In 1973 I purchased my first bus. Single, after being married for nine years, I felt my biological wanderlust clock idling. I’d planned many extensive treks, and there was really nothing to prevent moving down the road. I found a 1965 Carpenter bus, previously utilized in a school district in New Hampshire to ferry the football team to distant games. It was over 36 feet in length, and had extra headroom, which I needed to locate the bath and shower just inside the side wall, halfway down the coach. The emergency door was there, making dumping of effluent and cleaning that much easier.
I had the garage perform a short-block rehabilitation, so I started out with the equivalent of a “new” engine. It was an International, using mostly Ford parts, was equipped with air brakes, as well as my number one requirement….a rear engine compartment, so that the sound of movement would be at a minimum. This “pusher” turned out to be an ideal vehicle for a conversion, and I set about ordering parts and appliances to begin the metamorphosis. Building the dinette, bathroom, front and rear sofabeds, kitchen counters and cabinets, as well as the walls and closet structures, filled the days as I waited for things to be delivered.
I lived on a sizeable piece of land, so the coach was parked just outside the door, and I worked in it every spare moment that I could create. Being self-employed helped, and my daughter lived with me most weekends, so she got a real workout as we transformed the newly- empty floor space into a comfortable over-the-road home. I had convinced my Mom and Dad, as well as my sister, that I could have it finished in July, and that a great maiden voyage would be a trip from New England, west to the Black Hills of South Dakota to view Mount Rushmore.
Although my wife and I had trekked the Trans-Canada highway from Ontario to British Columbia in a ’55 Chevy converted for sleeping, visited the Seattle World’s Fair, with a return via Yellowstone and some of this same territory, it had been over twelve years before, and I couldn’t wait to get on the move. When we made our trip to the northwest I was working as a travel consultant for AAA, planning everyone else’s trips. Living vicariously while mapping journeys, passing out tour books and Triptiks wasn’ t quite what I had in mind!
The motorhome was completed just in time for our window of opportunity, and we loaded my Kawasaki motorcycle onto its rack on the front bumper, turned out of the yard in Salem, New Hampshire, picked up my folks in Melrose, Mass.,and headed west…to Weston, Mass. There my sister and her youngest daughter bade farewell to my hard-working brother-in-law, and we six latter-day pioneers were out of there!
Off in our moving proving-ground, and headed for unknown parts and distant campgrounds beyond the setting sun. Through New York, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois…..CRUISING!
Was this first trip a total success? Hardly. We had some trying experiences, but they were ameliorated by a whole lot of looking, finding and enjoying. But was it HOT. When it rained and the roof domes and side windows had to be closed, it was uncomfortable and the metal ceiling would get moist with humidity. On Interstate 80, near Davenport, Iowa, late on a Saturday afternoon, the bus popped a fan belt, which snagged the compressor belt as well. We limped into a city park beside the Mississippi for the night. The parts stores were closed until Monday morning, but then I had it all back in good order, and we were soon on our way along the Missouri river, and into the Dakota country.
We had stopped at several nice camps with amenities for the kids, plus Seaworld in Ohio, so we were ready for the likes of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. We followed the billboards for ice water to Wall Drug Store in Wall, S.D.then we panned for gold flakes in Lead, checked out the presidents’ profiles in Rapid City, motored around in some fabulous mountain scenery, and camped amid the bison.
Travelling the “blue highways” where practical, we turned east for the kids’ date with the opening of school. We sauntered back through southern Minnesota, through Wisconsin Dells and on to Chicago’s lakeshore drive. Into central Indiana and Ohio, and past this country’s first oil fields to the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania….who knew?
A final thrust into the Catskills and Berkshires and our excursion neared its conclusion. My travel appetite was whetted for a lot more of this lifestyle. You might say that a sea-change evolved in my perceptions about my own existence as well. I soon moved into the coach, and became a FULL TIMER!
I had the opportunity recently to view my Dad’s slides of that trip. I was moved by the audacity of that endeavor; what poignant memories!
Thirty-four years and many different motorhomes and conversions later, I’m still at it. But much has changed. This blog just might be useful for anyone who has mused on the possibility of doing what I have done. There’s not much that I’ve missed !