RV Travels: 13 Ways You Know You’re in a Small Texas Town

I have spent almost ten years of my life living in Texas: a four-year stint in college, and nearly six years in my 40’s, due to a military move. My parents, my brother, and his family have lived there for more than two decades, so we’ve visited a lot too.

Plus, although we spend most of the year traveling, San Antonio is still our home base, and our younger son is a second-year physics and math major right up the highway at UT-Austin.

That’s my way of telling you that when it comes to small towns in Texas, I’ve got some familiarity. And after a truck breakdown left us stranded in one of them for two weeks earlier this year, I became an expert on observing the endearing quirks that make these places special.

1. The local tow truck driver doubles back after spotting you on the side of the highway with your hazard lights blinking, figuring you’re going to be his next call anyway. And he is correct.

If you’re gonna travel in an RV, get the best roadside assistance plan you can afford.
You will not regret it.

2. The RV park your 5th wheel is towed to is so new that nobody at the service shop knows the name of it, but they know exactly where it is and that it’s open for business.

The Wagon Yard RV park was nothing fancy, but wow, were we ever glad to have it!

3. You are very thankful that the RV park is new and unheard of because that means it has space available during spring break week in Texas. Every public grade school and university in the state gets the same week off for spring break, which makes last-minute lodging arrangements nearly impossible to obtain.

4. You become celebrities in the grocery store because you got there on bicycles instead of in a pickup truck. The clerk, upon hearing that our truck was in the shop, felt so sorry for us that she even helped load the groceries into our backpacks.

Of course we were all ready to go when we discovered the tires were flat.
Why wouldn’t they be?

5. All heads turn when someone walks through the door of the dinette.

6. And when that someone is a big ol’ farmer wearing denim overalls and work boots, the waitress greets him with a smile and a 2-syllable “Hey,” to which the farmer replies simply, “Sweet tea.” And the waitress sets it on the table by the time his fanny hits the chair.

7. Every store on Main Street, whether it’s open for business or appears to have been vacant for 20 years, bears a sign supporting the local high school team, with the obligatory incorrect apostrophe. “Go Zebra’s!”

8. Other than the dinette mentioned above, socializing occurs in one of two places: under the Friday night lights or in the Sunday morning pews.

9. You’re never allowed to forget which state you’re in here. Never. Not even in the bathroom.

Jesus ‘n’ Texas, y’all.

10. Your camera roll boasts photos of a BBQ plate, wildflowers, a road runner, and a spray-painted sign for a tractor pull — all from the same day.

11. And the tractor pull causes a significant uptick in traffic.

12. Being located right between two airports means nothing, as the options lack anything resembling a terminal or even planes. They are grass strips suitable for landing crop dusters, and there are cows grazing on them.

Someone out there in the country has a good sense of humor.
(source: Apple Maps)

13. Related: more of your neighbors have four legs than two.

The RV park where we stayed for that little “detour” was in fact 8 miles from one small town we visited (Grandview), and 10 miles from the other (Cleburne).

Of all the places for the truck to break down? That was the middle-of-nowheriest.


Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission

What Rhymes with “Recreational Vehicle”?

 A dubiously poetic tribute to the RV, in honor of National Poetry Month, and with sincere apologies to the late Joyce Kilmer, author of the oft quoted poem, “Trees”

I think that I shall never see

A travel companion lovely as an RV.

An RV whose propane tanks run out

Between midnight and four, without a doubt;

An RV that serves as our home all day,

Yet rolls where needed for work or play;

An RV that may, after a driving goof,

Require new tires, or worse, a new roof;

Under whose awning guests have gathered,

Eating, laughing, all that mattered.

RVs are owned by fools like us,

But in the balance of life, they earn a plus.

Our RV, under a tree, in California
(summer 2016)

 

(Author’s note:  A version of this post was approved to appear — for reasons I cannot fathom — at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

If the tiara fits…

Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale.  ~Hans Christian Andersen

Once upon a time in a land called Suburbia, there lived Queen Emily and King Timothy, a couple of 40-something royals who had grown tired of living in their oversized brick castle.

The royal couple, circa 1996

Their sons, Prince Alden and Prince Dane, had already departed to seek fortune in foreign lands, leaving behind empty bed chambers and a dust-filled game room. The long table in the dining hall, once the scene of ample family feasts, had become a surface used solely for folding linens.

