I guess that I decided to drop out of the mainstream of work and home-ownership around 1993 sometime. I knew that the contract that I was currently working on would run out in April of 1997, and I was beginning to feel the desire for change. I loved living in Tehachapi, CA, but the 65 mile each way commute to Edwards AFB was beginning to get old. I decided that I would retire for a while at the end of our current contract. My parents pulled up roots when my dad retired, and traveled around the country in a travel trailer for a number of years, and that appealed to me. So I started saving my pennies and began to search for a suitable rig. Some friends had a smaller (22') 5th Wheel with a rear living room, and I really liked the way it was laid out. It felt really roomy, and provided all the necessary (I thought) amenities.
I started looking at trailers in 1994 and was in no particular hurry to buy, as I knew that the right rig would show up eventually. I stood in showers, sat on toilets, laid on beds, slouched on couches and generally got a large education in the amazing variety of rigs available. I wanted the rear living room, with a bathroom that I could fit in, and had pretty much decided on a used rig, as the prices for new ones were a bit beyond my budget. My intention was to buy a rig in the 22 to 26 foot length, and to stick with a low profile-non stand up front bedroom. I had also set a limit of $10K on the price. I spent most of 1994 looking for, but not finding, the perfect rig. Then, In February of 1995, I was visiting my sister Gail, who lives in Auburn, CA (close to Sacramento). I took some time to drive around and look at rigs while I was there. I found a rig, used, that really felt right. It was (is) a 1988 Jayco Designer series 5th Wheel, 30 foot, with the rear lounge and a stand-up bedroom in front. A lot bigger than I had wanted, but in really great shape, with a floorplan that I really liked. Negotiations commenced, and I finally purchased it for $13K incl. tax, license, etc.
So here I am, 350 miles from home, proud owner of the travel trailer of my dreams, and no adequate tow vehicle in sight to tow it with. I had purchased my sister's mid-70's Chevy pick up as a tow vehicle, and it had a 350 ci V-8.... definitely not enough to pull a rig of this size. Time to look for a bigger truck! The RV dealer pulled the rig up to my sister's with his truck, and parked it along side of her house. I had to kiss it goodbye and leave for home and work the next morning.
I sold the Chevy to a friend, and found a 1978 Ford F-250 extended cab short bed truck with a 460 engine that was in fair shape. I picked it up for a song ($3250) and commenced to setting it up for towing. I added gauges, Firestone air bags in the rear and an onboard compressor to fill them, headers, a custom 3" single exhaust system, a K&N air cleaner, a 40 gal rear fuel tank and a RBW "lil rocker" hitch. That took me several months, and a lot of $$$. I was trying to get the truck done and pick up the rig in time to take the whole setup to the Live Oak Music Festival in the middle of June. March, April and May were some of the coldest, wettest months on record for Tehachapi that spring, and I had the infinite privelege to work on the truck outside the whole time. I managed to get it all together (and avoid pneumonia) in time to get the rig from my sister's house on Memorial Day weekend.
My first trip pulling that monster was surprisingly painless! The truck performed well, and the trailer was no problem, even in cross winds. I made it to the Music Festival, and everything in the rig worked fine. The only annoying thing that happened all weekend was when some of my "friends" posted "PUBLIC RESTROOMS INSIDE... COME ON IN" signs all over the outside of my rig..... they said it was a form of initiation. Into what, I'm not sure. 8-)
Over the next 2 years, I added and deleted and modified both the truck and rig for what I anticipated fulltiming would be. I wanted extended dry camping capability, so I went to 2 6 volt golf cart batteries for the rig and a 55w solar panel to help charge them. I added a Onan Microlite 2800w generator to the truck and set it up to run off the big aux. fuel tank. I built storage boxes in the back of the truck to enclose the generator and to provide for tool storage. I also added a 30 gallon water tank in the back of the pickup bed and an electric pump to transfer it to the rig's water tank. See the author's bio page for some pictures of the rig and truck. With all this preparation, and an eye towords water conservation, I hope to be able to dry camp for at least a week without significant suffering. I've gone as long as five days so far, and not run out of anything except beer....
