Our friend, John Ward, passed away May 13th. He died just one day shy of his 80th birthday. John was an RV driving instructor with the RV Driving School for many years. We first got to know him in the year 2000 when he gave Vicki and me driving instructions. After having the privilege of spending two days with John we became John Ward fans and considered ourselves fortunate to be his friend. John had a quiet, easy-going, everything-is-under-control manner that made you feel good to just be in his presence. Here is the article we wrote about our first encounter with John.
RV Driving Lessons
Dear Joe and Vicki: I want to take lessons to learn how to tow our new trailer. My husband feels confident in his ability to handle an RV and thinks that lessons for him would be a waste of money. Do you know anything about the RV driving lessons we see advertised in the magazines?
Joe: Before you fly a plane, you take flying lessons. When you want to go scuba diving, you take diving lessons. We take lessons for skiing, golf and calligraphy. We think nothing of getting professional instruction on any subject in which we wish to become proficient ... except driving an RV.
Somehow, we think that because we have been driving a car or pickup truck for the last thirty or forty years we are automatically qualified to aim 30,000 pounds (or more) of steel and plastic down the highway at speeds in excess of 65 miles an hour.
I have driven a couple of hundred thousand miles in a variety of RVs over the last 35 years. Learned everything I know through experience. And, except for a couple of encounters with some sneaky campground attack trees, my driving record is accident-free.
So, last month, when my bride announced she was going to take RV driving lessons, I was surprised when she "suggested" that I join her.
Vicki: Joe and I joke about our traditional "blue" jobs and "pink" jobs. Driving the RV, dumping holding tanks and rig maintenance have always been his blue jobs. Meal preparation, laundry and housekeeping have been my pink jobs.
Occasionally, I have driven our RVs. Usually on open stretches of highways and for brief periods of time. Occasionally, Joe has helped with the inside chores (also for brief periods of time).
Both of us admit to being just a little bit intimidated by the other's jobs. "Joe, are you sure the motorhome will fit between those cars?" "Vicki, why can't I put my red tee shirt in with my white socks?"
But I have observed women, tiny women who could hardly see over the steering wheel, confidently maneuvering their large motorhomes and fifth-wheels through narrow streets after taking RV driving lessons. If they could do it, I reasoned, so could I.
Joe reluctantly agreed to join me on the condition he would not also be expected to take cooking lessons.
Joe: We contacted Dick Reed's RV Driving School (1-530-878-0111 or www.rvschool.com). We have become personally acquainted with Dick and his instructors over the last few years. Vicki and I have observed them teaching others to drive. We have also heard the rave reviews of their students.
Dick said Vicki and I would not be unique. Most of his student couples consist of a husband with lots of RV driving experience, and a wife with relatively little time behind the wheel.
Dick assigned John Ward to be our instructor. John has been teaching over-the-road truckers how to drive ever since the teamsters quit using oxen. He has also been an instructor with the RV Driving School for over four years.
John arranged to meet us at a dirt parking lot on the first day of our two-day program. He began by performing a safety check of our motorhome. John explained how, why and when we should conduct the same inspection.
Next came a non-technical description of how a diesel motorhome's air-brake system works, how to operate it and how to conduct an air-brake safety check. I wish someone had shown me this about 50,000 miles ago.
Driver's seat and steering wheel were adjusted for comfort followed by a discussion about mirror adjustment and how to use them. I picked up a number of valuable tips here.
John told me to drive the motorhome in as tight a circle possible. He pointed to the tracks in the dirt made by the rear tires of the motorhome and then to the tracks made by the rear tires of the towed car. Now we knew for certain where our towed vehicle's tires would go when we made a tight turn. We also measured how far to the left and right the rear corners of the rig would swing during a sharp turn. No more knocking over curbside mailboxes.
The remainder of the two days was spent with Vicki and me taking turns learning and practicing turns, backing and maneuvering our motorhome (both with and without the car in tow). We drove on residential streets, county roads, state highways and federal interstates. We drove up and down steep, winding, mountain grades. We encountered roads narrowed by construction projects.
All of our driving was accompanied by John's constant easy-going dialogue of helpful hints, constructive criticism and enthusiastic encouragement. We were constantly benefiting from his considerable knowledge and expertise.
With 35 years of experience under my belt, I considered myself fairly accomplished behind the wheel of an RV. But under John's tutelage I picked up a number of tips and techniques that added to my confidence and competence. I guess it really is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.
Vicki: By the second day of instruction, I was feeling pretty good about myself. John had shown me how to gauge just the right time to start that tight right turn by picking a reference spot on the inside of the motorhome. A couple of times, he told me to stop right in the middle of the turn to look out the window and see if I was still in the correct lane. I always was. That gave me a lot of confidence and surprised me that the turns didn't have to be wider.
I also learned how to pick a reference spot on the dashboard to use as an "aiming" device to center the RV in the driving lane. Most people have a tendency to drive too far right in the lane; I was no exception.
In addition to making right turns, left turns and backing up, I also made a three-point turn in the middle of a block. Piece of cake! I felt like I was 16 years old again, learning to drive a car.
And then John announced that I would drive through town traffic, travel both directions over a very curvy, two-lane mountain road with a 6% grade, and then get on the freeway. All of this with the car attached!
I went up and down that mountain road with no problem. I learned how to watch the tachometer to determine when to down-shift and how to slow the motorhome with the exhaust brake,
My hands tightened on the steering wheel when I encountered oncoming trucks on the curves of that narrow mountain road. John said their hands probably tightened too. And then there was a stretch of road construction where I had to pull off and drive on the right shoulder. Yes!
Finally, to end our last day, I pulled onto the I-10 freeway during Los Angeles city rush hour. The I-10 is one of our busiest local interstates. I thought I would be really nervous, but I wasn't at all. I found myself calmly making lane changes and not being bothered by aggressive drivers. I had developed the confidence to know that I could do it. And it did not hurt to hear John's calm, low-key voice. I couldn't help thinking, "I must be doing O.K. He doesn't seem worried!"
I can't believe the feeling of exhilaration--the high that I was on -- realizing that I could do this. I can't remember when I've had so much fun. (Sorry, Joe!)
At this point, I have the confidence and basic skills I need to drive our motorhome. Now, it's practice, practice, practice. Driving the RV is no longer going to be exclusively a "blue" job.
Joe: RV driving lessons are not a waste of money. The fee for our two days of instruction was less than the cost of three oil and filter changes on our motorhome. In return, Vicki and I spent two days benefiting from John’s four decades of accumulated professional driving wisdom and experience.
We were also informed by our insurance company that, upon receipt of a copy of the driving school's certificate of completion, they will give us a 5% discount on our motorhome's insurance premium. That discount will eventually repay the cost of our driving lessons.
And, when the government eventually gets around to requiring us to demonstrate our RV driving proficiency in order to get the appropriate drivers license ... we'll be ready.
What's New With Us: RVing California's Central Coast
Article: Stretching Holding Tank Space
Recipe: Easiest Ever Corn on the Cob
What's New With Us:
We have just returned from a 10-day RV trip along the lower portion of the central California coast.
First stop was Jalama Beach Campground . Jalama is a somewhat remote county park north of Santa Barbara. The campground is located on the beach and is the only sign of civilization for miles around. A few of the 98 campsites have electric hookups but most do not have any kind of hookups. There is however, in addition to restrooms and showers, a dump station and a place to fill your water tank. We especially liked the lack of a cellular phone signal; no incoming calls and no having to respond to anyone. And, just to make our sense of isolation complete, we did not use our satellite TV. We were out of touch and loving it!
This was our first dry-camping experience since installing our four 6-volt coach batteries (see March 19 issue). We operated the 12-volt lights, water pump and furnace fan for five days. We also used the inverter to provide power for our electric coffee maker. The batteries were still at 70% capacity at the end of five days (let's see, the batteries cost $500 and, so far, we have gotten five days use out of them, hmmm...).
The tides cooperated while we were there. We enjoyed almost isolated walks along wide, hard-packed stretches of sand in the mornings and late afternoons. Once out of the campground area we turned Molly loose. Happiness is... a dog that can run free on an endless stretch of beach.
Our next stop was the Pismo Sands RV Park in Oceano, just south of Pismo Beach. Designers of RV parks should take a look at the layout of this RV park. Wide streets and long, easy-access, pull-thru sites with full hookups make this an inviting place to stay. We used this park as a base-camp while we toured some of our old haunts in Pismo Beach, Morro Bay, Cambria and San Simeon.
Heading south towards home we stayed at oceanfront McGrath State Park for a couple of dry-camping nights. No hookups but nice restrooms and showers plus a dump station and fresh water source. McGrath is just a short distance from the Affinity and Good Sam Club headquarters in Ventura. We used the opportunity to touch base with some of our friends who work there and to have lunch with our editor, John Sullaway, and the lady who runs the show, Sue Bray.
Just an observation here - - Jalama and McGrath, being on the beach, are in high demand during the warmer months , especially during school vacations. We prefer to visit these spots during the "off-season" times of the year.
Our next adventure is our bus tour of the British Isles.
Stretching Holding Tank Space
Dear Joe and Vicki: We enjoy camping self-contained in government campgrounds. Our trailer has a 50 gallon fresh-water tank, 30 gallon black-water tank and a 30 gallon gray-water tank. We’ve developed an easy method for refilling our fresh-water tank and our black-water tank is more than adequate but it doesn’t take long for us fill the gray-water tank. Any suggestions for “stretching” our gray-water capacity would be appreciated.
Joe: Wouldn’t it be great if the RV manufacturers caught on to the fact that we need more gray-water capacity than black-water capacity. Here are a few ideas to minimize the flow of water to your gray water tank:
Keep in mind that anything you can do to conserve water will also conserve holding tank space.
Use the campground’s restroom and shower facilities whenever possible.
If you shower in your RV, take a “navy” shower. Using the control valve on the shower head, turn on the water and use a minimal amount to get yourself wet, turn the water off while you soap, turn the water on just long enough to rinse off.
Shave with a rechargeable, battery-operated shaver rather than using a blade razor and water.
Vicki: Use paper plates to cut down on the number of dishes that need washing. Rather than pre-rinsing the dishes, wipe them off with a paper towel before washing. Wash dishes only once a day.
Frequently, when camping self-contained, I put two plastic dish pans in our double sink to wash dishes. One holds the soapy water, the other the rinse water. When I’m through washing dishes, instead of emptying the dish pans into the sink drain where the water would go into the gray-water tank, I pour them into the toilet where it goes into the black-water tank. This conserves gray-water tank space and adds much needed liquid to the black-water tank.
We’ve seen campers using waste-water collectors called “tote-tanks.” The idea is to collect gray-water in the tote-tank. When the tank is full, rather than moving the RV, you only have to take the tank to the disposal station,. They come in various sizes and even have wheels that make it easier to tote them.
Eventually, you will have to take your RV to a disposal station. That's what we consider "roughing it"
I have always cooked corn on the cob the traditional way. Boil the water and add the corn. Then one evening while camping at Yellowstone with our friends, Marilyn and Sandy, Marilyn made this "easiest ever" corn on the cob. Nowadays, this is the only way I cook corn --no pans to wash, absolutely no clean up. And, the best part, the corn is tender and delicious.
1. Husk and wash desired number of ears of corn.
2. Run each ear under water to moisten.
3. Place 2 ears at a time in a plastic bag, tightly closed.