Wolf's Motorhome Modifications
... and Other Stuff
Camping with Kids
First, the Epilog!
As of this writing, my daughter is 16 and my son is nearing 15. We've spent the last 15 years camping with them. Something has changed, though. At this age, they don't want to go camping any more. They want to stay home and be with their friends. They want independence.
As near as I can tell, since my daughter turned 13, she has become nearly useless as a camping buddy. In fact, I have come to the decision that about all she is good for is to go out, breed and provide me with grandchildren who DO want to go camping. The wife indicates she might be a little young for that just yet. Well fine! Here I am camping by myself!
I would like to relate to you how much fun we have had camping with our kids.
I was lucky enough to have been tenting, bicycle camping, canoe camping and motorhoming since I was 16.
Our first experience at family camping was tenting. A good time, to be sure, but not suited for serious camping. Looking back, we now camp more in a year than most tenters camp in their entire life. You can't do that in a tent.
Tenters are a valuable resource, especially in places where there's no TV. There's few more amusing things than a row of tenters during an approaching storm. Those with less than three kids can normally get things packed and in the car before the storm hits. The rest have to finish in the initial downpour. What fun to watch! And it's so nice and quiet after the storm ... with them gone!
How the Family Worked
I worked a permanent midnight shift. I would watch the kids until the wife got home at around 4 PM. I would then sleep and the wife would watch them. My days off rotated ... one week I have Monday and Tuesday, then Tuesday and Wendsday the next week, Wendsday and Thursday, etc. I had three day weekends: Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The wife had the normal weekends off.
With this arrangement we never needed day care. I found it was impossible to take care of the kids and still have a life so settled into taking care of the kids. It was a lot easier to take care of the kids when the kids had something to occupy their time. Camping occupied their time. I began taking the kids camping. I began taking the kids camping a lot.
Our First Motorhome
Our first motorhome was a small 21 foot class C on a Dodge chassis. The engine was fine but I had to rebuild the upper bunk due to ants and rot. It served us well through xx campouts and covered xx miles in xx years. (I'm working on getting those numbers!)
Our biggest thing we did wrong was to not install air conditioning. We relied on fans that I placed all over the camper, both 120 volt AC and 12 volt DC fans were used.
Where the Kids Slept
When the kids were little, their domain was the upper bunk. All their toys, clothes and gear stayed up there with them.
As the youngest was barely a toddler, we needed a way to keep them up there. We found that a unfolded lawn recliner fit perfectly across the opening! By the proper application of bungee cords, we were able to fashion a gate that kept them up there. It wasn't hard to put up and down and even provided a place to store the chair.
Keeping the Kids Clean
When I camp with the kids, I preferred to bathe them in the motorhome. Until they were older, we didn't want to use the campground showers. Even when older, the motorhome was, by far, my choice for showers. The wife didn't like the stubby little bathroom the class C had and preferred the campground showers. Once we graduated to a class A, we had a bathroom fit for taking showers and the problems went away. We don't use the campground facilities.
When I first went camping, I had to carry TWO sizes of Pampers in the Class C. Being that as it was, I went WAY out of my way to find a full hookup site. Apparently not too many small class Cs want full hookup sites. Until I had them out of diapers, I WANTED A FULL HOOKUP!!!
Winter in this class C was another story. I found on my next two RV purchases that people who have been building RVs the longest know most about building those RVs. A no-name like I had experienced all kinds of plumbing and draft problems in the winter. But! Winter camp we did and it WAS fun!
Our Second Motorhome
The class C began to feel more and more cramped as the kids got older and older. Eventually we picked up a 30 foot 1984 Winnebago Chieftain. WHAT A DIFFERENCE. Not only were things done right, I could get parts! The old class C was a constant challenge to keep operational. The company that made it went out of business. Many of the components were no longer made. It was a real pain. With the Winnie, all I needed to do was to call and even when we traded it in 1997, they still either had all the parts or would bend over backward trying to get them.
Our requirements when we were looking for this rig was as follows:
This wasn't so hard to find! We found a unit with a bunk that dropped down over the driver/passenger seats. This provided the first bed. The couch provided the second. Voila! A bed in the back for the wife and I and we found our dream rig. The passenger seat was a double seat! You have no idea how nice the double seat was to have. Our kids could share the front seat with the wife.
We put xx miles over xx camping trips and owned the unit xx years. (I'm working on these numbers, too.)
The Third Motorhome
Now planning extended vacations on the other side of the country, we also see the light at the end of the career tunnel. We needed something that could support us comfortably and do the miles without too much tinkering. We AGONIZED over our purchase. We had a very nice fifth wheel trailer picked out. We knew what type of truck we would tow it with and almost had that ordered. But! We also had a Winnie motorhome we loved.
In the end, the dealer made us an offer we couldn't refuse and we remained motorhomers. I am so happy we did. The trips out west will be so much better having the freedom of a motorhome. Our 34 foot Winnie is perfect for everything we need.
Unfortunately, finding campers with drop-down bunks is becoming an extreme challenge. They don't make double passenger seats any more. We have to sleep a kid on the dinette. But, they will be needing to venture out in the world soon.
Stuff to Do With Young Kids
When kids are younger, the campground became our destination. The campground contained all that was needed to entertain and amaze the kids. As such, there was no need to tow cars.
We took vacations but our weekends were filled with camping at the Ohio State Park campground. There are 57 State Parks campgrounds!
What was required? A good, close playground was first on the list. Some wax paper to sit on so the slide could be waxed. A pool or lake was a bonus during the summer. Some hills for sledding were needed in the winter. Rabbits, deer and groundhogs are nice to have around.
What don't you want? Noise. Take a look at the picture to the right. If you're going to Virginia Beach, Virginia, ask the campground if they're on the approach or departure vectors for a local navy base. We had fighters SCREAMING over us day and night. It was terrible.
The kids won't remember the time spent at these parks. Nor when you go on vacation will they remember the places you went. I remember Disney World like it happened yesterday. My daughter go so excited! It's unfortunate they don't remember it.
What Might the Young Kids Remember Later?
What might they remember? Waving at a train. Squashing pennies on the train track. Going to African Lion Safari. The Safari is a place where you drive your vehicle right into a zoo. Beggar animals, like ostriches and camels will come to eat the goodies you are given by the Safari. This is WELL worth a trip!!! Be careful, though! While feeding a camel it stuck its whole HUGE head in the driver's window. All of a sudden I heard the camel making odd noises. At that point I realized that Sassy, my golden retriever, was about to pounce on the camel's head. I had all I could do between keeping Sassy from attacking, keeping the camel from getting up a load of spit (they spit) and keeping myself safe (all of myself).
As They Get Older
Kids change. Take a look at the pictures to the left and to the right. As soon as the kids turned into teenagers, they lost the feeling that they were each other's best friend. They also had IMPORTANT things to do at home. Going camping wasn't first on their list. Were their things important to me? Maybe, I had to drop my daughter off half way through a mid-August vacation because Marching Band camp started and she made Varsity Tennis. Important stuff, I guess.
Megan learned to drive in the nearly deserted Ohio State Park campgrounds during the cooler and colder months.
The places we went changed, too. It was fun to "theme" a vacation.
One summer we spent our long vacation going to all the Paramount Amusement Parks on the east side of the country. We did Canada's Wonderland, King's Island, King's Dominion and Carowinds. Being that we had season passes to our own Cedar Point Amusement Park (they have a campground!) we did irreparable damage to our need to see amusement parks.
Needs change. When younger, the camp might present all the excitement needed. As they get older, the need to explore becomes greater. We needed a car. We needed to move more often, perhaps daily.
A weeklong jaunt with my son took us to a dozen or so Civil War battlefields up and down the east coast. By the time we were through we had a thorough understanding of the war and it's consequences.
Algonquin Provincial Park is a massive, excellently run Ontario park. It hosts moose, wolves and an assortment of other animals. Excellent trail guides on innumerable trails allow you to become expert in such subjects as what a bog is, different forests and water quality. Canoe camping, where you sort-of backpack by canoe allows you to experience solitude and nature as you never will from a campground.
Nature becomes important. History becomes important.
Your 14 and 15 year old can have a grand time practicing driving in the deserted winter campgrounds. Once they get their temporary or beginner's license you have a perfect excuse to cart them along and explore HUGE areas around where you're camped. Worked for us! Megan got 100% on her driver's test! We explored most of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan practicing her driving!
It's not over. We have longer trips planned to see the other side of the country. My daughter is driving (my wife won't drive the RV, I had to wait for the daughter to get a license!). Both are old enough to make such a trip memorable.
Meanwhile, there are a bunch of Ohio State Parks that don't have campgrounds. I plan on exploring those.
There are a ton of people on rec.outdoors.rv_travel who have never owned a motorhome but are confirmed experts in motorhome safety. There's one person who had a loved one injured when walking in a moving motorhome. There is no end to the people who will preach RV safety and demand you not do this or that. God love them all. But as for me and mine, we did what we thought best.
As little ones, the kids were buckled into car seats. As they got older, they became more and more mobile. Now suggesting that they can't lay on the back bed and watch videos would invoke a family mutiny.
We've driven some xx miles (working on it) over 15 years and have yet to see a situation that would present a need for the safety measures trailer people preach. (I think those folks are just jealous. It must be hell to go that long without a bathroom, eh? Maybe the backed up urine is causing all those people to SHOUT SO LOUD.)
Keeping Them Occupied
Between zero and about four, the kids seemed to relish the travel. Keeping them amused wasn't a major problem. Between four and twelve we resorted to bribery. Just before leaving I would throw two or three new Game Boy cartridges over my shoulder and they would be nice and quiet for days. Between 12 and 15 they found they could take the Game Boy, Game Gear, Saturn, Super NES, NES and some three or four other gaming systems with them. A generator is a wonderful thing! Now that their 16? Guess who'll be driving. I'm gonna sit back, sip pop, watch videos and have the time of my life. Just like the kids for the last 15 years!