We had just settled into Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It podcast to get beyond a stupid (but all-important at the time) squabble. The diversion worked, lightening our moods and bringing smiles to our faces.
The cheer didn’t last long. Midway through one episode, our tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) started beeping, alerting us to a rapidly deflating tire on our trailer — the third such instance in 2022.
Thankfully, the off-ramp to a closed weigh station on the freeway offered the perfect place to pull over. As I emerged from the truck, a loud hissing assaulted my ears. Nearing the trailer, I could see a vapor escaping the front passenger tire.
A Team Effort
What Mike Rowe had begun, this situation completed. We both forgot about our squabble and quickly shifted into our roles to fix the situation. Having experienced two other flat tires within two months, we knew exactly what needed to be done and had gotten pretty good at it.
I opened the trailer’s passenger side cellar door and removed the lug wrench to lower the spare tire from its secure spot under the rig. I also grabbed our Safe Jack from the cellar, a purchase that has more than paid for itself. It’s the right tool for any job that requires jacking up the trailer. After lowering the spare, I had to crawl under the trailer to pull it out.
Bob busied himself in the back of the truck to find the torque wrench and the right size socket to loosen the bad tire’s lug nuts. That done, he crawled under the trailer to jack it up high enough to remove the bad tire and put on the spare.
Unlike with our other flat tires, the root cause of this one was not a stem leak. The tire had started to shred. If our TPMS hadn’t notified us of the fast leak, we wouldn’t have even known. Our rig could have sustained serious damage from the shredding tire like a camper neighbor experienced. A tire blowout without a TPMS bent the frame of their slideout, sealing it shut.
We carry a full-size tire under our trailer, the same make and model as the other tires on the coach. It’s a good thing, because this flat happened 1.5 hours from our destination in Bar Harbor, Maine. That’s a long way to go with a smaller, temporary tire. And, it being a Sunday, all of the tire shops in the area were closed.
Warranty to the Rescue
Having bought a set of trailer tires from Discount Tire in Tennessee in 2021, we knew they were still under warranty. Unfortunately, Discount Tire stores don’t exist in Maine. So, Bob had to call Discount Tire to see if the nearest store, in Boston, could ship the tire we needed to our location. The store associate said they could, so we had to confirm our campground could accept packages. Some campgrounds don’t allow package delivery for temporary residents.
Our campground in Bar Harbor said it could receive a package. Bob ordered the tire and arranged with Tire Warehouse in the area to remove the bad tire from our rim and put the new tire on. We only had to pay about $35 for shipping — a bargain when you consider the cost of that new tire out the door neared $250.
Once again, God watched over and took care of us, ensuring we had a safe place to pull over when the leak happened, providing cloud cover while we changed the tire, preparing the way for us to make it to our destination, and arranging for us to replace the bad tire with a new one. And our day only got better from there.
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Every summer, Bob and I volunteer to go on tour with the B-25 WWII bomber, “Maid in the Shade,” from CAF Airbase Arizona. The volunteering starts long before summer tour, requiring a time commitment, annual membership dues, and attendance at the annual ground school.
Tour is a working vacation where we keep long days to fulfill our mission to educate, honor, and inspire. Fulfilling that mission involves opening the plane for static tours on the ground. Unlike some organizations, we let people climb into and touch our warbirds.
It also involves selling Living History Flights to give people a feel for life as an Army Air Force crewman of yesteryear — minus the gunfire and bomb explosions. Passengers get to hear the engines roar to life, smell the smoke they emit on startup, and move about the cabin to different crew positions.
As you can imagine, it’s pretty cool to tour with a plane like this. Despite the busy schedule day in and day out, it offers a number of perks. Here are four of them:
We get to go to some spectacular places. The airbase covers commercial airfare to the plane’s location at the start of a member’s tour if they agree to stay on tour for a minimum of 10 days (and meet all of the other requirements). I typically go for two weeks, and Bob commits to three.
Bob’s first tour in 2016 took him to Missoula, Montana, and Everett, Washington. My first tour with Bob in 2017 took us to Penticton and Kamloops, British Columbia, and Lethbridge, Alberta. Together, we’ve visited Nashua, New Hampshire; Leesburg, Virginia; Bristol, Tennessee; Bozeman, Montana; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Springfield, Missouri; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Kalispell, Montana.
Because we keep a busy schedule on tour, we don’t get to do a lot of sightseeing. While in Bozeman, Montana, for example, we didn’t get to go to Yellowstone National Park, a 1.5-hour drive away. But that’s OK.
When time allows, we do get to drive around and explore an area. We typically have Monday afternoons off after arriving at a new location for the week. That’s how we were able to check out the Bass Pro “Granddaddy of All Outdoor Stores” in 2021. A day off in Lethbridge, Alberta, enabled us to visit the Bomber Command Museum of Canada, which houses one of only 17 remaining Lancaster bombers.
We also get to enjoy a different type of sightseeing by flying over each tour stop and from location to location. The landscape varies in each area. We got to cruise over the stunning beauty that is Glacier National Park. The scenic flight from Kamloops to Penticton, British Columbia, meandered through canyons formed by a river. Flying over the Mississippi River gave us a bird’s-eye view of the towboats that push barges of heavy, bulky cargo to cities on the river’s banks.
In addition, we often get a chance to check out other airplanes. In 2022, those other airplanes included an airworthy F-86 Sabre, a fire bomber plane, and a C-45 Beechcraft on floats.
3. Amazing People
Each week we’re on tour requires a crew of eight to handle ground and flight operations for the bomber. In addition to commingling with amazing volunteers, we meet fascinating people. In 2020, for example, I met Tom Oberweiser over the phone. He requested we fly over his dad’s nursing home to honor the WWII veteran B-25 navigator on our way from Bozeman to Missoula, Montana. We gladly accepted.
Although Tom’s dad has since passed away, honoring the vet continued in 2022. Tom and his wife showed up in Bozeman, two hours from their home, eager to meet me and anyone else on the crew who had been involved in the 2020 flyover. The couple booked a flight on “Maid in the Shade” to further honor Lt. Jack Oberweiser and get a taste of what his war days might have been like.
That contact with amazing people is truly inspirational. Although part of our mission is to inspire others, we often find ourselves inspired. When Civil Air Patrol cadets come to our tour stops and pitch in to help us in any way they can, it’s inspiring.
When veterans come to see our planes, we find ourselves humbled and inspired. When sons and daughters of veterans visit us in honor of their parents, we can’t help but be encouraged. That was certainly the case when a gentleman named Bob flew into Kalispell on his Stearman biplane, unaware his family had purchased a ride for him on our B-25.
Tears blurred Bob’s eyes as he shared about his father, who had flown more than 30 missions on a B-25, and his uncle, who had flown numerous missions on a B-17. Bob regretted the way he had treated his late father but was thankful to be able to honor him by visiting and flying on the B-25.
We’re thankful to have been part of that exciting surprise. As I shared with a newspaper reporter, it’s truly an honor to be near and experience these warbirds and to do what we do.
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A New Type of Camping
As crazy as it sounds, one of my greatest delights is doing manual labor, especially outdoors. Maybe it’s because of my upbringing, helping my dad work on a tomato farm and later operating a bandsaw for his wooden toy business. Or maybe it’s because I spend most of my days in front of a computer.
When we owned our house, I delighted in taking care of the yardwork — potentially to the detriment of my children. It gave me a welcome break from staring at a screen and got me outdoors to enjoy sunshine and fresh air. I looked forward to going home from my office job to mow and edge the grass. It provided a way for me to shift my mind from work obligations to home life. The same can be said for other projects around the house.
Once we sold our home of 24 years and moved into our fifth wheel, I thought my days of yardwork, painting walls and trim, and other projects were over. But in each of the three years we’ve lived on the road, I’ve been surprised and blessed to be able to help with painting projects.
That got me thinking. We stay at campgrounds. We boondock. We moochdock. But maybe there’s another kind of camping we’ve been missing, something called tradedocking.
What is tradedocking?
Simply put, tradedocking is trading work for a free place to stay. At the three places I painted, we were moochdocking at the time — in essence, tradedocking.
Tradedocking should not be confused with Boondockers Welcome, a membership for RVers who offer free stays on their property in exchange for free stays on others’ property when they travel. (Thankfully, it’s not limited to RVer hosts. We’re able to take advantage of it too.) Technically, that could be considered a form of tradedocking.
But true tradedocking is more akin to work camping. A handful of websites offer ways for full-time or even half-time RVers to camp in a single location for free for a set number of months — typically at least three — in exchange for labor.
Some RVers even make an hourly wage on top of the free stay. They do tasks such as landscaping, cleaning restrooms and campsites, and handling camp registrations.
Tradedocking is work camping on a much smaller scale. We commit a week or two (sometimes longer) to stay with a host and help with projects. In addition to my painting contributions, Bob has helped some of our moochdocking hosts with various tasks, including computer work, cooking, and fixing machinery.
Most of our tradedocking hosts have been family members, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t or couldn’t help friends with projects too. At the risk of overbooking and overcommitting ourselves, we absolutely would.
We feel blessed anytime we’re able to help others. Tradedocking offers those opportunities in spades.
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This is the travel blog of full-time RVers Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong.