My First Real RV Adventure

I reflect on how I got hooked on this thing called RVing. In 1975 I towed my first travel trailer. Of course at the time, like most teenagers, I thought I knew everything. I tent camped for years and had experienced camping in travel trailers and motor homes with a friend of mine and his family, but this was my first real RV adventure, out on my own. I had recently graduated from high school and was working for an RV dealership in Pennsylvania. I started out washing campers and eventually worked to the position of an apprentice technician. I was always mechanically inclined and had an interest in how things worked; from age twelve when I disassembled our perfectly good lawn mower to see how it worked, to age sixteen when I rebuilt my first VW engine.

It was Thanksgiving and deer hunting season was quickly approaching, which in North Central Pennsylvania is very similar to a Federal holiday. I asked my boss if I could borrow an old travel trailer to use for a deer hunting trip and to my surprise he actually said yes. I don’t remember all of the details about the travel trailer, but I do know it was a Shasta because it had the classic wings on each back corner. I would guess that it was a mid-to-late 60’s model and it was close to 20-feet long. The only conditions for borrowing the trailer were:

1) To bring it back in one piece and

2) Not to use the water system because it was winterized and the temperatures were in the low teens.

Antlered deer hunting season started the Monday following Thanksgiving and I invited my best friend to go with me. We were going to head up into the foothills on Saturday to set things up and do some last minute scouting. I had a 1969 Chevy Blazer. It was a full size, K5 model, with a six-cylinder engine and rust holes in the body the size of softballs. Now, you would think that working for an RV dealership I would have access to, and use, the proper hitch work and brake control to tow the trailer. I do remember wiring a plug for the trailer lights, but figured since I wouldn’t be towing the trailer on a regular basis I would forgo the brakes and just drop the trailer on the ball and go.

Keep in mind I was a teenager, and knew everything back then. Kind of like how my teenage son knows everything now! There were no pre-trip checks or inspections. We picked up the bare essentials, a pot and pan, some groceries, our sleeping bags and hunting equipment and off we went. It was about a sixty-mile trip to our favorite hunting destination. The first thirty-five miles was on two-lane paved roads and the last twenty-five miles was a winding, snow covered dirt road barely wide enough for one vehicle. If you encountered traffic going the opposite direction somebody had to back up until there was a spot wide enough for both vehicles to safely pass. I do remember the Blazer didn’t seem to steer quite like normal and if I had to stop quickly I would have hit whatever it was that was making me stop so quickly. I took a deep sigh of relief after the white-knuckle experience of getting to our destination and thanked my lucky stars that the trailer was still in one piece. Little did I know that getting there was just the beginning of my first real RV adventure!

We set the trailer up, which at the time was really nothing more than leveling it from front to rear using the tongue jack and turning the LP gas supply on. Then we settled in the trailer for the first night. We figured since it was cold outside we didn’t need to use the refrigerator, so we left our groceries in the Blazer. The furnace was the old style that you had to light manually. Soon after I got it to light it warmed up enough inside to take our gloves and coats off. For dinner we heated up some pork and beans on the range top and ate them out of the pan because we forgot to bring any plates. Afterwards we played a card game called set-back and eventually turned in for a good nights sleep. The next morning I went to the Blazer to get some bacon and eggs for breakfast. The eggs were frozen solid. We fried some bacon and later that morning we used the frozen eggs for target practice to sight our hunting rifles in. We washed the pans in a nearby, nearly frozen stream, since we didn’t have any water, and the rest of the day was spent scouting the snow covered hills for signs of deer. Then it was back to the cozy, but somewhat drafty Shasta trailer.

After another entree of pork and beans I put all of the empty cans and other garbage in a plastic bag and set it outside the door. The next morning was opening day. It was difficult to relax and go to bed that night, but knowing we would be getting up early we forced ourselves to turn in for the night. The first major event of the night was waking up around midnight because it felt like 10 degrees below zero inside the trailer. The trailer only had one full and one partially filled 20-pound LP gas bottle, and with the furnace running non-stop since we arrived they were both empty. Fortunately I did have enough forethought to bring two spare 20-pound LP bottles with us. I told my friend that since I got the trailer for us to use he would have to get out of his sleeping bag, change the bottles and re-light the furnace. After some reluctance and a few choice words he stumbled outside and changed them over. Soon it was warm again and we were both back to sleep.

Sometime around three in the morning the trailer began to shake, I mean literally shake back and forth. At first I thought I was dreaming but soon realized I wasn’t. I reached up and turned a small overhead light and looked over at my friend to see if he was awake. Not having any clue what was happening we both stared, wide-eyed, at each other. I pulled the small curtain away from the window and peered outside. It took a minute to focus my eyes in the dark, but I soon realized that there were two bears outside; a small black bear cub and its not so small mother pushing against the side of the trailer. Not really sure what to do we both got our hunting rifles, loaded a round in the chamber, and stood back, ready for when the bear would come busting through the door or a window. We waited for what seemed like forever at the time, but it was probably a minute or two before the shaking stopped. We glanced out the window again and there were no signs of the bears anywhere. Needless to say we didn’t get anymore sleep before it was time to head out to our favorite hunting spots early that morning. When we walked out of the trailer, with flashlights in hand, we soon realized why the black bears stopped to visit us that night. There were pork and bean cans and other garbage scattered everywhere around our makeshift campsite.

Another reason this memory remains so clear in my mind is because at 8:10 AM on opening day I shot my first 8-point whitetail buck on a ridge about 80 yards from where I was sitting. My friend heard the shot and came over to check it out. After field dressing the deer it took us about two hours to drag it down the long ravine, back to the trailer. Knowing that we had enough LP gas for one more night we fired up the furnace and ate some more pork and beans. After making sure there was no garbage outside we settled in to the warm, cozy Shasta trailer and played cards while I recounted the events of the great whitetail deer hunt over-and-over again.

We did manage to get the trailer back home safely, and other than some remnants of hungry black bear paw prints on the side of the trailer it was still in one piece. That nearly disastrous weekend hunting trip, in freezing cold weather, spent in the small Shasta travel trailer, is when I got bit by the RV bug. Forty-one years and six RVs later, we are still making new RV memories every year.

Happy Camping!

Mark J. Polk

RV Education 101

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