Westward Ho

We had a few goals for the first few months of our new travels. We needed to get the 15,000 mile service done to the motorhome chassis and we needed to get to Arizona by the end of October. Between St. Marys, Georgia and Sierra Vista, Arizona we have a number of friends we really wanted to visit, so the route was to be determined by those folks’ addresses.

Since our early forays into the full timing lifestyle we have acquired a new piece of technology in the form of a GPS navigation device. As we travel you will learn more about this “wonderful” tool. Connie loves it so much she has renewed her AAA membership so she can continue to get maps free. We have named our GPS Violet. The computer generated voice is female and she resides in a device with a name that just happens to rhyme with violet. We have road tested Violet for several months and we have a pretty good idea of her strengths and weaknesses. It is those weaknesses that prompted Connie to renew her AAA membership. The good news is that she has been the reason for a lot of laughter in our family. She has also been the butt of many a joke.

Anyway, back to the adventure. I wanted very much to have the first major maintenance to the motorhome chassis to be done by the pros. Therefore, I wanted to go to the home of the Freightliner Custom Chassis, Gaffney, South Carolina. Besides, we would be able to do the tour of the plant. For a guy like me that is just about as good as it gets. With my experience in various shipyards and maintenance facilities I have a pretty good eye for what lies beyond the tour. I hoped to learn a little more about Freightliner than you get from the company literature.

Before I get too much further I have to correct a few errors in my last post. First, for all the teachers, English majors, and journalism majors out there please accept my sincere apology for the rather consistent incorrect use of the word “there” in my last post when I really meant “their”. I also referred to the “damned end of the lake” when I really meant the “dammed end of the lake”. I have no real excuse for these errors. I know the difference, but when I get on a roll I can type a lot faster than I can process what my fingers are doing. If the spell checker thinks the word is spelled correctly I don’t get a warning that I have erred. Like most writers, I hate to proof my own work. When I do proof it I am looking at it more from a perspective of content and flow, not necessarily from a spelling perspective. Connie is my normal editor, but I sometimes get in too much of a hurry and do not give her the opportunity to save me from myself. So, I apologize for those painful looking errors and promise to try to do better in the future. The second correction deals with a fact I wrote that was in fact nonfactual. I said that George L. Smith State Park was named for a former state Supreme Court member from the state of Georgia. George L. Smith was in fact the Speaker of the House of Representatives for the Georgia State Legislature.

Gaffney was a good bit out of our way as it is situated very much in the north of South Carolina. We traveled just shy of 320 miles north from our initial stop in the Twin City, GA, area. We made the trip over two days as I am committed to driving fewer than 250 miles per day. When we arrived at the Freightliner Service Center we were welcomed by Jennifer who told us to find a space in the back and make ourselves at home. We were surprised to find no fewer than twenty electrical hook-ups out back and several other coaches already in place. As we would learn, some of those coaches were the current day’s work returned by the technicians to the parking area, some were there as we were for the next day and others were there for service in the future. So, we settled in and then went to the outlet mall that was just one exit back down the road. I am almost ashamed to admit that we made only two small purchases at the mall, a performance that is way below our norm.

When we checked in we failed to inquire about the factory tours. The next morning when we stopped in to leave our keys we asked about the tour and learned that we had missed that day’s tour already. That sort of bummed me out, because I could have gotten the service done at one of many Freightliner Service Centers, but only in Gaffney could we get the tour. Missing the tour made that 320 mile drive, several miles of which would be repeated, seem a huge waste. We wound up spending part of the morning at Starbucks, returning to the motorhome in plenty of time to prepare it for the technicians. Once they took it into the shop we went to the waiting area where I worked on the computer and Connie read a book. It took them long enough to finish the maintenance to cause us to make the decision to spend a second night in the back lot. That decision allowed us to salvage the trip by getting to factory the following morning for the tour.

I have always held Freightliner in high regard. They seem to get it right most all of the time. Even though we have had some issues with our motorhome, Freightliner has taken very good care of us. Spending a couple of hours in the factory watching as similar and identical chassis to ours were assembled, my respect for the company grew. By tour’s end I was made to realize that the issues we had had with our chassis were not a result of inferior craftsmanship by the chassis manufacturer, but in fact were a result of the work done by the coach manufacturer once the chassis arrived in their plant. Yet, Freightliner stood steadfast behind their product and made us whole at their expense. I was impressed with the cleanliness of the plant as well as the organization of the assembly lines. I am now looking forward to our next Freightliner chassis now that I know what improvements they have incorporated. Connie really enjoyed the tour as well. She learned a lot about the manufacturing process, but probably more important to her was the fact that our tour guide talked to her as much if not more than he talked to me. He made sure that all our questions were answered. It probably helped that we were the only ones on the tour that day, but none the less he was attentive to our concerns and treated us equally.

