One spring afternoon, I answered my home phone to a voice speaking, “This is Gaylord Maxwell.” I recognized the icon in the RV industry from his regular columns in Motorhome.
He explained that he had founded Life On Wheels RV Conference (LOW) on the campus of the University of Idaho in Moscow. Next, he asked if I would be interested in teaching classes on Workamping at the upcoming July conference.
I had never heard of Moscow in Idaho. Nor could I picture the expansive lawn Gaylord described that he had just finished mowing at his farm home in Deary, Idaho. My mind raced: Idaho! A place I had only seen on large wall calendars.
We had never traveled further west than Wyoming. I jumped at the opportunity. My late husband, James Paul, eagerly accepted Gaylord’s invitation to arrive two weeks prior to the conference and act as hosts for early arrivals to the Latah County Fairgrounds.
Suddenly the summer of 1995 took on a tinge of excitement, tempered by a bit of apprehension of the unknown. We packed and I created lesson plans for my classes, which grew to include one on writing letters and journals. In late June, we pulled into the fairgrounds and hooked our electrical cord to a lone pole with only 20 amps. Within three days, photographers Allan and Judy Bluestone, our co-hosts for early arrivals, drove in from Chicago. The next day Mike and Pam Steffen parked behind us. They were first-time students, but within a year, Mike joined the LOW staff, teaching classes from computer literacy to boon docking at Quartzsite, Arizona.
We sat under awnings of our RVs and swapped stories about our diverse backgrounds, and yet our common bond in the RVing lifestyle. Day by day, others came. One couple had taken early retirement to start full-timing. The woman said that as a child she had observed passing motorhomes and trailers and dreamed about one day traveling down the highways with a closet where she could hang her clothes. Driving a big new motorhome, they were living her dream.
Another couple arrived on the third day of their full-time RVing adventure. As they pulled away from their driveway in Washington, a Realtor hammered a “For Sale” sign into their front lawn.
The week of the conference, we moved to the campus of the University. Within a few hours, a small city of RVs parked on the football practice field and in parking lots around buildings for classrooms. Awnings popped out and rugs unrolled. Instant patios with comfortable chairs formed the perfect setting for meeting new folks—all with the goal of learning more about operating their RVs and enriching their roaming lifestyles.
When I agreed to become a part of Life On Wheels, I had no idea about the impact the conference—and the people—would make on my life over the next ten years. Gaylord and Margie Maxwell and the staff of the University’s enrichment program became dear friends. Other instructors who presented classes year after year and the fellow RVers in the volunteer parking crew formed a second family.
My teaching responsibilities expanded from three classes in the first year to nine sessions spread over five days during the annual conference. The first year, Gaylord asked me to teach the writing class as an experiment. The staff gave me a small room, and people were sitting on the floor and some brought in extra chairs. The following years, I added a series of basic writing classes and stood amazed at the number of RVers who came for all five sessions.
The Maxwells hosted an annual dinner for the teaching staff on the lawn of their farm in Deary. Not only did I actually see the setting Gaylord had described on the phone during that first conversation, I fell in love with the ring of fir trees around the grassy fields beyond their yard, a pond, and a vegetable garden.
Life On Wheels closed with the death of Gaylord Maxwell. However, those experiences and interactions, not only influenced my life, but altered its course. The memories of those conferences and the friendships formed during those ten years remain forever in my heart.
Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com