Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I want to ask you a question, but I feel I should know if you are a qualified RV shrink before I trust your advice. I have read many of your columns and it seems to contain good common sense. Lately, I have seen comments from readers accusing you of being a quack. That makes me a little nervous. If you could give me a little background information to assure me, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you in advance.
Doubting Thomas, Tacoma, WA
I graduated from USMC at the top of my class. It is also known as the “School of Hard Knocks.” I received a tremendous amount of on-the-job training. It is a very specialized program that is literally drilled into you. I could not have graduated without the skills I would need to go out into the field and help others.
As for my RV background, it started late in my life. It wasn’t until I was six that my parents and grandparents bought an Airstream travel trailer. When I was seven I found a guy under the back-end of our trailer, lying on his back, studying our septic system. My dad asked him what he was doing. He said, “I think I can make a better dump valve than this.” We were in a Michigan State park. The guy’s name was Frank Sargent. He was an engineer with AC Spark Plug. He later started a small company called Thedford. He was from Thedford County Michigan. (Just a little history lesson.)
Also Wally Byam taught my brother how to open a locked trailer door without a key. A wrecked trailer came into the factory one day and it was locked. Wally gave the knob a rabbit punch from underneath and it opened right up. My brother picked right up on that. In fact, he knocked several knobs off our trailer before my dad broke him of the habit. As a teenager I worked all through high school for the largest Airstream dealer in the country, Warner Trailer Sales in Pontiac, MI. Many of our customers were GM engineers developing Wide Track Pontiacs and other gear that would advance the RV industry. I used to polish Ed Bowen’s Airstream once a year. You might recognize that name if you have a Atwood Bowen water heater. He and his son also developed Fort Wilderness for Disney. (Another history lesson.)
One of the most important lessons I learned from hanging around the trailer sales was this: Don’t wait until your 65 to retire.
I started right away. I bought the 1964 GMC Suburban that we used to haul trailers up from the Jackson Center, Ohio factory. My dad and I made it into a camper. I didn’t even wait for my high school graduation ceremony. I lit out for a summer of camping and backpacking all the way to the West coast and home through Canada. That didn’t quite cure me. I got married when I was 24 and told my wife we should travel for a year. We bought an Avion and didn’t come back for a decade. Since that time we have had an Airstream and now a motor home. I have seen many changes in the RV industry, both from a camping and equipment viewpoint. I also spent 22 years publishing “The Dick E. Bird News,” mostly baloney, with a few facts. Included was a “Dear Dick E. Bird” column. They used to call me a quack then too.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink