Nick Russell

Oct 022017

With all the paperwork signed for putting our Winnebago motorhome on consignment at PPL Motorhomes in Houston, we were ready to get out of Dodge. Well, at least out of Houston.

The directions we had been given to come to PPL had taken us into town on Interstate10 to the Interstate 610 Loop and then south and west. Even on Sunday there had been a lot of traffic that way, which I really was not looking forward to dealing with on midday Monday. But my buddy Greg White had told me about Beltway 8, which was a toll road with an entrance very close to the dealership. He said that there would be less traffic on that route, but it would cost us a few dollars in tolls. No problem, I’d pay just about anything to avoid as much Houston traffic as I can.

It was a great route, and Greg was right, there was not much traffic at all. We made good time, only slowing down for the occasional tollbooth, and before we knew it we were on Interstate 10 again, on the far east side of the Houston metropolitan area.

We made a quick stop at the Buc-ee’s in Baytown for gas and grabbed a couple of sandwiches, which we ate in the Explorer. Then we were back on the road again. We planned to make a slower trip back home, stopping at a few places we wanted to see along the way. But I didn’t know we would be stopping so soon!

Just as we were leaving Orange and were almost to the Louisiana border when we heard a bang followed by a rattling noise. At first we thought it was a truck passing us that had a load of steel on it, but then there was a loud hissing sound like air being released under pressure. At the same time, the air conditioner, which had been putting out cold air, suddenly began pumping out hot air. Rut roh!

I checked all the gauges and everything looked good, so I told Terry to do a Google search for auto air-conditioning shops around Lake Charles, Louisiana, which was about 40 miles down the road. As it turned out, she found a place called Clyde’s Automotive & Air Conditioning in Sulfur, which was only about 30 miles away. Terry called to see if they could take a look at the Explorer and they said to bring it in and they would do their best to work us in.

When I was a kid we didn’t have air conditioning in our cars and I remember traveling all over the country with the windows rolled down. Trust me, on a hot summer day in Louisiana, the good old days weren’t all that great!

When we got to Clyde’s the owner immediately took a look at things and tried to recharge the system. But the Freon was coming out as quickly as he was trying to put it in. That’s not a good thing. There were no lines broken anywhere, but when somebody got underneath to take a look he said the side of the air conditioner compressor had exploded. And when he said exploded, that’s exactly what he meant.

Clyde, who runs the shop with his wife and son, said in over 30 years in business he had seen maybe two or three compressors that had done this. As to what caused it, it’s hard to say. The Explorer is a 2005 and I’m pretty sure it was the original compressor, so maybe it was just metal fatigue.

Clyde said he could replace it, but it was already after 3 PM and he didn’t think he could finish the job that day. No problem, his wife Jan took us to a nearby hotel where we spent the night, and then the next morning about 10:30 she came back and picked us up. They had installed the new compressor and taken it for a test drive, and it was working fine. It was just one of those speed bumps on the road of life. We paid our bill and were back on the road within a half hour or so, riding in cool comfort again. If you are ever in southwest Louisiana and need a shop you can trust, you can’t do any better than Clyde’s.

A lot of you do your online shopping by clicking this Amazon link or the Amazon Search box at the top right sidebar of this blog. We appreciate that, because when you purchase an item on Amazon any time of the year from one of our links, we earn a small commission, which helps us offset the cost of publishing the blog.

Thought For The Day – Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal. – Hannah More

Goodbye Winnie

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Oct 012017

Although we are usually night owls, we have been working on changing our sleep schedule, getting to bed earlier and waking up earlier in the morning. So we were awake by 7:30 Monday morning, eager to get our Winnebago inspected and to do the consignment paperwork with PPL Motorhomes in Houston.

PPL is very good about walking you through the entire process ahead of time, sending you forms to fill out and a list of things that must be done before your appraisal meeting. One of them was having the RV weighed on a certified scale, which we had done before we got to town, and the other was to have a Texas state safety inspection done. They had given us the names and addresses of two different companies near their location that did the safety inspections and we had scouted both out in the Explorer ahead of time.

The first one we went by was Greg Bingham’s 10 Minute Oil Change on Wilcrest Drive, and we quickly ruled it out because access in and out with our 40 foot motorhome would have been darn near impossible. But the second location, Redline Auto Sports, was just two miles away from PPL on the freeway frontage road. It is located at a large strip mall with a bunch of empty stores, and our friend Charles Yust had told me it would be easy to pull into the mall’s parking lot next to the business and they would come out and do the inspection there. They opened at 9 AM and we were there waiting for them. The inspection was quick and easy; basically they just wanted to make sure that all of our lights and turn signals worked, and that the windshield wipers and horn were in good order. The whole process took less than 15 minutes.

By the time we drove back to PPL and dumped our holding tanks, it was still only a little after 9:30. Our appointment with the appraiser, John Byers, wasn’t until 11 AM, but I went inside to see if he might be available sooner. As it turned out, he was, and I felt good when the first words out of his mouth when he saw our rig was, “This is a beautiful coach.”

John spent some time going over the motorhome, both inside and out, we pointed out some of the upgrades we had done to it, and then the three of us went into his office so he could explain the consignment process and we could do the paperwork. Basically, PPL will either buy your RV outright or sell it on consignment, charging a 10% fee once the deal is done. Obviously if they buy it outright you are going to get a lot less money, but if you need to get things wrapped up in a hurry it might be worth it to go that route. Fortunately for us, we’re not in that position and we can wait until it sells.

We had been asking $45,000 for the motorhome, which I knew was a heck of a deal and way below low retail Blue Book. John agreed and said he was going to price it at somewhere around $53,000 for a relatively quick sale. I told him I know there are no guarantees in life, but based on his experience, I asked him how long he thought it might take to find a qualified buyer. John said he wouldn’t be surprised if it was gone in 45 days or less.

After dealing with tire kickers and flakes who just wasted our time for the last three months, I’m more than happy to let PPL handle everything, and it’s worth the 10% commission to us. They can also help buyers arrange financing, and they handle all of the title transfer paperwork, including any payoff to a lien holder. Terry and I were very impressed with John and with PPL overall. Everybody we talked to there was very open and friendly, and they went out of their way to accommodate us. John told me that PPL sells somewhere around 2,500 RVs a year, making them a very high-volume dealer. I think we left the Winnebago in good hands.

Because of our early start, we were finished with everything and ready to leave before our originally scheduled 11 AM appointment. I think both of us thought we would have some last-minute regrets as we drove away from our Winnebago for the last time, just like we did when the person who bought our MCI bus conversion drove away with it. But neither one of us did. I took one last picture of the Winnebago parked in PPL’s lot and we headed home, that phase of our lives behind us.

A lot of you do your online shopping by clicking this Amazon link or the Amazon Search box at the top right sidebar of this blog. We appreciate that, because when you purchase an item on Amazon any time of the year from one of our links, we earn a small commission, which helps us offset the cost of publishing the blog.

Thought For The Day – I can’t wait until I retire, so I can wake up early and get in my car and drive around real slow, backing up traffic and making everybody else late for work.

The End Of An Era

 Posted by at 12:32 am  Nick's Blog
Sep 302017

In yesterday’s blog I told you about last week’s fast trip to Texas to drop off our Winnebago Ultimate Advantage at PPL Motorhomes in Houston. I ended that blog by saying we were spending the night at Gulf Coast RV Resort in Beaumont.

It was a nice campground, made even nicer by the fact that they have free breakfast in the morning. Coffee, juice, milk, rolls, and more. We were up early because we wanted to get into Houston before traffic got too bad, but we did stop in long enough to grab coffee for Terry and orange juice for me before we left.

Houston traffic is always terrible, even on a Sunday morning. But we managed to make our way through it and arrived at PPL Motorhomes without incident, except for some frazzled nerves. PPL has several back-in RV sites with 30/50 amp electric outlets, water, and a dump station. We were the only rig there and it didn’t take us long to get parked and hooked up.

Within the hour our good friends Greg and Jan White arrived, having driven from the campground they are staying at about 80 miles north of town. There were lots of hugs all around and we visited for a while, and then we drove to an excellent restaurant called Floyd’s Cajun Seafood for lunch. The food was just as good as the company and we had a good time.

We’ve known Greg and Jan for about ten years and they are two of our closest friends in the world. We had met them when we were teaching at Life on Wheels and at a couple of RV rallies, but things really solidified a couple of years after we first met, on a cold rainy October morning at Elkhart Campground in Indiana when the water heater on our newly acquired Winnebago stopped working. I went outside, opened the water heater compartment, stared at it and scratched my head and my butt, and when that didn’t solve the problem, I went in search of someone who knew more than I did. Which is just about anybody in the world.

I seemed to remember Jan saying that Greg was good at figuring out problems, so I knocked on their door and, as Greg put it in a recent blog, “said those fateful words; I hear you’re good at fixing things.” A few minutes later he was standing in an ankle deep puddle tearing into the water heater, and it didn’t take him long to get it working again. I knew I had found a friend for life. Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times Greg has fixed things for me, everything from computers to a bad black water dump tank valve. (Yes, that’s when you really know who your friends are!)

Given all that, it only seemed fitting that I had one last project for him. The latch on one of our bay doors had broken, so when we were back at PPL he made short work of replacing it. The end of an era, folks.

With that job out of the way, we visited for a while more and then they headed back to their campground. I don’t know when our paths will cross again, but Greg and I usually talk on the phone every day or so, and we’re all looking forward to getting together again.

Terry and I spent the rest of the day watching TV and reading e-books on our Kindles, and just before dark we both realized we were hungry again. We don’t know our way around Houston very well, but we managed to find an IHOP just a mile or so away. IHOP has never been my favorite restaurant, but it would always do in a pinch. However, that all changed when I walked in and saw this on their menu. French toasted donuts! Think about this, folks – it’s a donut, it’s French toasted, and then they put bacon on it. I’ve never been more proud to be an American in my life!