One day, upon recalling a fun-filled family excursion many years past, Queen Emily proposed selling the castle and moving into a modern-day coach-and-four instead — the kind a couple could live in comfortably while making epic journeys throughout the kingdom.

The royal couple in 2006

Not wanting to disappoint his queen (who is wont to become royally feisty when not obeyed), King Timothy quickly procured both chariot and horse team, in the form of a 2008 Heartland Bighorn 5th wheel, and a 2012 Chevy Silverado 3500.

But woe befell the king and queen, as they soon realized that an evil witch must have cast a spell on their 6-year-old coach, turning it into a toad. Among other issues, the royal front welding failed, the royal landing gear met an untimely fate, one of the royal tires came undone during travel, and the royal commode developed leaks.

“Forsooth!” spat King Timothy, upon each occurrence. “What fresh Hell is this?”

(image created at myplates.com)

Valiantly ignoring his desire to park the chariot conveniently in front of a fire breathing dragon, the king instead turned to this Forum of Benevolent Wizards, whose sage advice and helpful spells enabled him to wave multiple magic wands (and swipe multiple magic credit cards) to remove the toad’s warts.

Queen Emily was most pleased.

King Timothy got to keep his head attached to his shoulders, so he too was most pleased.

They continue to travel throughout the kingdom, living their Happily Ever After.

The royal couple in 2016
(Photo credit: Lisa Brown, Always on Liberty)

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

Twelve Tuneful Ways We Conserve Water & Power While Boondocking

~ A song-inspired list ~

No matter what you’ve got by way of power sources or water tank capacity in your RV, here are a dozen ways to extend the life of both while dry camping (boondocking). Don’t miss the item at the end that brings us up to a baker’s dozen!

All set up in the desert.
No power? No water? No problem!

Our own big test came in January of 2017, when we spent a personal record 12 days without electrical, water, or sewer hookups, on BLM land just outside Quartzsite, AZ with an RV social group called the Xscapers.

Since singing a cheerful tune makes any situation better, at least according to Disney cartoons, I did a lot of singing while I learned to waste not, want not in the desert.

Sing along with me!

In the Navy

You might not be near a Y-M-C-A, so learn to take Navy showers! As a retired naval officer, Tim is an expert. Get wet, turn off the water, lather yourself up, then turn the water back on for a quick rinse. If you don’t have a shower head with toggle switch, get one. It helps keep the water temperature right where you want it for that rinse.

Makes for a right handy microphone, now don’t it?

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden

If you’ve got an onboard washer-dryer, wear clothes maybe a few more times than usual so that you can go a week or longer without running either one. If you just have to do a quick load of underthings and socks, take advantage of a warm breezy day to hang them outside to dry. Amuse your neighbors!

 

You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman

Ladies, go au naturel when it comes to your face. Skipping the makeup saves at least one hand-washing and one face-washing each day, and it’s liberating. Give it a try!

 

It’s Only A Paper Moon

We compromised on paper plate waste by using them for only one meal a day. And speaking of paper, you’re going to want an extra roll or two of paper towels, for wiping off regular dishes before washing. See next song.

 

Splish Splash

Give your dishes a bath — the non-paper ones, of course. We washed dishes only once each day, and used a dish pan to help conserve water. On Night 1: put a small amount of hot soapy water in the sink for washing, and an equal amount of hot clean water in a dishpan for rinsing. Save that rinse water in the dish pan, to use the next night as wash water. Continue pattern.

We All Live In a Yellow Submarine

You know the saying, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow?” Do that. It saves space in your black tank. And on a related note (pun intended)…

 

Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

Pretend you’re in Mexico, and throw away your toilet paper instead of flushing it. It’s not as bad as you’d think! Just carry out your bathroom trash daily, or invest in a can with lid to reduce odors. We believe that when dry camping, it’s far easier to deal with a few extra bags of trash than it is to manage a black tank dump.

Dim All the Lights

If you’ve got toggle switches on your ceiling lights like we do in our 2008 Bighorn, set them all to the half-way mark, so that when you turn them on at the wall, you use only one side or the other. Yes, this means half the brightness, but if you’ve switched to LED bulbs (another way to conserve power) it won’t make a tremendous difference.

