we were in Nevada – traveling the wonderful brand new stretch of I-80. We were enjoying the wonder of the desert night stars, and we passed a sign that stated “Freeway Ends – 1 Mile”. Shortly after that we passed an exit, but the road seemed to continue, and so did we. One mile later, we found out what “Freeway Ends” really meant. It meant in ended. Abrubtly. We sailed off the end of the concrete with about an 18″ drop to the dirt road bed. If checking to see that we were OK, we got out, and to our surprise, the El Camino Camper Mobile was OK too! Was was not OK was the road. There was no way for us to get back up onto the concrete, and beside a sea of idled road building equipment, there was no indication on what we should do. SO…we followed the path of the work equipment, which turned into a dirt road that finally got us onto a 2 lane blacktop. We had no idea where we were, but it was about time for us to check in with our respective fiancée’s back in Illinois, so the priority now was to find a phone. As we cruised along in the starlit night, we saw a couple of buildings in the distance – civilization! We pulled up to find an abandoned motel, and an abandoned gas station. The relics of the coming freeway it seemed. We DID spot a phone both across from the deserted motel. I opted to go first and stepped into the booth. I dropped my dime (this was 37 years ago!) into the slot and stopped dead. There was no dial! Just a blank space where the dial should have been. I tried “clicking” the handset cradle – no luck. I called my buddy over – after all he was a newly minted electrical engineer! So now we both stood there with dumb looks on our faces. Finally, he said, “Look, try that” and I looked next to the phone was a small box with a crank on one side. So I spun the crank a few times and the phone line came alive! – No dial tone, just a bunch of clicks and squeals. After a few seconds a female voice came on the line – “operator!” . “Hi” I said “aaaaugh – I need to make a call?” “We are you calling from honey?” “I don’t know – we’re in a ghost town!” “Oh honey, we have lots of those – do you see any signs or anything?” I looked around, and in front of the motel was a weather beaten sign “Starlight Motel” – I passed the critical intelligence on to the operator .. “Oh honey, you’re in Starlight Nevada! – – Now, are you on Starlight 1 or Starlight 2?” “I don’t know, I’m closer to the motel, if that helps, in a phone booth” “OK honey, you’re on Starlight 2 – what number did you want to call?”
After we both chatted with respective girlfriends, we hit the road again – and shortly rolled into Reno – real civilization never looked so good! We had some breakfast while the local Chevy dealer check the El Camino for damage – not until, of course, he pointed to the cedar camper and asked us why we had a outhouse on the back of the truck!
Submitted by Terry Galbreath of Calhan, CO as a part of the RV Centennial Celebration “Share Your Favorite RV Memory” contest.
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