Back at the motorhome, we took showers and were in bed early because the first thing Monday morning we had to take the motorhome to get its safety inspection and then meet with the appraiser from PPL. If we hadn’t been so worn out from our fast trip across the country from Florida, I think we both would have been feeling a little nostalgic on spending our last night in what had been our home on wheels for over seven years of our fulltiming life. But we were exhausted, and even the noise of the constant traffic from the multi-levels of highways just above us didn’t disrupt our sleep.

A lot of you do your online shopping by clicking this Amazon link or the Amazon Search box at the top right sidebar of this blog. We appreciate that, because when you purchase an item on Amazon any time of the year from one of our links, we earn a small commission, which helps us offset the cost of publishing the blog.

Thought For The Day – Do not let the future be held hostage by the past. – Neal A. Maxwell

Road Trip To Texas

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Sep 292017

Most people who know me well will tell you that I have a few decent qualities including a good sense of humor, a bit of intelligence, and I’ve even been accused of generosity a time or two.

However, if they were honest, they would also tell you that patience is not one of my virtues. I don’t suffer fools well. So when yet another tire kicker who was interested in our Winnebago motorhome wasted our time asking endless questions and then wanted to know if we would accept payments (even though I said in the ad that we would not), my bullsh#$ tolerance level was exceeded and I was done with the whole for sale by owner process.

We have several friends who have done business with PPL Motorhomes, a big consignment RV dealer in Houston, Texas, both as buyers and sellers, and they all seemed to have had a good experience. So last Friday we hit the road for a trip to Texas to drop the Winnebago off with them

We were on the road early and drove 440 miles, spending the night at Eagles Landing in Holt, Florida. This is a very clean, small campground just off Interstate 10 where we have stayed many times over the years.

The next morning we were on the road again, motoring west into Alabama. We both winced as we passed the spot in Mobile where we had been broken down for 12 hours back in June, but this time we had no problems and kept on rolling.

At the same time we were headed west from Florida toward Texas, our friends Charles and Chris Yust from C&C Insurance were headed east from Texas toward Florida. Chris texted Miss Terry to ask where we were, and it turned out we were only 24 miles apart. So we jumped off the interstate, got fuel at a Pilot truck stop, then went a mile or so down the road and pulled into the parking lot of a nearly vacant shopping center to meet up with them.

It’s always nice to see Charles and Chris, and we had a fun visit, even if it was short. I took this picture of our motorhome next to their Class C before we shared a last round of hugs and both couples got back on the road, headed in opposite directions.

It was a good day for traveling, and we really wanted to get to our destination on Sunday, when we hoped traffic would not be quite as bad in Houston. So we crossed into Mississippi, then Louisiana, and sometime around 5:30 PM we pulled into the Flying J truck stop in Orange, Texas to fuel up and to get the motorhome weighed on their CAT scales, because PPL required a weight certificate. With that done, I drove across the street to the Blue Beacon truck wash to get the rig washed so it would look nice when PPL’s appraiser looked it over Monday morning.

That was a big mistake, because there was one eighteen wheeler inside each wash bay, two others waiting their turns, and a third one pulled in behind me. At first I wasn’t too concerned because we have used Blue Beacon’s all over the country and we’re usually in and out in a short time. But not this time around. Apparently the trucks in the bays had been sitting somewhere for two or three years and were covered in grime. Grime which the owner wanted off, regardless of the cost. So they washed them, and washed them, and washed them over and over again until they finally met with his approval. By then all the truckers were complaining, and we have already talked about my level of patience. If we hadn’t been blocked in front and rear I would have left, but we were stuck.

Finally, close to two hours after we arrived it was our turn to get the rig washed. But the fun wasn’t over yet because their high pressure hose managed to destroy the end plastic cap of the door awning. In their defense, the thing was 15 years old and very brittle, so I didn’t complain too much about that. Miss Terry had already listened to me complain all the time we were sitting there and I don’t think she could have taken any more.

By the time we were done at the truck wash it was dark, and we still had 27 more miles to go to reach our campground, Gulf Coast RV Resort in Beaumont. My night vision is terrible, so Terry drove the rest of the way. That turned out to be another horrible experience, because we discovered that the headlights on the motorhome were very, very dim. We never drive at night, so we never knew that before. I’m not sure if it’s because the lenses are clouded or what the problem is, but it was all Terry could do to be able to see where she was going. And it didn’t help that much of the route was a construction zone with narrow lanes. Believe me, if there would have been a safe place to get off Interstate 10 and park for the night, we would have. But there wasn’t.

There is absolutely nothing my beautiful and talented wife can’t do, and though it was pretty harrowing she was up to the challenge and got us there safely. Part of what makes our marriage work is that we each have our own strengths and weaknesses, and when we combine our efforts we make a darned good team.

By the time we arrived at the campground and parked in our pull-through site, we were both wiped out. But we had not packed any food or provisions in the motorhome, so we had to make a quick run to a nearby Jack-in-the-Box for something to eat. Then it was back to the motorhome, quick showers, and we fell into bed exhausted with 475 miles behind us. Yes, I know that’s a long day in a motorhome. But we weren’t on an RV trip, we were on a delivery trip and we just wanted to get there.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about our trip into Houston, a meet up with our good friends Greg and Jan White, and our first impressions of PPL. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something good to read, Not a Whisper, the first book in my dear friend Donna McNicol’s small town Klondike mystery series is available free today and tomorrow on Amazon. Grab yourself a copy, I think you’re going to enjoy it.

