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Rated: E · Short Story · Biographical · #1399979
Our first motorized camping trip!
Maiden Voyage

While enjoying my morning coffee, several sunflower yellow school buses passed the cafe window.  Immediately, my mind took me back in time to southern Arizona and a different bus.

It all started while I was away on a fishing trip with my boss. My wife and children had spotted the bus in a parking lot with a "For Sale" sign in the window.  To hear them tell it, the bus was the greatest thing since Apple Pie - it was cool!  This mustard yellow bus was an older model, late sixties I believe, with the words "Blue Bird" on its body. As a school bus it carried about forty school children, however, now that it was a converted camper, it would only accommodate four, maybe five people.

A full size bed, where my wife and I would sleep occupied the space that was formerly the rear of the bus. On each side of the bus there were bench type seats serving two purposes. These seats were where we sat when taking our meals (there was a removable pole in the center of the floor separating these seats that served as the base of the table). At the end of the day, the table-top was removed, stored along with the pole in the wardrobe and the seats used as beds for the boys. The bus had a refrigerator, propane gas stove, and a sink for washing dishes. All of the comforts of home! There was also a small but adequate bathroom with a toilet, lavatory, and shower.  This would be great to use on trips to the mountains, fishing, or hunting for rocks. 

The children could not wait for me to get home from my fishing trip so that they could take me to see the camper. Their dream was that I would like it as much as they did and buy it on the spot. Upon returning home from my three-day fishing trip and before I barely made it to the front door, the boys were all over me asking, "We found a neat camper, can we go see it, huh?  Please Dad, please!"  Whoa, hold on there, just a minute. After having been in the woods for three days fishing without the comforts of home (no bathroom, shower or other necessities), I am surprised anyone is even standing close to me! I was not particularly in the mood for them to be screaming at me, "Can we get it Dad, can we get it?  Can we go now and look at it, please?" 
Finally I composed myself and said, "Okay, calm down, calm down, before we do anything, I need a shower. Three days in the boonies without the benefit of soap and water has me feeling like a caveman. But, once I have showered, eaten a bite, and feel like a human being again, I promise, we will go take a look at this bus you are ranting and raving about." 

After I showered and had a bite to eat, we took a drive to see the bus-camper. I was more impressed than I had thought I would be.  But there was a problem! The bus had a manual transmission - later to be associated with the term - "four on the floor".  I thought back to the day I first learned to drive. The guy that taught me had a car with an automatic transmission and with the exception of an old '53 Dodge (a semi-automatic vehicle), I have been driving cars with automatic transmissions ever since. So, while I was familiar with a manual transmission car as they are called, driving such a vehicle was not my idea of fun. Add to this picture the fact that this bus had the gear-shift lever coming out of the floor!  What's that all about?

My wife, being the eternal optimist that she is stated, "Oh honey, that is not a problem, my father knows how to drive a bus, he can teach you." Reluctantly, I gave in and a call was placed to the owner asking if it would be possible to have a trial run to see how well the bus handled. I can still remember to this day, my words to the owner after the test drive - "Well, I would like to buy it, but I can only do so on one condition, you have to deliver it to our house. I do not even know if I am going to be able to drive this thing."  Turning and looking towards my wife and kids, I said "I can't believe you guys talked me into this."

A deal was made! I purchased the bus and it was delivered to the house. One thing I had to say about my father-in-law, affectionately known as "Pappy", he definitely knew how to operate and drive a bus.  Pappy had owned and driven motor homes, large trucks, and had been a bus driver for the school district. He thought it was a great idea to have the camper so that we could go fishing, rock hunting, or just use it to see parts of Arizona. Before I knew it, he was giving me instructions on how to handle the clutch, shift gears by listening to the sounds of the engine, and other little tidbits of information from his vast knowledge of these vehicles. My wife was correct when she said Pappy would be able to teach me how to drive the camper because in no time he had me behind the wheel maneuvering that rig on the back roads behind our home.

Well, after several driving lessons on the roads behind our home, I began to feel comfortable driving the bus. I wasn't too concerned about driving the bus because Pappy had taught me well and those trial runs on the roads behind our house had assured me that I was ready to go it alone.  It was Mother's Day weekend and time for us to take our first trip. The plan was to drive to a campsite only two hours away (close enough to get there before dark yet not that far away should we have to return home in a hurry), go fishing in the morning, and then return home on Sunday. Since school let out three hours before I was done working, my sons assisted my wife, who was eight months pregnant, load the camper with food and supplies. I arrived home around five o'clock, changed clothes and off we went for a great weekend of camping and fishing.

When I made my first right hand turn onto the highway as we were leaving town, the refrigerator flew open and we heard this crash on the floor of the camper.  The last person that put food into the refrigerator forgot to insert the "pin" which is sort of a locking mechanism that keeps the refrigerator closed while the camper is in motion. We learned really quickly that the refrigerator opened by itself if the pin was not in.  We had pickles, cheese, a carton of orange juice, a gallon of milk, and some broken eggs on the floor of the camper before we even got out of town. As soon as this assortment of goodies hit the floor, Vicky, our fun loving schnauzer, was in the midst of the this conglomeration of food trying her best to eat everything in sight. It would have been funny if it hadn't made such a mess. But, mess or no mess, we were not going to let this little incident ruin our trip, so I pulled off the road, and we got everything cleaned up, including Vicky who had looked as though she was foaming at the mouth what with her beard and all being smeared with eggs, milk, and orange juice. Now that was funny! While this minor inconvenience delayed us a bit, within thirty minutes we were back on the road as we once again headed out for our first camping adventure.   

Now, if you have never driven a "four on the floor" type vehicle, a few training sessions do not a bus driver make! Depressing the clutch, shifting gears, and doing all this while trying to give the darn thing some gas can be a little bit intimidating, especially when attempting to drive uphill. What made it even worse was that time had passed by so quickly!  Remember the fiasco with the refrigerator? That slight delay had cost us more time than I had thought because the sun was rapidly beginning to set.  My attempt to drive the bus uphill, on a very narrow, very dark mountainous road was to be the next adventure we were to experience during this, our "Maiden Voyage!"   

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