We left Gaffney late in the morning and headed for Bishop, Georgia. We made the return trip into Georgia satisfied that we had made the correct decision to have the maintenance done in Gaffney. By the way, the chassis was fine. No new issues found except some out-of-adjustment ride heights. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it. It is only important if you have an air suspension system.

What can I say about Bishop? Bishop, Georgia is one of those small towns that you have to be careful not to miss as you are driving by. We spent the night at a quiet RV park outside of town and just laid low for the evening. We had a date in Auburn coming up, so we were more interested in putting miles behind us than seeing the sights. The next day took us to Robins Air Force Base. Robins has a really nice little Family Camp (FAMCAMP). Unlike Kings Bay, there is plenty of shade. However, the sites are a little close together and getting a rig the size of ours into and out of the sites is a bit more of a challenge than at Kings Bay. The laundry facilities at Robins do not compare to Kings Bay and you pay a lot for the service. The shade brings with it poor to no satellite reception. We only paid $12, so who can complain? One of the campers we met at Kings Bay was at Robins the same time we were there. We parked fairly close to him, but we were not able to make contact with him. We had intended to have a glass of wine with the host and our acquaintance after dinner. Just as we were cleaning up the dishes the skies opened up and it rained steady for a couple of hours. Since the area had been suffering under a drought for several months, we were the only ones sorry to see it rain. However, the rain washed out our plan to sit out with our wine while swapping stories with other campers.

On September 14, we drove all of 158 miles to get to Lake Martin, Alabama. Lake Martin is a good sized lake north of Auburn. We had picked Lake Martin so we could drop in on some of our birding friends who live in Auburn. Frank and Shelly are both in education. Frank is a professor at a small college in Georgia. Shelly is using her PHD in Pharmacy to head a program at Auburn University that is using her department to provide a whole person approach to medicine as well as running the campus pharmacy. I have done a completely inadequate job of describing Shelly’s program. What they are doing is leading edge sort of stuff. I wish I better understood it all. As well as being professional educators, this incredible couple has a house full of cats. Over the years they have taken in scores, well maybe not scores, but many cats needing a safe home. Most of their cats were on death row when they rescued them. They now live among their buddies and their big guardians and get top notch care at the same time. Recently they have taken on a couple of kittens that are “show quality”. So, with everything else they do, they have been spending their weekends taking the older kitten to various cat shows as far away as the District of Columbia. They are having a great time and the kitten seems to love it too. The second kitten will be on the road soon. He was a bit too young when we met him.

Frank is also a very good cook. We had dinner at their home that first night we were in the area. We had made a date for them to come out to the lake the next evening and see our home and sample some of my cooking. Connie and I had planned the meal and bought what we needed to make it. When we arrived at Frank and Shelly’s, Frank was quick to show me what he was preparing for dinner. Boy was I surprised to see that he was preparing the same dinner we had planned for the next night. We did not let on that we were wearing the same gown to the ball and instead just enjoyed the evening and a wonderful dinner. The next morning we were back in Auburn to go shopping for an alternative dinner. By day’s end we served a completely different dinner and, until they read this, Frank and Shelly were never the wiser. Based on the early reviews, my rib-eye steaks and vegetable medley all cooked on the grill were a success. The visit with Frank and Shelly was a lot of fun. This was the second time we had visited them at their home as we had been there last November when we had been in Alabama for our friend, Bill’s, retirement ceremony. It was great to reconnect and get know this wonderful couple a little better.

Following Lake Martin we had another grueling drive of 126 miles to Oneonta, Alabama to visit Bill and Cheri. Yes, the same Bill who retired in November. Bill and I were in the same company in Navy Boot Camp some 36 plus years ago. We had lost one another for several years and reconnected late in our careers while we were both stationed in Kings Bay, Georgia. When we visited Bill and Cheri for the retirement there were way too many people around to allow anyone any real quality time with the couple. So, this trip was pretty special for all of us. Unfortunately, they were scheduled to leave for a trip to Wisconsin only three days after we got there. So, we had to catch up over a three day two night period. Bill now works for his son who is a general contractor building some really nice homes in the area. Bill seems to be enjoying the career change. Of course he complains about having to work five days a week. I reminded him that were we to have gotten paid for all the nights, weekends and holidays we worked while on active duty we would be embarrassingly wealthy. With that in his mind, the five days a week didn’t seem so bad. He still intends to get his son to let him work a four day week come winter.

We stayed at Bill and Cheri’s house as there were no campgrounds within a reasonable commute. We are really glad we made that decision. We were able to stay up late playing dominoes and telling lies. There home is to die for. However, we are over having such a large home. Way to much work involved in maintaining that place.

Since Bill and Cheri’s we have been on a very slow movement to Dallas, Texas. Get this; we had twelve days to get to Dallas from Oneonta. If you have been following our travels on a map, you can see that we did not need twelve days to get to Dallas from eastern Alabama. By now we are traveling along US 82. Our first stop was Starkville, Mississippi. We traveled 182 miles that first day and spent two nights in Starkville. For the uninformed, Starkville is the home of Mississippi State University. We stayed at the John W. Starr Wildlife Management Area RV Park. The RV directory notes that the RV park is owned and operated by the university. We really wondered what we would find when we got there. As it turned out, the RV park is not on campus and, in fact, is about five miles out of town. It sits on the edge of the wildlife management area. Unfortunately, it is also adjacent to a major and very active logging area. We were entertained and dusted by a near continuous string of log trucks going in both directions on a very dusty gravel road. Although there are no real amenities at the park, it was a cute place. We spent two nights there and then moved on.

We then stopped just across the Mississippi River in Lake Village, Arkansas. We stayed in a great RV park built among a grove of pecan trees. It was aptly named Pecan Grove RV Park. We would spend three nights at this location and we did a fair amount of exploring. We kept going back and forth across the river. With each crossing we noted more detail in the area immediately adjacent to the shore line. We found a local park situated on the bank of the river where we were able to gain access to the water. We watched a number of barges passing up and down the river and as we wandered through the park we found a moorage of these grand river barges in a backwater to the east of the main river. We decided we need to put a real Mississippi working port on our list of places to visit. With this brief glance at the Mississippi River as a thoroughfare for commerce of all sorts we felt teased and now want to learn more about the modern usage of the River. We were even able to do a little gambling while on the Mississippi side of the river. I came out a bit ahead while Connie paid our dues to the gambling gods. We had fun and that is what counts.

We are now at the Red River Army Depot west of Texarkana, Texas/Arkansas. I spent most of my Navy career in medium to high security areas. I was used to wearing facility or base specific identification badges. However, I don’t ever remember being stationed on a base where the “casual” visitor who is otherwise authorized to be on station has to be badged at all times. One of the things I remember aggravating me while on active duty was meddling retired officers who were quick to point out that we were not doing things the way they would when they were in charge. With that thought in mind, I only asked where my badge allows me to go rather than to express my opinion on how absurd it is to have to wear a badge to go to and from the campground. Anyway, the campground is really pretty nice. It is built on Elliott Lake and situated about ten miles from the main gate. With the exception of the trains that go by at some distance from time to time, this is a really quiet place. The park is not very busy so there is very little noise from fellow campers. Once again there is plenty of shade meaning no satellite. This is a bit of a nuisance this week as this is the season premier week. The TV over the aerial is so-so. We will be here four nights and then go on to Dallas. This is sort of rest stop for us. Although we will explore the area some, we intend to spruce things up for our visit in Dallas and later in Houston. Today we did some exploring into Texarkana and found the important places, car wash, Starbucks and super market. I was able to clean the front of the motorhome and assess how much more work I will have to do before we leave. Tomorrow is laundry day and maybe a run day if I can figure out what to do with the damn badge and the water soluble paper that must accompany it.

That pretty well catches you up to date with our travels to date. I realize it has not been too exciting for the reader. However, bear with me as we are just now getting to the part of the country we intend to start our exploration. We have also had to relearn how to be explorers. We seem to have lost our way with all the yard work we did in Kings Bay. With each day I feel our focus is shifting toward the adventure of the travel and away from the travel and the day to day demands of life. So, standby for better posts.



3 thoughts on “Westward Ho”

  1. When you get to Houston, go west on Hwy 290 to Brenham. That’s my hometown and home to BlueBell Ice Cream. If you like tours, be sure to take their factory tour and have the ice cream at the end. I’m enjoying your trip – and living through it vicariously!

    Glenn and Betsy Snyder were here this past weekend for his 25th reunion. He’s sporting a goatee and moustache and enjoying his new job!

  2. Never worry about your spelling…everybody knows what you mean and those mistakes are so easy to make when typing instead of writing. We all make them. I envy your lifestyle…it is ideal!!

  3. Loved your story about Violet. We, too have named our GPS. We call her Lilting Lily due to her soft, yet annoying, voice. She can be quite stubborn and persistent to her way of doing things. However,she has given in to us on several occasions.

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