A lot of you do your online shopping by clicking this Amazon link or the Amazon Search box at the top right sidebar of this blog. We appreciate that, because when you purchase an item on Amazon any time of the year from one of our links, we earn a small commission, which helps us offset the cost of publishing the blog.

Thought For The Day – I’ve put myself in time out until I can play nice with others. This could take a while.

Adams Floating Theatre

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Sep 272017

Note: This story is from the May – June 2016 issue of the Gypsy Journal.

Long before movie theaters, cable television, and satellites that beam entertainment right into our living rooms, people enjoyed live entertainment. During the early days of the 20th century vaudeville acts performed at just about every large and small city in America. But if you lived in a rural area you might never see one of those venues. Way back in 1913, a circus aerialist and carnival owner named James Adams, who was touring with a vaudeville company, came up with an idea for a floating theatre.

Not that he was the first to think along those lines. There were numerous show boats operating on the rivers of the Midwest, drawing large crowds every place they stopped. But Adams wanted to launch his enterprise to serve audiences in the Tidewater area of North Carolina and on the Chesapeake Bay.

People scoffed, like they do at most dreamers, but he was undeterred. Adams purchased a barge as the foundation, drew up the plans himself, contracted with a company in Washington, North Carolina to construct his floating theatre, and personally selected the lumber to be used.

The James Adams Floating Theatre was launched on January 27, 1914, and started moving north along the coast, calling on small towns, beginning a saga that would continue for the next 27 years.

Self-contained and weighing 436 tons, the theatre was pulled from port to port by two tugboats. She was an impressive vessel, 128 feet long and 34 feet wide. The main auditorium was 30 by 80 feet, with a seating capacity of 500 people. The balcony could accommodate another 350.

From May through November the theatre brought music, comedy, and drama to the cities, towns, and tiny hamlets along the Chesapeake Bay, though it did occasionally venture as far north as New Jersey and south to Florida. An advance publicity team would arrive in town first, spreading the news of the performances that were on the way and drumming up business. Staying for a week at a time, the show troupe put on a different performance every day, drawing many repeat visitors.

Everybody aboard had more than one job. Between acts, as scenery was changed and refreshments sold, the actors became comedians, singers, musicians, dancers, jugglers, and gymnasts to entertain the audience. They also pitched in as stagehands and ticket sellers, and often played more than one role in the performances. Even the crews of the tugboats that moved the theatre served as musicians, ticket sellers, or doing anything else that was needed.

Performers lived on board, and although their wages of $10 per week were not outstanding, they enjoyed comfortable living quarters, excellent food, and when they were not working they entertained themselves with swimming, fishing, and relaxing on beaches after the shows.

Each season the theatre traveled north from Elizabeth City, North Carolina to the Chesapeake Bay to perform, and then south all the way to Wilmington, North Carolina before returning to its winter quarters in Elizabeth City.

While the theatre’s performances were popular in the small isolated towns where she called, and people lined up to pay 25 cents to see a show, the local fire and brimstone preachers condemned them as sinful. That didn’t seem to slow down the traffic very much at all. However, if enough people didn’t come to see the shows, Adams did not hesitate to cancel the rest of their stay and move on to the next stop.

Basically a scow with a tall superstructure, the floating theatre was not very maneuverable, and rough seas created lots of problems. It actually sank four times over the years, but was brought back to the surface and put back to work. After a particularly perilous trip from one port to the next, it was not uncommon for a good number of the cast and crew to jump ship and go off in search of greener pastures on shore.

In the summer of 1924, author Edna Ferber became fascinated with the romance of life aboard a floating theatre. She spent five days living and working with the theatre company, writing furiously on a yellow pad as the actors and crew regaled her with stories of their adventures. The result would be her most famous novel, Showboat, which spans 50 years between the 1870s and 1920s, and tells the story of the life of the beautiful Magnolia Ravenal and her traveling showboat family. When the book hit bookstores in 1926, the James Adams Floating Theatre got a strong publicity boost for being the inspiration for the book.

Two years later, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein adapted Edna Ferber’s novel into what many consider to be one of the greatest American musicals, Show Boat. At first Ferber was opposed to the idea of her book becoming a musical, but Kern and Hammerstein won her over. After seeing it performed she was so moved that she told them she had tears in her eyes and her hair stood on end.

But even the book and movie could not keep the floating theatre alive for much longer. Changes in management, the advent of radio, movies, and mass transportation that drew her audiences away, and the Great Depression all played a role in her decline. The theatre went through a series of owners, and gave its last performance in Georgia in January, 1941. The actors and crew left, the lights went out in the stage for the last time, and the theatre was sold at auction to someone who intended to convert it into a cargo barge. But that was not to be. As it was being towed across the Savannah River it caught fire and was destroyed.

Today the only reminders of the once popular floating theatre are some old newspaper clippings, show posters, and a display at the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum in Reedville, Virginia, once a regular stop for the theatre. Included in the exhibit are models of the old theatre, a few stage props, and steamer trunks.