Baby It’s Cold Outside

With regard to heating and air conditioning, go back to your “starving young adult in a crappy apartment” days. Run your HV/AC only when absolutely necessary, and keep them set a couple degrees cooler or warmer than usual.

 

You’re the Cream in My Coffee

Unplug your electric coffee maker, and use a pour-over method instead. We love our 10-cup thermal carafe, but smaller versions are available, including individual mug sizes. You can make your morning java using no power at all if you use a gas cooktop or camp stove to boil the water, and minimal power if you use an electric range. Bonus: because we use paper filters, clean-up is easier — and uses less water — than with a French press or percolator.

Red Red Wine

Conserve water by drinking wine. Conserve gray tank space by covering and saving unfinished wine for the next night (I know I’m a lightweight). Hey. Every little bit counts, and I am a team player!

We’re All In This Together

Be prepared to meet other RV’ers who are far more rabid about conservation than you are. It’s not a competition. Share tips and learn from each other — maybe over a few glasses of that wine you’re drinking to conserve water.

 

And now: The Complete Playlist

My fine editorial team at Heartland put together this YouTube playlist of all 12 songs, in order. Everybody grab a shower head, hair brush, or spatula — and sing!

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

From Hell on Wheels to competence — but still kind of working on that whole backing up thing

Driving an RV is not for the faint-hearted. Driving next to someone who is driving an RV really isn’t either.

Just over two years ago, I survived my very first turn in the driver’s seat — and to my great relief, so did everybody with me, including my husband, our younger son, and our dog.

I’m doing it! I’m doing it!
And OMG get out of my waaaaaaayyyyy!

Severe white-knuckling and breath-holding were involved, but nobody lost their life, lunch, or side-view mirror. Not even that one guy who probably had to change his pants after I merged in front of his teensy little car at a regrettably close distance.

He may have required several sessions with a therapist.

If that guy is reading this: I extend my sincerest apologies to you, sir. I had never towed so much as a utility trailer before, and was made doubly nervous by a heavy traffic back-up we’d unexpectedly encountered at that complicated highway interchange in Dallas. I’m so thankful I didn’t actually hit you! Bet you are too.

I had been hesitant and fearful of taking the wheel of even just our truck, a 2012 Chevy Silverado 3500 we call the BFT (B is for Big, T is for truck, and you know the F), as it was the largest vehicle, and only second truck, I’d ever had reason to drive. It had six tires for cryin’ out loud! The first time I finally drove it solo was more than a month after we’d bought it, but I’d already done some practicing with my very patient husband in the passenger seat.

I knew I could do it, but I really didn’t want to do it, and then we sold our other two vehicles, so I absolutely had to do it. The good news? All went well on that first solo journey, but we got a lot of laughs out of the fact that my destination that day just happened to be… a hospital.

When it came to the idea of driving the truck with The Toad, our 38-foot 5th wheel, attached to it, I was even more apprehensive. That’s ten tires, nearly 13 tons, and about 55 feet of potential mayhem.

But Tim and I were in this for a long-term, full-time adventure, and I knew it was unfair of me to rely on him to do all the driving for us. Plus, I’d been a military wife for more than 20 years, and knew a thing or two about the importance of putting fears aside to learn how to do “scary” things for myself. So…

  • Tim, who had towing experience, explained to me verbally how to pull the fifth wheel.
  • I read instructions and tips on how to do it.
  • I practiced, but only briefly, from the safety of a camping loop in a state park.
  • I even dug out some of our sons’ old toy trucks, taped an intersection on the guest room floor, and pushed those things around corners over and over again, so that I could understand from a bird’s eye view how a trailer takes a turn.

Good ol’ Legos and Hot Wheels provided valuable visual learning.

And all those things came together in November 2014, on our return to Texas from a camping trip in Oklahoma. I climbed into the driver’s seat, adjusted the mirrors, and took a 2-hour shift behind the wheel, ending just south of Dallas.

I definitely learned my lesson during that drive: I should have practiced maneuvering our tow vehicle/RV combo a lot more, in uncrowded areas, before I hit the road for real.

But hey. When I was done? I pulled smoothly off I-35, and parked us right. next. to a starship.

Ta-daaaaaaa!

Starship Pegasus was once a restaurant in Italy, TX, just south of Dallas. Based on this report at Roadside America, it was open from 2004-2006. Obviously, you can still park there!

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)