My wife and I camp several times a summer in one RV park or another. If you can call it camping. Other than having less living space, our camping trailer carries every luxury our normal home has to offer. I now consider roughing it not having a television cable hookup. So, instead, we’re forced to watch movies on our high defintion DVD player. The vehicle that pulls our home away from home has enough power to easily handle any hill put in its path, and can stop on a dime. Though camping is very enjoyable, actually pulling the camping trailer to our destination is down-right boring. But I can remember when our children were small, towing a camping trailer was a true adventure, filled with unexpected excitement.
Back then when it came to towing vehicles, the word “heavy-duty” was used far too freely, and in today’s legal system would have filled the courtrooms with lawsuits. “Is this a heavy-duty towing vehicle?” the purchaser would asked.
“You going to be towing a camping trailer?” the salesman would counter.
“Yes I am.”
“Then it’s heavy duty.”
Needless to say, I was usually the purchaser. And making the situation worse was the structural mass of the early camping trailer. Today’s trailer is streamlined to cut through the air. The old camping trailer had the graceful lines of a cardboard box, and assaulted the air, causing shock waves that could knock a pedestrian off his feet. But the human mind is a wondrously ingenious organ, finding ways of overcoming deficiencies. And having one of those wonderous minds, through trial and error, I overcame most of the deficiencies in my heavy-duty towing vehicle.
To overcome the problems incurred, all that was required were a combination of scientific principles and human logic. For example, while laboring up a steep hill, with the speedometer needle going down and the engine’s temperature needle going up, I learned that if all occupants began a back and forth rocking motion while at the same time chanting, “come on, baby, come on,” the grade was usually achieved. Once at the top of the hill and starting down the other side, weak heavy-duty brakes could be assisted by the driver jerking back on the steering wheel while standing on the brake pedal. Simultaneously, all occupants present helped the braking process by slamming their feet down on the vehicle’s floor as if some magical brake pedal was beneath them. Then, of course, all joined in on a hardy chorus of “Ooooooooooooohhhhhh bbbbllllleeeeeeppp!” Using this combination of methods, vehicle and trailer seldom ran more than a half-dozen cars off the road, and almost never broke the sound barrier.
Traveling games were originated by trailer campers. They were born out of the necessity to keep minds occupied and not suffer the trauma of knowing that death knocked on their car door at least three to four times in a trip to and from a campsite. With the average speed of a run-away car and trailer, a driver could narrowly miss a semi-truck, jack knife, jump a ditch twice, and be back on the road before the passengers looked up from the game board. In a time of crisis this played a crucial role in keeping the vehicle under control of one person; preferably the driver. When passengers are given the opportunity to realize their vehicle is out of control they have a tendency to reach for the steering wheel. And when five sets of hands are attempting to steer a run-away vehicle, it can be difficult. And when one adds a set of paws from the family dog it becomes impossible.
It used to be that trailer towing could be a religiously moving experience. While jetting down a steep grade on a memorable hunting trip, I saw a sworn atheist, who never muttered a prayer in his life, suddenly and loudly pray with all the eloquence of an ordained minister. Because of the testimony, church-going wives offered their heathen husbands as hunting and fishing partners, thinking the inside of my towing vehicle might be hallowed ground. But I believe that was slightly presumptuous in that once out of trouble my so-called convert did not glamorize my person with adjectives befitting a Christian. But in the case of my wife and children I refuse to speak badly of their spontaneous outbursts. After all, they stood by my side during many a hair-raising ride. And once the danger was past, they usually returned to the seated position.
Once at the campground a new challenge awaited the tattered travelers; parking the trailer. Today’s campgrounds have easy, if not boring, swing-in parking locations for trailers, with little if no backing up required. Yesterday’s campgrounds were originally designed for tents, with camping trailer spaces being an almost miscellaneous afterthought. The required manuevers to back a trailer into one of these slots could bring beads of sweat to a cross-country truck driver. Because of this, it was mandatory that a capable second person be used to give directions. Unfortunately, I had no choice but to use my wife. To appreciated the situation, in that it sometimes meant the difference between life or death, if not a lawsuit, one must understand my wife’s methods of giving directions. Whether by malicious intent or totally by accident, my wife always, I mean always positioned herself in such a location that military radar could not find her, much less my rear view mirrors. Once found, it then became a matter of deciphering her signals. A finger pointed slightly in one direction while pinching together the thumb and finger of the other hand signified turning the trailer one-quarter to one half-inch in that direction. Not being the perfectionist she is, I paid little attention to that signal. The signal I paid far more attention to was large bulging eyes, teeth gritted, and arms flogging. To the onlooker her motions could be perceived as nothing more than a human being making a valiant yet futile attempt at flying. But I knew it was her method of communicating that I was about to interbreed the trailer with a parked car, a tree, a tent, a pedestrian, or any combination. I often suggested that she might consider integrating a signal somewhere between the two. But this was met with little success other than crossed arms, flexed jaws, and a cold stare, which was her signal for, “you’re on your own.”
More than happy to show my wife, not to mention the gathering audience, that I was more than qualified to park a trailer solo, I expertly proceeded with the task. After debarking and limbing all trees in the immediate vicinity, the trailer was usually parked in such a manner that required the payment of two campsites. But this was gladly paid. After all, the dangerous voyage had been successfully accomplished. All that remained was X amount of days of cramped quarters, short tempers, and smokey campfires. Then, of course, there was the return trip home, with the same hazards of the trip to the campground, except in reverse order. But for the moment all that was left to figure out was how to make a twenty-five foot water hose reach a faucet twenty-six feet away….