But there are some that would love to bring the old theatre back to life, and a movement is underway to create a new floating theatre to serve the coastal communities. You can learn more about their efforts at If they succeed, I’ll be one of the first in line to attend a performance.

A lot of you do your online shopping by clicking this Amazon link or the Amazon Search box at the top right sidebar of this blog. We appreciate that, because when you purchase an item on Amazon any time of the year from one of our links, we earn a small commission, which helps us offset the cost of publishing the blog.

Thought For The Day – Advice when needed is least heeded.

RVing With A Goal

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Sep 262017

Note: The blog is based upon the seminar by the same name that I present at RV rallies around the country.

Why do you RV? To visit friends and family in far off places? To have your own mobile lodging when you visit theme parks or natural attractions? To have a way to escape cold northern winters while you soak up the warmth of the sunbelt? Have you sold your stick-and-brick home and moved into your RV fulltime? There are many reasons to travel in a recreational vehicle, either full or part time. Your home on wheels can be a magic carpet carrying you away to adventures wherever the road leads. For some, enjoying whatever adventures they encounter along the way is enough to keep them happy and occupied. For others, their RV helps them fulfill goals.

Many RVers we have met in our travels have combined the RV lifestyle with their hobbies or special interests. The ability to be mobile enhances their experiences and allows them to become a part of things they might have only been able to read about otherwise. Some set special goals to accomplish as they travel.

Our country is a treasure chest of historical sites and natural wonders, and an RV takes us right there, where the cannons thundered and the buffalo roamed. If your special interest is bluegrass music, square dancing, wood carving, exploring Civil War battlefields, or visiting the homes and graves of our past presidents, your RV can take you where the action is.

For those enamored with history, visiting all of the major (and minor) locations associated with a particular time period can be a goal. One could easily spend several seasons wandering through New England and down the east coast visiting historical places from the Revolutionary War era. In Boston we walked the Freedom Trail past Paul Revere’s home, to the Old North Church where signal lanterns alerted riders to the movement of British troops, and to Bunker Hill. In nearby Lexington and Concord, we walked across the bridge where the first shots of the Revolution were fired, and stood on Lexington Green, where Patriots confronted Redcoats.

The southeastern United States saw most of the major and minor battles of the Civil War, and it would take a long time to tour the old battlefields of the South before one even set off for the scenes of more distant clashes in places like Gettysburg, or as far away as Arizona, where Union and Confederate soldiers met in a brief, bloody engagement at Picacho Peak.

Some RVers have a goal of visiting the homes and/or graves of our former presidents. It is one thing to know who Abraham Lincoln was and what the history books have taught us. It is something else entirely to stand before his grave and pay your respects to the Great Emancipator in person.

If you are interested in Native American culture, you can visit Indian reservations all over the country, follow the Trail of Tears from North Carolina to Oklahoma, or watch Navajo herd sheep and weave blankets the traditional way in Arizona.

RVers are talented people, and we have met folks in campgrounds who follow the bluegrass circuit, moving from one music festival to another. Square dancers will find plenty of opportunities to swing their partners in every corner of the country. Some people enjoy special events and festivals, and there is something going on every day someplace in this great land of ours. Your RV can take you to cowboy poetry gatherings, craft fairs, woodcarving events, and small town festivals from ocean to ocean and border to border. One popular event many RVers look forward to attending is the Albuquerque Balloon Festival. Once hooked, more than a few find themselves planning their travels to attend balloon events around the country. Others enjoy steam engines and antique tractors, and find special events dedicated to their interests. Do you like old cars? Then maybe you would enjoy the Route 66 Fun Run, held every year in Arizona, where 700 or more classic and antique automobiles drive the longest remaining stretch of the Mother Road.

Route 66 itself is a goal for many RVers, who cruise the old highway, stopping to photograph art deco motels and eat in old time diners along the way. But old Route 66 is not the only historic route in our country. RVers enjoy exploring the Old River Road south from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, the Dixie Highway, the Oregon Trail and many other famous treks.

Hobbies such as treasure hunting with a metal detector, geocaching, photography, and painting are perfect for the RV lifestyle. Quilters enjoy going to quilt festivals all around the country. For those who enjoy swinging a golf club, one goal might be to play the major courses in every state.

Sports fans love the RV lifestyle. Following the NASCAR circuit is popular with racing fans, while baseball lovers might plan their travels to allow them to take in major games or to watch their favorite teams in their spring training grounds.

Our National Parks should be on everyone’s travel itinerary. The National Parks Service even has a neat little passport book visitors can purchase and record their travels with endorsement stamps found at National Parks and Historic Sites all over the country. I keep mine in the door pocket of our vehicle, always handy whenever we go out exploring.

For some RVers, just attending RV rallies around the country is a goal. There are club and special interest rallies large and small everywhere you could choose to travel. Rallies are a great way to meet new friends, catch up with old ones, and learn more about the RV lifestyle.

Many people feel the need to give something back to society, and the RV lifestyle offers many opportunities to contribute and participate. We know RVers who volunteer for Habitat for Humanity builds, living in their rigs on-site while they build homes for low income families. Others volunteer with the Red Cross, ready to travel wherever needed to assist in disaster relief. Many fulfill their need to help by volunteering as camp hosts and guides at state and national parks, historic sites, and wildlife refuges. A perk with this type of activity is that they usually get a free campsite for their work. We have also met RVers who volunteer to help feed the homeless in soup kitchens and gather canned goods for food banks where they are traveling. Wherever you are, there is an opportunity to help in one way or another, and your volunteer efforts are repaid many times over in knowing that you have helped make a difference.

Whatever your interests, there is plenty going on to keep the wheels turning as your RV carries you to small towns and big cities north, south, east and west.

A lot of you do your online shopping by clicking this Amazon link or the Amazon Search box at the top right sidebar of this blog. We appreciate that, because when you purchase an item on Amazon any time of the year from one of our links, we earn a small commission, which helps us offset the cost of publishing the blog.

Thought For The Day – Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off your goals.

Sep 252017

Does any American’s name bring forth more images of courage and patriotism than John Wayne? On and off the screen, the swaggering movie actor, never backed down from a fight, always looked you square in the eye, and never hesitated to tell you where he stood on any issue. John Wayne was, and remains, a true American hero.

John Wayne’s story began in the small central Iowa town of Winterset, where he was born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26, 1907, the son of Clyde and Mary Brown Morrison. Wayne’s father Clyde Morrison was a pharmacist who worked on the south side of Winterset’s town square. John Wayne often described his father as “the kindest, most patient man I ever knew.” The future actor’s mother, Mary, was of Irish descent, and Wayne remembered her as “a tiny, vivacious red-headed bundle of energy.”

When their first son was six years old, Clyde Morrison developed health problems that required him to move the family from Iowa to the warm, dry climate of southern California. For a time they operated a small ranch in the Mojave Desert, where Marion and his younger brother Robert swam in an irrigation ditch and rode a horse to school.

The ranch failed and the family moved to Glendale, California, where young Marion delivered medicines for his father’s pharmacy and sold newspapers to earn money. The hardworking boy did well at Glendale High School and was a popular football player. He and his Airedale dog, named Duke, were seldom apart, and somewhere along the line the dog’s name became the boy’s nickname, one he would carry throughout his life.

After graduating from high school, Marion applied for admission to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, but was turned down. He went to the University of Southern California on a football scholarship from 1925 to 1927, before an injury took him off the team and he had to drop out of school.

Cowboy actor Tom Mix got him a summer job as a prop man in a movie studio, where he became close friends with director John Ford. Soon Marion was acting in bit parts, sometimes under his own name and sometimes under the name John Wayne. His first featured film was 1930’s Men Without Women. After acting in more than 70 low-budget westerns and adventures, Wayne’s career was stuck in a rut until Ford cast him in 1939’s Stagecoach, the movie that made him a star. Throughout his career, Wayne was in nearly 250 movies.

Famous as a cowboy hero, John Wayne also played policemen and soldiers in many films. No matter what the role, Wayne’s character never varied. He was always the big, tough hero who talked straight and took on the bad guys.

Wayne was a super patriot who became known for his conservative political stance, and his views were reflected in many of his movie roles. He was closely associated with many conservative political causes and counted among his friends such men as Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, Spiro T. Agnew, and Ronald Reagan.

Though Wayne played a soldier in many of his film roles, he never served in the military. He was declared unfit for military service during World War II due to high school football injuries. He may not have ever worn a uniform in real life, but nobody ever doubted his love for his country or his patriotism.

During his career, John Wayne was honored many times for his achievements. He received the Best Actor nomination for 1949’s Sands of Iwo Jima and won an Oscar for his role as the hard drinking lawman Rooster Cogburn in 1969’s True Grit. A Congressional Gold Medal was struck in his honor in 1979. Posthumously Wayne was honored with a United States postage stamp in 2004.

A heavy smoker for much of his life, John Wayne had many health problems. In 1964 he lost a lung to cancer; underwent a heart valve replacement in 1978; and in 1979 his stomach was removed. John Wayne died on June 11, 1979 at the age of 72, from cancer. He is buried at Pacific View Memorial Park in Newport Beach, California.

The small four room home where Marion Morrison was born has been restored to reflect its appearance in 1907, the year of the Duke’s birth.

The home displays an impressive collection of John Wayne memorabilia, including the eye patch he wore in the movie True Grit, a hat worn in Rio Lobo, and a prop suitcase used in the film Stagecoach. Also on display are guns the actor owned or used in his film roles, John Wayne toys and dolls, movie posters, and collectibles bearing the actor’s name or image. The home is furnished in period style as it was when the Morrison family lived here.

Hundreds of rare photographs of the Duke are on display, as well as letters from Lucille Ball, Gene Autry, Maureen O’Hara, Jimmy Stewart, Kirk Douglas, Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, and George Burns.

Many celebrities and dignitaries have toured the museum, including President Ronald Reagan, who visited on November 3, 1984, commenting that “the Birthplace of John Wayne is an inspiring tribute to a good friend and a great American.”

