“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” penned Scottish poet Robert Burns. That saying applies well to full-time RVing, where plans change constantly.
We had planned to spend a few nights near Amarillo, Texas, at a city park that offers free water and electricity, followed by a week in New Mexico with Boondockers Welcome, before returning to the White Mountains of Arizona and then the Valley of the Sun for the winter months.
Instead, we covered about 670 miles in 13.5 hours between Oklahoma City and Gallup, New Mexico, making our first stay in a Walmart parking lot, where the store’s outdoor radio played all night long. The next day, after another five hours and 265 miles, we arrived in the Phoenix area to help Bob’s mom after she fell and broke her hip. She had a partial hip replacement and is on the road to recovery, enduring physical therapy.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the warmer temperatures we experienced in Oklahoma were a harbinger of what was to come. We traded the plains for the Valley and its 90+-degree weather. And that’s only one of the many transitions in our lives right now.
Gulliver ate a lot of bugs and gathered substantial dust on the journey. So, he got a much-needed bath and a respite from towing, even though he’s built for towing. Driving around without the trailer attached makes for a bumpier ride because of his tight suspension.
Bob’s head is now staple-free after 10 days. We had ordered a surgical staple remover from Amazon, and I pulled out the surgical fasteners all by myself while Bob held up a phone to record the experience. The right tool does a great job.
We’re adjusting to being static and not moving every week. It’s a transition as we’ve grown to love that lifestyle. During this downtime, we’ll do some repairs on the trailer — fix some drawer rails and door trim — inventory our belongings, and get rid of things we haven’t used and don’t need. We’ll also take advantage of the opportunity to do some deep cleaning.
The Immovable Tagalong
This immobile adjustment also gives us the opportunity to spend more time at the Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona, where we’ve volunteered for about five years. Bob helps with maintenance on the WWII aircraft, and I help coordinate rides on them. He’s excited to be one of the retired Monday, Wednesday, Friday mechanics.
Although we’ve exchanged small towns for city life again, we’re enjoying seeing mountains and reconnecting with family and friends in the area. And, we’re hopeful another transition will be to a full-time job for me before too long.
It’s a bittersweet time of change and reflection. We’re thankful we got to catch up with family and friends across the country, some of which we hadn’t seen in many years. We like the RV lifestyle and are already making plans for our next big adventure.
After our first separation from Gulliver and Tagalong since we started our journey in May, we are elated to be back together. We’re happy to be able to sleep in our own bed with our own pillows again. There truly is no place like home.
Gulliver and Tagalong, who both fared well during our absence, greeted us with open arms — and no unpleasant stench or damage. All is well. And Gulliver roared to life with no problem.
Honoring a B-25 Navigator
We enjoyed our tour with the B-25 “Maid in the Shade” in Montana and ended up filling eight living history passenger flights while in Bozeman. On the way from Bozeman to Missoula, we had the privilege of circling the small town of Anaconda in honor of a 95-year-old WWII vet who resides in a nursing home there.
When John E. “Jack” Oberweiser learned the B-25 was 25 miles from his town flying at 6,500 feet and 211 miles per hour, he announced to the staff at his facility, “They’ll be here in two minutes.”
His daughter rushed to wheel her mother, 93, also a resident of the facility, into Jack’s room so the high school sweethearts, now married 72 years, could be together for the momentous occasion. Tears streamed down the couple’s faces as they sat holding hands while watching the bomber and hearing the roar of its engines exactly two minutes later, just as Jack had predicted.
Like his buddies, Jack joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 at the age of 18 as soon as he graduated high school, eager to serve his country. He completed basic training at Santa Ana Air Base in California, where he once walked to the Rose Bowl and passed Bob Hope in the stands.
Lt. Oberweiser served as a B-25 navigator in the China-Burma-India theater with the 491st Bombardment Squadron — known as the “Ringers” for their low loss of aircraft and personnel. The squadron targeted airfields, storage areas, and bridges.
Toward the end of the war, Jack spent time in France and Germany ferrying aircraft back to air bases in Europe. On one mission to Cairo, Jack, an avid sports fan, got to listen to the 1945 World Series game between his favorite Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs, actually using the radio signal as a navigation tool.
On another ferrying mission, Jack’s plane made an emergency landing when something went wrong with the landing gear. Heavy rain prevented a fire as the plane slid on its belly.
After the war, Jack and his sweetheart were reunited and raised seven children in Anaconda, where he worked as a football and track coach and taught geometry and bookkeeping.
The whole town celebrated the B-25 flyover in honor of Jack and his service — and, as he stated, “ALL of the local veterans.” It was a true honor for us and the rest of the “Maid in the Shade” crew to participate. After all, that’s what the Commemorative Air Force is all about: educating, honoring, and inspiring.
Inspiring the Next Generation
Not only did we have the privilege of honoring Lt. Oberweiser, but we also got to work closely with a number of Civil Air Patrol cadets in Bozeman, educating them and the public about the history of “Maid in the Shade” and the part B-25s played in the war.
These kids eagerly showed up numerous days to help clean the plane and to ensure crowd safety during our flight operations. They very professionally secured the flight line, standing at attention with their backs to the plane so they could monitor the crowd, resisting the urge to turn around and watch as the bomber’s engines started and as it taxied in after a flight.
Many of the cadets have big ambitions of going into the Air Force and working with aircraft in some capacity or another. We’re thankful for the small part we got to play in inspiring them, and we look forward to what they’re going to do in the future.
This summer, we’ve been able to mark three more states off our list of those to visit: South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Montana. Bob had actually been to Wisconsin and Montana before, but I hadn’t. That only leaves North Dakota for both of us to visit to complete all 50 states.
However, since we left Gulliver and Tagalong in Massachusetts and flew to Bozeman, Montana, we don’t get to count this state on our RV map. But that’s OK. We plan to bring Gulliver and Tagalong here next year.
What Are We Doing in Montana?
Bob and I volunteer with the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), specifically Airbase Arizona. And every summer, Airbase Arizona takes its two WWII bomber planes — a B-17 Flying Fortress, “Sentimental Journey,” and a B-25 Mitchell, “Maid in the Shade” — on tour throughout the U.S. and Canada to fulfill our mission to educate, honor, and inspire.
While on tour, we sell static tours to the public, allowing them to go inside our planes and learn about their history. The B-25 is a true WWII veteran, having flown 15 missions over Italy and Yugoslavia while stationed on the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean. The B-17 was built toward the end of the war and never saw combat but served as a fire bomber after the war.
The CAF is made up of volunteer members, and many of us take two weeks a summer (some take more) to go meet one or both of the planes wherever they are to be part of the tour. Bob is a mechanic on the B-25, so he serves as the flight crew chief for our two weeks on tour. That means he’s responsible for maintenance on the plane both on the ground and in the air.
I serve as a ride coordinator, so it’s my job to book passengers on the plane and coordinate the paperwork for the passengers. I also serve as a loadmaster. We fly with four crewmembers on the plane: two pilots, the crew chief, and a loadmaster. The loadmaster flies in the back, or waist section, of the plane and takes care of the four passengers we fly there, overseeing sending them to the tailgunner position during flight. The loadmaster also keeps an eye on the engines.
Typically, we spend one week in a location, offering static tours Monday through Thursday and then flying passengers on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Then we move to a new location on Monday. Because of tour stop cancellations due to COVID-19, we’re spending two weeks in Bozeman, Montana, before moving on to Missoula. Bob and I will fly back to Massachusetts from there.
Weathering the Storms
Speaking of Massachusetts, Gulliver and Tagalong experienced their own adventure while we’ve been away. A major storm blew through the area and downed some trees, which toppled wires and resulted in a power outage.
Thankfully, Gulliver and Tagalong were uninjured, and the power has since been restored. So we’ll find out when we get back how the items in our refrigerator and freezer fared.
Meanwhile, we’re honored to be able to be part of the B-25 summer tour.
We spent our first week on the road north of Flagstaff, Arizona, near Humphrey’s Peak, where high temperatures ranged between 60 and 70 degrees and lows dipped down to 27. Yes, you read that right: 27. We had to dig out our winter clothes and heavy blankets, especially after leaving 100-degree temperatures in the Valley.
We camped with Bob’s brother, Tom, and family. They’ve been full-time RVers for two years and gladly shared lots of tips and tricks. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to start our journey (although a little warmer wouldn’t have been bad).
Since I don’t have a full-time job right now, we decided to get a jump-start on the holiday weekend and head to Oregon. We planned to travel to Medford, Oregon, in three days. Plans are subject to change, and they certainly changed for us.
Pit Stop in Las Vegas
We made it north of Las Vegas around 4:30 p.m. when a fellow motorist waved us down to let us know something looked wrong with one of our truck tires. We thanked him, moved to the right, and started navigating Google Maps to find a gas station with enough clearance for our trailer.
As it turned out, the exit we took also led to a tire shop — probably the last easy-to-get-to tire shop before leaving the greater Las Vegas area. We went directly there.
Upon examination, we realized the tread on our front passenger tire had started to split. It wouldn’t have been much longer before it let go completely. The other front tire didn’t look much better. God was definitely watching over us. If we had attempted to drive to our intended destination, we could have had a major incident on the freeway.
The listing agent for the sale of our house had encouraged us to get new tires before our journey. We should have listened to him.
We decided to replace all six truck tires, but the shop couldn’t get them until the next day. Not wanting to pull the trailer anywhere with the unsafe truck tires, we spoke with the store manager about where we might be able to park the trailer.
He called the owner, and they agreed to let us park our rig at the back of their lot overnight. Even better, they let us sleep in it on the property as long as we didn’t open the slides. (Fortunately, our model makes it easy to get to the bedroom and bathroom without opening any slides.) And, the property had 24-hour surveillance.
Rolling with the Punches
We could have been frustrated and upset, but instead, we chalked up the detour to part of the adventure. We gained time to bum around the northern Las Vegas area, taking a Lyft to a nearby restaurant for dinner.
The beautiful thing about our new lifestyle is we don’t have to be anywhere at any certain time. So, we’ll just arrive in Oregon a day later than anticipated. No big deal. The important thing is we still have our home and each other, and Gulliver has new shoes.
This is the travel blog of Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong. We live on the road full time, enjoying all the adventures that come our way.