Early Retirement – Day One

My husband retired from  Bonneville Power Administration in early January, 1972, while we were living in Stevenson, Washington.  Thirty years of service with various U.S. Government agencies, including 6 years of U.S. Navy service paid off, and his often repeated quote,  “Any time I can get paid to stay home, I’m ready”  resulted in our freedom with a reduced annuity.

“Reduced Annuity”  translates to belt tightening and penny pinching but we thought we were ready.  “Thought we were ready”  –  Hmmm – Another meaningless phrase ranking right up there alongside  “Check in the mail”  and “I’ll call soon.”

Living full-time in an R.V. was still a novelty at that time but we decided to give it a try. “You’re going to do WHAT?” was the reaction from family and friends.  Talk about Babes In Wonderland, we had a lot to learn.

We had already purchased a big yellow International Travelall and a 19 ft. travel trailer, both slightly used, disposed of most of our gypsy belongings, stowed the “gotta saves”  in storage and were ready to drive off, leaving our small, rented cabin with is spectacular view of the Columbia River Gorge behind.   Spectacular views often come with a price and we were happy to leave the ice storms and raging winds to someone else.  We’d choose our own environment from now on, free as birds.

Free, that is, once we got over the Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon and away from an oncoming storm.  Our immediate plan was to reach Portland that afternoon, spend the evening on final details, and enjoy a nice dinner and a visit with family before the final move into the tiny trailer.  Other than the impending storm and our mantra  (Over the Siskiyous by tomorrow)  we managed a good chat and a full night’s sleep.

Up at the crack of dawn, my husband spotted a flat tire on the trailer.  Oops!, slight delay, but we could still make it out of Oregon before evening.  Naturally the tire with its big nail and its repairs took longer than expected but at last we were off after one last check of the  Weather Channel.  We headed south on the Interstate, feeling comfortable about being well ahead of the storm. There were plenty of dark, threatening clouds and some  showers but we were optimistic.

Driving down Interstate 5 with our new  (to us) home bobbing along behind, we began to relax and feel in control.  Traffic was heavy; others were apparently trying to beat the storm at the same time. One would think we were approaching the Himalayas without any Sherpas, but all was going well.

A special feature of our new vehicle was dual gas tanks.  When the main gas gauge showed a big red E, my husband, by now driving with the ease and  flair of Barney Oldfield or one of the Andrettis, reached down, switched smoothly to the reserve tank and on we went.  One slight detail – there was no gauge on the reserve tank – but it had to hold ample gas for another 30 or 40 miles, didn’t it?  It had to.  We could stop at the next town and fill up.

Well, guess what?  Just as we were relaxing enough to notice that the storm clouds weren’t getting any closer,  the big engine, plus the added weight of the trailer and the pull of the southwest Oregon mountains resulted in another spell of sputtering and coughing from the gas tanks.  We looked ahead frantically for a pull-out, finding one just in time to get off the busy highway before the motor died.

We dug out a 5 gallon gas can and the anxious driver limbered up his thumb and dodged across the heavy traffic to hitch back to the last town we’d passed.  By the time he returned and we were on our way, quite a bit of time had passed.  I think it was about now that we christened our Travelall,  dubbing it  “The Yellow Peril”  in honor of its  (so far) lack of reliability, its bright yellow color and in memory of the 12 years we’d spent living beside the Panama Canal.  And that was its name for all the years we owned it, although it later proved its reliability over and over after a very shaky start.

Knowing the 5 gallons of gas wouldn’t last long, we were relieved to pull into a station shortly after and fill both tanks, plus the 5 gallon can for insurance.

By now the skies were definitely darkening and the wind was picking up.  We pressed on nervously, reaching a breakneck speed of fifty miles an hour several times, with the weather deteriorating as we went. We were greatly relieved to clear  Siskiyou Summit with spitting rain and wet patches of highway but no ice.  Breathing huge sighs of relief we headed down into California.  I remember promising myself I’d never ever come back to Oregon again, at least not in January.

However, once in California, where were we?  Still in the mountains with miles to go, and needing one more gas stop while there was still daylight.  We pulled off at the next opportunity and filled the tanks again.  We noticed a large paved area away from the pumps with a sign clearly marked  “Waste Water”.  Here was something else new to us, no time like the present to learn how to dump the holding tank on the trailer while there was no one else around.

We jockeyed around, practicing our maneuver and finally my husband was able to open the valve on the tank while I stood at the ready with the water hose provided for clean-up.  It was colder than ice-cubes out there; after all, we were still in the mountains and it was still January and still stormy, even though we felt like the last 12 or 14 hours had lasted weeks.  Before we knew it, waste water was pouring out all over the apron of the Dump Station.  We didn’t panic but it was close. Much to our relief there were no other vehicles near enough to be watching us, or worse, waiting impatiently for a turn.

Getting the mess cleaned up as quickly as possible, we slunk back into the Travelall, sped back on to the southbound highway and didn’t stop again until we got to Redding, California and a road-side rest stop.  By now it was pitch dark, raining hard, much later than we’d planned and we just couldn’t go any farther.

I don’t remember whether we ate any food that entire day.  I only recall locking the car, stumbling back to the trailer, kicking off shoes and falling across the unmade bed.

And what a night!  Semis roaring in and out, down-shifting and grinding gears;  the trailer being buffeted by heavy winds, candidates for  D.U.I.s  in every other car that was zooming around, voices loud and obnoxious, with us checking the door repeatedly to be sure we really were locked in.  An alert Highway Patrolman pounded on our door about 2:00 a.m. to make sure we were all right.  We managed to thank him politely although it was sort of like waking someone up to see if they were actually asleep.

The next day found us sailing serenely along in the morning sun, after having treated ourselves to a huge, greasy breakfast with gallons of black coffee at an off-ramp diner.  The belt-tightening and penny-pinching could start tomorrow.  We felt like seasoned R.V.ers as we made up a list of promises to ourselves:

Check the gas level constantly, don’t trust the gauges.

Never drive farther than a pre-set distance on any one day, regardless of circumstances.

No more road-side rest stops. Hook up in an R.V. park with electricity, water and above all else, a sewer connection every night.

THEN, fix ourselves a big Arrival Drink, relax and enjoy our retirement, taking each day as it came.


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