Let me start by saying I had never been camping in my whole life. Bill had gone with an uncle a few times as a kid. That’s it.
One day, probably early June, in the summer of 1993, Bill comes home and says a friend of his brother is selling a travel trailer for a really good price and he wants to buy it. To be honest, at this point I wasn’t even fully sure of what a travel trailer was. He had been talking with a friend from work recently about how they belonged to a camping club and they went all the time and how much fun it was, etc. etc. etc. He said he wanted to take the kids, thought it would be good for us to get away as a family on weekends. I wasn’t so sure, as I had no experience with it at all, but he was so excited about the idea, so I said I was willing to go look at it. So, we go. It was a 1986 22′ Citation. Had a back bedroom with a double bed (up against the wall – which was wood paneling (btw – all over the entire inside of the trailer!), a bathroom (complete with residential toilet) and a fold-down dinette table. It was in really good condition as this guy had it in his back yard and his mother lived in it! She was elderly and didn’t want to go into a nursing home, nor did she want to live in the house with her son and daughter-in-law. This is what they came up with, parking a travel trailer in the back yard. Looking back, I’m not even sure it was legal, but I guess that isn’t my business.
So, he was selling it for $1,000, which really was a good price. Bill was “Mr Smiles” and wanted it really bad! We decide to get it. But wait! We have nothing to tow it with! So, the search for something to tow it begins! We looked at so many vans! We really couldn’t get a truck, as we had 2 very young kids and a dog. We looked and looked and looked – at probably a dozen or more over a 2 week time period, none were exactly what we wanted/needed. So, finally we go to a Dodge dealer and after much negotiating (including walking out once when they refused to come down enough) we brought home our brand new Dodge Ram Conversion van! Complete with a TV and VHS! The kids LOVED it! We traded in my Toyota Corolla towards it – what a switch! I loved that little car! The van was HUGE compared to it and had room for everything we needed/wanted to bring!
Bill installed the hitch and added an electronic brake controller and transmission cooler. We were ready to go!
I’d be lying if I told you I remember 100% where we went that first weekend out, but I believe it was Holly Acres in Egg Harbor, NJ. We arrived as it was getting dark and the guys from the camping club came over to help him get backed in to the spot. It took a few tries, but he finally got it in! To say the kids were excited would be a HUGE understatement! The campground had a pool, mini-golf, and best of all, blueberry bushes! Bill and the kids went and picked some and we put them into pancakes – YUM! The kids rode their bikes (Billy still had a big wheel – remember big wheels?) around the one loop over and over. At that time, we lived on a very busy street, so they really couldn’t ride freely like that at home, we mostly took their bikes to a park or Grama’s or somewhere.
After that, we were hooked! The club, which was called the Lamp Lighters, went out once per month through the summer and into the fall. Each month, a different member picked where to go and made the arrangements. We didn’t pick a place that first year, but the following year, we picked Holly Acres. The sites were very big with lots of trees in between them, at least the area they always gave us.
We also would go out by ourselves, usually to Holly Acres. That became our favorite one to go to. It wasn’t too far from home and the kids just loved it there! Here is a pic (one of the few pre-digital ones I have scanned into the computer) of the kids getting ready to Trick or Treat in 1994. They were so excited b/c they got to go out that day and then again on actual Halloween.
Here’s one of Michelle and Billy with Goddaughter, Quynn on a trip to Wildwood
We belonged to that group until we moved to KY in April 1996. We had a lot of fun with them, even though we were the youngest by far. Bill’s work friend, Phil, was probably 10 years older than us and the others were older than that. We were the only ones with kids that young, but the older couples sometimes brought their grandkids along, and when they didn’t they spoiled ours instead!
After Bill got a bit more comfortable towing, we did venture out of NJ with the trailer. We took it to MO to see a childhood friend of mine that had moved out there. What an adventure! We took Rt. 81 south into VA and took the exit for Skyline Drive. WOW! I mean, it was beautiful, but the hills! The poor van sure got a work-out that trip! Sometimes we actually couldn’t go up hill faster than 35 mph! We stayed at a campground in VA, (might have been a KOA) somewhere south of Skyline Dr, that the kids will still sometimes talk about. They remember it because there were bunnies all over the place – lots and lots of bunnies! I had brought carrots for us for dinner, but needless to say, we didn’t eat a single carrot! When we got to MO, we parked the trailer in my friends back yard! Didn’t know there was a word for it, but we know that now to be mooch-docking!
The following summer, we took a trip into New England. We stopped in Plymouth, MA and took the kids to Plymouth Village, which I had visited with my family when I was a kid. People dress up like Pilgrims and act as if they live in that era. If you ask them a question about current times, they act like they’ve never heard of it. Billy about wore out one young men with all his questions! How do you do that? Why do you do it that way? Why don’t you do it THIS way? On and on! We watched a demonstration on how they carved canoes out of trees, you should have seen both kids eyes watching that!
We visited caves, I think in NH. Bill took the kids through and almost got stuck! I had stayed up top (I do not like small spaces!) and fell on the deck, as it was wet due to recent rain. OUCH! We went to Acadia National Park in ME, where we found star fish in the surf! We even took that van up to the top of Mt Washington! I had worn a skirt that day – BIG mistake! Bill wanted to take a pic of the kids and I in front of the Mt. Washington sign, it was all I could do to hold onto the kids and keep my skirt from blowing up into our faces! More great memories made!
After we moved to KY, we didn’t get out as much. Most of our vacations were spent taking the van to NJ to visit family. We did manage a few trips though.
Niece Angela and our friends the Degnans went with us to OH, where we went to Sea World, before it closed down. What a crazy trip that was! The Degnans had rented an on-site RV at the campground and it rained during the night – right onto all of them! It was terrible! We visited Land Between the Lakes, KY, where the kids got an education on how buffalo make baby buffalo. We went to Panama City Beach, FL and took the kids out on a wave runner for the first time! We stopped out on a sand dune and the guide picked up a conch shell – Michelle touched it and her reaction when it moved was priceless! Visited Gatlinburg, TN and rode the Alpine Slide for hours! Great times, every one of them!
When we moved to where we are now in PA, the kids were getting into their pre-teen and teen years. It just isn’t “cool” to go camping with the parents anymore. We only went out a few times locally before retiring the aging Citation. Bill sold it to a lady he worked with, she wanted to park it on a seasonal site and bring her grandkids to it on weekends. We were sad to see it go, but also glad that a new family would enjoy it as much as we had over the years. A couple of years later we sold the van to a young family for them to use while camping, I think they had a pop-up.
My son was a Boy Scout, so he and Bill camped a lot with scouts. On the ground in tents kind of camping. Michelle and I went once with them on a trip to Mt. Katahdin, ME. It was a good trip, we went white water rafting and kayaking, but I was not a fan of sleeping on the ground (even though we had a blow-up mattress). Both my “men” as I would call them loved going with scouts and they went everywhere, from Outer Banks, NC all the way to FL and up into Canada. Bill would occasionally ask if I’d like to go also, but that just wasn’t my “cup of tea” so to speak.
This is when the seeds of the dream were planted, when we bought and went out with our first RV, a 22′ travel trailer that we pulled with our Dodge Ram conversion van. We have many happy memories from those trips. We used to talk about what it would be like to own a campground and live on-site. Guess we just couldn’t imagine, back then, living in the RV and traveling around, instead of staying in just one place. That would come later.
This is the only pic I could find of the travel trailer. I’m sure I must have more, but my albums are packed. This was taken in our backyard here in PA, our first winter here.