OK.... well, the equipment for the adventure is in place, so what's next? Sell the house. Sure, That's easy! It's getting rid of 11 years of accumulated junk (it's priceless, dammit.....I can't throw it away!!!) that is difficult! I started carting stuff off to the Flea market as early as 1996, and all-in-all I would wager I took 25 pickup loads of priceless garbage off the mountain. It's amazing what you find when you clean house that way!! I couldn't throw it ALL away, or sell it all, so I had to find a way to store some items. I have a restored '67 MGB that I'm not about to part with, and several tons of tools, and photos, clothes, artwork, trinkets, etc.etc.etc. Looks like I'll need at least a 10' by 16' storage room . WOW, That's expensive!! I didn't want to spend $120 + a month for a storage room, so I opted to purchase a 16' box trailer from Carson trailers and stash all my stuff in it. The trailer cost me about $3400, which means that if I'm on the road for 2 years, I'll probably be bucks ahead compared to renting storage space. I built racks above the MGB and piled all my other stuff onto them. It worked out pretty good, and it limited the amount of stuff I could keep (a good thing!). I filled the storage trailer up and towed it up to (you guessed it!) my sister's place, where she will let me park it for a while. (I've been parking trailers there a lot lately......)
I needed to pick out a "home state" to register my vehicles in, and to provide a mail forwarding service, etc. I ordered the Trailer Life publication "Choosing a RV Home Base" from the T.L webpage and it was a worthwhile book. I chose South Dakota as my state, based upon info in the book, and the recommendations of fellow RVers on the newsgroup rec.outdoors.rv-travel. South Dakota has no state income tax, no smog check or vehicle yearly inspection, and the registration costs are extremely reasonable. I established a mail box at the Mail Boxes Etc.store in Rapid City. I then contacted the Rapid City DMV and arranged for the vehicle registrations over the phone. My travels took me through South Dakota and I stopped in Rapid City and acquired a South Dakota drivers license. It was a breeze... no test, I just handed them my Calif. license and $. The MBE in Rapid city can be contacted at 605-342-7379. Tell 'em Mark sent you. The DMV in Rapid City is 605-394-2161.
For insurance on the rig, I went with Foremost. The policy they offer for fulltimers is a great value! It includes comprehensive, collision and fire coverage on the trailer, personal property insurance, personal liability insurance (like your home owner's policy) and a roadside assistance/towing package that covers the trailer and the tow vehicle. My particular rig, with $9K of personal property insurance included was only $350 per year. I have not had occasion yet to process a claim, but so far, their customer service has been responsive, and they handled my address changes, etc. with ease. They also offer a discount if you are a member of Escapees. Unfortunately, Foremost could not write an auto policy for liability on the truck, so I wound up getting a simple liability/minimums policy through Nationwide Insurance. Cost was minimal, at about $120 / 6 months. These are my opinions and experiences.... YMMV. Formost can be contacted at 1-800-262-0170. Nationwide is at 1-800-421-1444
I decided to join the Escapees club for several reasons.... I've been a Good Sam member for several years, but was never overly impressed with the level of services they provided for the membership. The Escapees is a club dedicated to support the full time RVer. The publication is bi-monthly, but is much more useful to me than Highways is, and the Escapees offer a range of services and endorsments... everything from their own voice mail and mail forwarding services, special deals on insurance, a number of member campgrounds, and a real support organization for their members. I highly recommend that you go have a look at them! See http://www.escapees.com for more info!
It seems like everyone has to have a Cell phone nowdays.... They are handy as hell, and provide an added level of security when traveling alone. I picked up a used Motorola bag phone, and signed up for a plan with Bakersfield Cellular, as they were local for me at the time in Tehachapi. I pay $19.95 a month, with effectively no free minutes, and am charged about $1 per minute when roaming. There are probably better deals to be had out there, but this one serves my needs for now. Plus that buck-a-minute rate keeps me from using the darn thing in a frivilous manner.
The house went on the market in August of 1996, and the market was dead. By February of '97, I really began to believe that I wouldn't be able to sell it at all.... I kept lowering the price, but wasn't even getting any nibbles. As a last effort to sell it, (rather than walk away from it) I offered a $5000 bonus to the real estate agent who sold it. That must have turned the trick, 'cause 2 weeks later, I was in escrow. (the house was, anyway) The escrow closed on May 15, which is just about perfect timing, as far as I'm concerned. I rolled out of Tehachapi for the last time in my new home on June 1st.
If any of the above ramblings stirred up any questions, please feel free to drop me a line and ask them. Details on some of the modifications are in the Hints and Tips section, along with pictures. Other information, phone numbers and the like you can email me for...
I have done a lot of lurking on the Usenet newsgroup rec.outdoors.rv-travel and I really picked up a lot of very useful information and ideas there. It's a good bunch of folks, and the group is a fairly high traffic one, so a lot of good info passes through in a short time. If you have questions, or are just interested in RVing, definitely check it out!