The museum and adjacent gift shop are open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Easter. Guided tours of the house are available daily, with the last guided tour of the day beginning at 4:30 p.m.

The Birthplace of John Wayne is located at 205 South John Wayne Drive in Winterset. The home is in a residential area, with no designated parking lot. Visitors can park on the street in the quiet neighborhood. For more information, call (515) 462-1044, or log onto the internet and go to

A lot of you do your online shopping by clicking this Amazon link or the Amazon Search box at the top right sidebar of this blog. We appreciate that, because when you purchase an item on Amazon any time of the year from one of our links, we earn a small commission, which helps us offset the cost of publishing the blog.

Thought For The Day – Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway. – John Wayne


Feeding The Troops

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Sep 242017

Note: This story is from the November-December 2004 issue of the Gypsy Journal.

My father and uncles were part of the generation that liberated Europe from the Nazis and wrested control of the Pacific from the Japanese during World War II. When recalling their wartime experiences, I remember some of them talking about their troop trains stopping in the small Nebraska town of North Platte, and how the townspeople met them at the station with food, hot coffee, and warm smiles of encouragement and appreciation. For a soldier headed off to war, it isn’t the parades and speeches that are remembered. Sometimes it is the small acts of kindness from strangers that linger on when their days are long, lonely, and dangerous. Many GIs headed off to war took the memory of the good folks of North Platte with them when they hit foreign soil.

It all began ten days after the devastating attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. America was at war, and National Guard units from across the country were activated and on the move. The Company D of the local National Guard detachment had been stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas training for the war everybody knew might soon come. When word reached North Platte that their local soldiers would be on a train making a stop at the Union Pacific depot just about everybody in town rushed to meet the train. Nearly everybody had a loved one or a friend on that train, and they brought candy, cakes, pies, cigarettes, and other goodies to shower on their fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, and friends. When the train came into sight there was a great cheer that did not stop until the massive locomotive had ground to a halt and the troops disembarked. Silence and disappointment followed for a moment, for these were not the North Platte boys, but a group of Guardsmen from Kansas. Somebody had gotten their information wrong.

Then the well wishers realized that it did not matter. These brave men were somebody’s fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, and friends, and they deserved to be made as welcome as they hoped their own men were being welcomed somewhere else! The townspeople cheered for the soldiers, pushed food into their hands and made them feel accepted and appreciated; all the while hoping someone somewhere was making their loved ones feel the same way.

From that day on, every soldier, marine, sailor, and airman on every troop train for five long years that stopped in North Platte, day or night, was met with a smile, a welcome, and something to eat. What began as a spontaneous celebration for the hometown boys grew into a highly organized civilian effort to support the troops who had left their former lives behind for the good of the nation.

The North Platte Canteen fell under the guise of the Red Cross, and they set up business in the old Cody Hotel, located across the street from the railroad depot. The hotel allowed the Canteen to use their kitchen facilities for over six months. A local boy, William Jeffers, had risen from station assistant to president of the Union Pacific Railroad, and when Jeffers learned of the efforts of the Canteen, he ordered the North Platte depot lunchroom to be turned over to the Canteen for the duration of the war. Jeffers continued to support the Canteen with financial contributions and donations of equipment until the last troop train rolled through North Platte, bringing the troops home at the end of the war.

The Canteen was organized like a small army, under the direction of Mrs. Anna Bogue, with seven “companies” of lady volunteers who solicited donations of food and supplies, prepared meals, met the trains, and fed and entertained the troops. For a lonely soldier far from home, a hot cup of coffee, a sandwich, and a pretty girl’s smile was enough to remind him of what he was fighting for.

The operation of the canteen was a monumental effort, especially in those war years when most items were rationed and supplies were hard to come by. 23 troop trains came through North Platte every day for five straight years. The Canteen volunteers served over six million servicemen during its five years of operation, daily pouring out over 14,000 gallons of coffee, another 527 gallons of iced drinks, feeding them 109,500 sandwiches, and nearly 50,000 donuts. To add to those staggering figures, 4,000 magazines were distributed, over 35,000 cigarettes, and over 41,500 postcards were handed out, not to mention hundreds of chocolate bars, oranges, apples, mirrors, handkerchiefs, soap bars, and bibles. This went on every day for five years!

Funding came from the American Red Cross, donations, and fundraisers by the local civilian population, and the aforementioned support of William Jeffers and the Union Pacific Railroad. One consistent fundraiser was a nine year old farm boy named Gene Slattery. During the war years, Gene raised thousands of dollars by gathering contributions of blankets and boxes of chocolates, which he sold through local auctions. One day somebody in the crowd at a sale yelled out “What are you going to sell next, Gene, your shirt?” Not one to miss an opportunity, Gene quickly ripped off his shirt and threw it on the auction block. The good natured bidding brought in much more than the shirt was worth, and Gene knew he had found a winner. Over the next four years Gene sold 120 shirts for sums ranging from $48 to $1,700 at auction sales and bond rallies throughout the region. Everybody wanted to get in on the good work, and Hirschfield’s Clothing Store in North Platte and the J.C. Penny store donated many shirts for Gene to auction off.

