By Mark Polk
Twenty-eight years ago, I towed my first travel trailer. Of course at the time, like most teenagers, I thought I knew everything. I tent camped for years and had experienced camping in travel trailers and motor homes with a friend of mine and his family, but this was my first RV adventure out on my own. I had recently graduated from high school and was working for an RV dealership in Pennsylvania. I started out washing campers and soon was promoted to an apprentice technician. I was always mechanically inclined and had an interest in how things worked. From the time I was thirteen and took our lawn mower apart, that there was nothing wrong with, to age sixteen, when I rebuilt my first VW engine.
Deer hunting season was quickly approaching, which in North Central Pennsylvania is similar to a national holiday. I asked my boss if I could borrow a travel trailer to use for a hunting trip. To my shock and surprise he said yes. I donít remember all of the details about the travel trailer, but I do know it was a Shasta because it had the classic wings on the back. I would guess that it was a mid to late 1960ís model and it was about 20í long. The only conditions for borrowing the trailer were to bring it back in one piece and not to use the water system because it was winterized and the temperatures were in the low teens. Hunting season started the Monday following Thanksgiving and I invited my best friend to go with me. We were going to head up into the foothills on Saturday to get set up.
I owned a 1970 Chevy Blazer. It was a full size K5 model and it had a six-cylinder engine. Now, you would think that working for an RV dealership I would have access to and use the proper hitch work and brake control to tow the trailer. I do remember wiring a plug for the trailer lights, but figured since I wouldnít be towing the trailer on a regular basis I could forgo the brakes and just drop the trailer on the ball and go. Now you have to remember, I knew everything back then. There were no pre-trip checks or inspections. We picked up the bare essentials, a pot and pan, some groceries, our sleeping bags and hunting equipment and off we went.
It was about a sixty-mile trip to our favorite hunting destination. The first forty miles were on two-lane paved roads and the last twenty miles a winding, snow covered dirt road barely wide enough for one vehicle. If you encountered traffic going the opposite direction somebody had to back up until there was a spot where both vehicles could pass. I can remember the Blazer didnít seem to steer as well as normal and if I would have had to stop quickly I would have hit whatever was making me stop so quickly. I took a deep sigh of relief after the white-knuckle experience of getting to our destination and thanked my lucky stars that the trailer was still in one piece, but little did I know that was just the beginning of my first real RV adventure.
We set the trailer up, which really wasnít anything more than leveling it from front to rear with the tongue jack and turning the LP gas supply on, and then we settled in for the first night. We figured since it was cold out we didnít need to use the refrigerator, so we left our groceries in the Blazer. The furnace was the old style that you had to light manually. Soon after I got it to light it warmed the entire trailer up. For dinner we heated up some pork and beans on the range top and ate them out of the pan because we forgot to bring plates. Afterwards we played some cards and then turned in for a good nights sleep. The next morning I went to the Blazer to get some bacon and eggs for breakfast. The eggs were frozen solid. We fried some bacon and later that morning we used the frozen eggs as targets to sight our hunting rifles in. We washed the pans in the stream since we didnít have any water and the rest of the day was spent in the cozy warm trailer. After another dinner of pork and beans I put all of the cans and other garbage in a plastic bag and set it outside the door. The next morning was opening day. It was difficult to relax and go to bed that night, but knowing we would be getting up early we forced ourselves to go to bed.
The first major event of the night was waking up at 1 AM because it was five degrees inside the trailer. The trailer only had one 20-pound LP gas bottle and with the furnace running non-stop since we arrived the day before, it was empty. Fortunately, I did have enough insight to bring a spare 20-pound bottle. I told my friend that since I got the trailer for us he would have to get out of his sleeping bag, change the bottle and light the furnace. After some reluctance and a few choice words he stumbled outside and changed the bottle. Soon it was warm again and we were both back to sleep.
Somewhere around 3 AM the trailer began to shake, I mean literally shake back and forth. I turned a small overhead light on and looked over at my friend to see if he was awake. Not having any clue what was happening we both stared, wide-eyed, at each other. I pulled the curtain away from the window and peered outside. It took a minute to focus my eyes in the dark, but I soon realized there were two bears outside. A small black bear cub and its not so small mother pushing against the side of the trailer. Not really sure what to do we both got our hunting rifles, loaded them and stood back, ready for when the bear would come through the door or break a window. We waited for what seemed like forever at the time, but it was probably a minute or two before the shaking stopped. We glanced out the window again and there were no signs of the bears anywhere. Needless to say we didnít get anymore sleep before it was time to head out to our favorite hunting spots early that morning. When we walked out of the trailer we soon realized why the black bears stopped to visit us that night. There were pork and bean cans and other garbage scattered everywhere.
Another reason this memory remains clear in my mind is because at 8:10 AM on opening day I shot my first 8-point whitetail buck on a ridge about 80 yards from where I was sitting. My friend heard the shot and came over to check it out. After field dressing the deer it took us about two hours to drag it down the long ravine, back to the trailer. Knowing that we had plenty of LP gas for one more night we fired up the furnace and ate some more pork and beans. After making sure there was no garbage outside we settled in to the warm, cozy trailer and played cards while I recounted the events of the great whitetail hunt over and over again.
We did manage to get the trailer back home safely and other than some remnants of a hungry black bears paw prints on the side of the trailer it was still in one piece. That nearly disastrous weekend hunting trip, in freezing cold weather, spent in the small Shasta travel trailer, is when I got bit by the RV bug. Who would have thought that twenty-eight years later I would be working in the Industry that I have such a passion for? We just finished our seventh video and guess what the title is? ďRV Towing, Weights, Hitch Work & BackingĒ, I guess I didnít want other people to make the same mistakes I made.
Copyright 2006 by Mark J. Polk, owner of RV Education 101
RV Expert Mark Polk, seen on TV, is the producer & host of America's most highly regarded series of DVD's, videos, books, and e-books. www.rveducation101.com/
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