I know exactly what motivated me. My first, or should I say, my DAD’s first RV. My Dad was born and raised on a farm and learned to be ‘resourceful’ at an early age. Unfortunately we had to suffer through that resourcefulness while we were growing up. We had vehicles and contraptions that would make Rube Goldberg jealous. Had an old car that you were going to junk? Tom Sr. would take it and drive it, torn seats and all, for another 5 years. Have a wood fired-hot water heater (he was ‘green’ before his time. I though he was cheap.)? Tom Sr. will take it.
One day, when I was about 5 years old, Dad convinced my Mom to let him buy a Sears arc welder. Not the kind you plug into the regular wall socket, but one you needed to plug into a 30 amp socket! Of course the wiring, though safe, was hobbled together in a cornucopia of various brands and sizes. Square D, Federal Pacific – all companies contributed to our power plant. Think of all the things he could build now.
Too young to know better at the time, I saw various components start to appear in the driveway (since we lived on a 50 ft. x 100 ft suburban lot, so did the neighbors). The back half of an old pickup truck. Scores of angle iron. Scraps of plywood. Piano hinges. Wire from points unknown. Gallons of orange Rustoleum (we’ll get back to this later…)
Like one of those time-lapsed Disney films of a flower blooming, our ‘camper’ began to take shape – weekend after weekend. The flash of welding blinking out of the garage door. Local kids running by with hands over their eyes so they would not go ‘blind’. That distinctive hum of the arc welder and the crackling splatter. Angle iron welded to truck axle. More angle iron welded to the existing angle iron. Plywood walls. Beds make of plywood sheets. In a splurge of luxury, he had a custom canvas top made for it. After it was constructed, he proudly painted the whole thing — ORANGE!
Like this Jed Clampett camper was not obvious enough. Now it had to resemble a construction cone on steroids!
My Dad might have been proud of his creation but his family was not. Although functional, it lacked any architectural or design features that would make it appealing to the masses. Unknown to me to this day is how he was able to convince the New Jersey Division of Motor Vehicles that this ‘thing’ was safe to ply the roadways of the country.
I think our first trip was to Niagara Falls. Probably some kind of psychological defense mechanism prevents me from remembering the exact details. The faithful Country Squire station wagon chugged along with ‘camper’ in tow. As we drove, oh boy did we turn heads – but not for the right reasons… I saw genuine pity in the eyes of the families that passed us by.
As we settled in our campsite, I went off to the playground and quickly made friends with some of the boys. One boy asked me if I wanted to go back to his camper and we walked over to his site. As we rounded the corner, I saw ‘it’. A Winnebago Brave. Gleaming white aluminum (that was a ‘space age’ metal back then). Real windows. A real door. NO zippers. That distinctive notched front window that made it look like an alien spaceship (to a 5 year old). He took me inside and I was engulfed by wood paneling. A kitchen. Running water. This was heaven.
When my friend suggested we go check out MY camper, I was mortified. I got light headed. Everything was tinted ORANGE. I needed to go outside for fresh air. Quick thinking. Quick thinking!
“Naw, we better go back to the playground. I think my Dad is taking a nap.”
I quickly ditched my new friend and slunked my way back to the ‘wrong side of the tracks’. Back to the world of peeing into a jar in the corner (what were my parents thinking?) and zippers that never closed well enough to keep out every mosquito.
So next time you’re driving down the road looking down at some kid with his nose pressed up against a car window, give a smile and a wave. You may be playing a role in him fulfilling a dream.