Those terrible years of conflict are over, but the memory of the contributions to the war effort are honored today at the Lincoln County Historical Museum in North Platte. Along with displays on all themes of local and regional history, the museum has a gallery devoted to the North Platte Canteen. Here visitors can see the faces of the young women who met the trains to offer the troops a sandwich and a smile, as well as the faces of those brave young men on their way to combat.

Exhibits include World War II uniforms, displays of military equipment, tattered battle flags, and items from the North Platte Canteen. Old photographs bring the stories to life and make you wonder what happened to the GIs they show. Did they make it home, or did they give their lives to protect their country and loved ones, including the citizens of North Platte?

Letters the Canteen received from grateful servicemen during the war years, and those that still arrive occasionally, are displayed in the exhibit. Today visitors include elderly veterans of World War II who come back to remember, and to say thank you for a kindness offered so long ago.

The museum complex also includes a re-created frontier town, with several original buildings moved to the grounds from other places in the region. Included is the birthplace and boyhood home of Union Pacific president William Jeffers, a railroad depot, barbershop, general store, school, church, and barn. Browsing through the museum’s displays and buildings is a wonderful opportunity to experience what life was like in earlier times on the prairie, and to learn about the men and women who lived and died here.

The Lincoln County Historical Museum is open May 1 through September. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. After Labor Day hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults. The museum has an open area where RVs can park on the south side of the main building. Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, the home of the famous frontier scout and showman is just around the corner and is also an interesting place to visit. The park features 23 RV sites with 50 amp electric. North Platte also has an RV camping area in the city park, located on the North Platte River. The museum is located a short drive off Interstate 80 at 2403 North Buffalo Bill Avenue in North Plate, For more information about the North Platte Canteen, call 800-955-4528.

A lot of you do your online shopping by clicking this Amazon link or the Amazon Search box at the top right sidebar of this blog. We appreciate that, because when you purchase an item on Amazon any time of the year from one of our links, we earn a small commission, which helps us offset the cost of publishing the blog.

Thought For The Day – Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Florida Birdwatching

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Sep 232017

RVing bird watchers have wonderful opportunities awaiting them in Florida any time of year. But just as snowbirds flock south in their homes on wheels, many bird species from colder climates make Florida their winter home as well. The state’s diversity of habitats, the many migration routes that pass through, great numbers of wetlands, and climates ranging from temperate to tropical make it the perfect place to take to the field with binoculars and Audubon spotter books.

With the third largest number of different bird species in the country, this birder’s paradise offers adventures from the Panhandle to the Everglades to the farthest southern spots in the Keys. Birding gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy Florida’s natural beauty away from the bright lights and neon of its most popular and better known tourist attractions.

One of the most popular birding destinations is the Nature Coast, including the areas around Homosassa Springs and Crystal River. Other popular locations include the vast wildlife habitat of the Everglades, Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and Myakka State Park. But anywhere you go in Florida, a sharp-eyed birder can find adventure.

One favorite bird that is common to Florida is the pelican, and both the brown and white can be found in many areas. Serious birders and casual observers are delighted by their antics as they soar over the state’s waters, raising a wild splash of water when they land.

Snowy and great egrets, ibis, and great blue heron are other popular species that are frequently spotted. While the uninformed may think of bald eagles as a northern or western species, they are commonly spotted in Florida.

Birders on the Nature Coast north of Tampa are thrilled with the success of an experimental program to bring whooping cranes back to the region. In the fall of 2001, seven young cranes left Wisconsin and flew 1900 miles to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Crystal River. The birds were led south by an ultralight aircraft they had been trained to recognize as a parent. In April 2002, the birds returned to Wisconsin on their own, their migration route implanted. The goal of this unique project is to re-establish a migrating flock of whooping cranes in Florida. The state already has a growing year-round crane population. Nearly extinct, under the care of conservationists the whooping crane population is now well over 400. For more information on this important project, log onto the Internet and visit

Many resources are available to help beginning birders. The Audubon Society conducts field trips and educational programs throughout the country. A field guide is a must, and most birders will tell you the Peterson’s Field Guides are the best for neophytes. The company produces two guides, one for the eastern half of the country and another for the western half. They also publish Peterson First Guide: Birds of North America for young birders just entering the hobby. As birders get more experienced, many turn to the National Geographic Field Guide To The Birds Of North America. An excellent online guide to the hobby is Here you will find a wealth of information for both beginning and advanced birders.

Birding is a hobby that fits perfectly into the RV lifestyle, giving you the mobility to seek out new habitats and species that those anchored in one place might never get to see. Of the many places where you can set off in search of new species to add to your Life List, Florida is among the very best. Wherever you go in Florida you will find a great range of RV accommodations, from upscale to basic, and wherever you venture with your binoculars, camera, and spotter’s list, you will find birding adventures.

A lot of you do your online shopping by clicking this Amazon link or the Amazon Search box at the top right sidebar of this blog. We appreciate that, because when you purchase an item on Amazon any time of the year from one of our links, we earn a small commission, which helps us offset the cost of publishing the blog.

Thought For The Day – I feel I am strange to all but the birds of America. – John James Audubon