Thursday, April 28, 2011

R.V. Shrink Qualifications

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

Dear Thomas:
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

Friday, April 8, 2011

RV campground critiquing

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My wife and I love the RV lifestyle. We hope to visit every National Park in the country and all the other interesting points along the way. Although we stay in many wonderful state and national park campgrounds, my wife has developed an annoying hobby of critiquing each site we occupy. She can always find fault with a site no matter how perfect I think it might be. Recently, she could hear the hand drier sound from a nearby restroom. She said it sounded like a pressure washer outside the motorhome every time someone dried their hands. She grades them by size, how close the neighbors are, what kind of view they have, shade, sun, road noise, management attitude, cleanliness, price, the list goes on. It drives me nuts. There is no such thing as perfect. I tell her you have to take the good with the bad and ugly. Can you help me with her attitude adjustment.
--Judgement Day in Daytona

Dear Judge:
Before you cure your wife of her little idiosyncrasy, could you send me her list. I know several people that would love to have it. I think your wife is just more open than the rest of us in this department. We are all looking for the perfect site. I know many people who have learned to work the new reservation system to their advantage. They continually update their campground directories with personal information of what they consider the best site locations in each park they visit. This enables them to reserve that site well in advance if they know they are going to travel that way again. Most people keep this information pretty close to the vest. As competition heats up for campsites around the country, knowledge is King. The same goes for finding and recording great little county, city and local parks that are often overlooked when passing through an area. You can find a lot of information online at sites like freecampgrounds.com, but you have to do more homework to really find the gems. It’s called experience. As long as your wife isn’t carping about every site you park in, I would encourage her critiquing. If you wanted to share that info online or around the campfire, you will find many people interested and eager to hear your input.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Peace, Love and RV Tranquility

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I’m in my late 50‘s and met a wonderful old hippie who has great social security. We have so much in common and have decided we’d like to be traveling companions. The problem is she is a vegetarian minimalist and I am a meat and potatoes abstract. She wants to buy a small trailer that looks like a fiberglass egg. I want an old 35 ft. school bus. Can you explain to her that people do not live full-time in such a small space. I have tried to explain to her that we need the kind of room that a big bus offers. She insists that it is doable and I cannot reason with her. Please send help.
--About to be Crammed in Camden

Dear Crammed:
I am a bit suspect of your motives. Are you hooking up with this woman for companionship or a social security check and Golden Age campground passport? You haven’t enlightened me on what you have in common but it is obviously not camping style. There are several small trailer brands that fit the fiberglass egg description. One of the more popular is the Casita. It is small and practical and people do full-time RV in them. They make travel fuel efficient, have very functional floor plans and utilize every square inch of space to the maximum. An old school bus on the other hand would be far from fuel efficient and most likely more expensive to turn into a comfortable RV. I would have to agree with your companion between the two choices you have offered. It will be a close relationship, and I am talking quarters not compassion. Much of the storage available when hauling a trailer this size will be in the tow vehicle. You might want to pack light in the beginning so that you will have less to carry if she ends up dropping you off along the highway. You must face the fact that this idea will always be in the back of her head. Think about it. Without you she doubles the size of her trailer living space and most likely has twice as much money.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink