Some people had condos in Baja. Some in Hawaii, some in Florida but we were able to take our condo everywhere we went. The COW was our Condo On Wheels. Life with the COW began with the purchase of a Dodge Cummings Diesel truck in 1990. The goal was to pay off the truck and then buy a fifth wheel trailer before I retired. We already had the list of the National Parks where we wanted to volunteer. We subscribed to Trailer Life magazine so we would have some idea of what we wanted in a trailer. Our parameters were thirty feet long and a slider (something new at that time). 30ft. was the maximum for many state and federal parks. The slider because we were sure we wanted to entertain and have that extra space. After all, we were moving into this trailer from a four bedroom house, full time.

We searched in Oregon, Washington and California. We even checked out places like Quartzite and Yuma where all the snow birds hung out. The deal was made near Disneyland. We bought the COW with the understanding we would stay on their lot the first night and do all our cooking, showering and etc. The next morning, having never towed a fifth wheel, I pulled our brand new thirty foot fifth wheel onto the Santa Ana Freeway. Our first stop was Camper’s World.

Any time you take up a new hobby or interest there are always those minimal expenses required to be a groupie. For full time RVers there are the sewer hoses and their leveling tracks. The decal that has you fill in the states you visited is another requirement. My wife made a flag that gave our home town. There are electrical adaptors, water pressure controls, bubble levels on three corners and a very large one front and center so you can see it through your truck rear window while backing into you place for the night. If you are not level all kinds of bad things happen. First is no sleep. The coolant in your propane/electric fridge will puddle and cause great expense.

Our second stop was supposed to be Tip’s Restaurant. When I pulled into the parking lot and around the back, they had blocked off the far end where I had expected to park and pull out. I was now in a long narrow parking lot with a right angle bend and impossible to back out. On the other hand, that was the only way out (how many have backed any kind of trailer?). My wife had to jump out and give me hand signals. It is amazing how difficult it is to keep someone in your mirror when this mammoth trailer keeps getting between her and the mirror. This is when I found out it was a mistake to not buy walki-talkies. This was reinforced when we pulled into a RV campground in Bakersfield and people in lawn chairs watched and listened to the entertainment my wife and I produced while trying to back into a space. This was the last time we would be the evening’s entertainment. Of course, we were often in those lawn chairs waiting for other RVers to entertain us.

Another lesson learned was when, in a hurry, I forgot to chalk the wheels before yanking the release on the trailer hitch. Unfortunately there was a slight up hill and the trailer immediately rolled backward and landed on the sides of the bed of the pickup. Ouch! The hurry was for a doctor’s appointment. When I arrived late and he checked me out he claimed that I had high blood pressure and prescribed a medication. That charting follows me to this day and every doctor asks me about it.

In short time we had seconds of everything for the kitchen and minor repair tools. There were still times when we wanted a spice or tool and remembered it was out in the trailer. There were many shake down cruises with a group of others with the same interest.
Soon I was volunteering every other weekend at Redwood National Park, taking the COW and spending Saturday night up there with a view of the surf on one side and Fresh Water Lagoon on the other side.

In Feb. of ‘98 I retired and in March of ‘98 we were on the road as full time RVers. Our word for it was homeless. Our second National Park was Rocky Mountain National Park. There were two big surprises with the COW there. Our first morning there was no water. The supply hose had frozen. On June 19th we got three inches of snow. The snow piled up on our awning and bent the rods. The solution is to leave one end down and let gravity keep the awning clean of snow.

The water was also frozen the morning, September 13th when we took off for our third volunteer position, Padre Island National Seashore. When we got there the water temperature in the Laguna Madre was 82 degrees. We arrived a day ahead of schedule so we pulled out on the 65mile stretch of free camping beach and were pleased that we were self contained. We woke to the sound of surf. I peeked out the window and the salt water was coming up to about four feet of the COW. WOW! Vicki was not even fully dressed when I had the truck running and trying to do a quick U turn to head back up the beach and the only driveway. You guessed it. I turned too sharp and got stuck in the sand. We ended up unhooking the trailer and dug a trench in front of the tires and filled them with our leveling blocks and dirty clothes and managed, in four wheel drive, to drive out. We then hitched the COW back on and drove the wrong direction till we found a blow out to turn around in. A blow out is a place where there is a space between dunes and high tide washes all of the trash that arrives along that part of the gulf coast, but that is another story. And that is just part of the first year of six and a half years with the COW.

Chuck Mills

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