Monday, April 28, 2014

What Would Olive Think of "Her" Town?

While in Laughlin, NV, for the reunion we took a day trip to Oatman, AZ, with our friends from Texas. An overly staged gun fight was starting when we arrived and I used the time to look around the uncrowded shops. A little perusing of the tourist trade, some diverse people watching, more socializing, and we were on our way back to the hotel. Just a quick visit to a place that is part of my family history.



Shifting clouds made for a pleasant day of walking around the little town of Oatman

Oatman sits in a small canyon in the Black Mountains of Arizona

My maiden name is Oatman. I grew up knowing Olive's story of survival when she and her younger sister were kidnapped following the murder of her parents and two siblings. 

As a young girl living in the desert myself, it was easy to romanticize the reality of Olive's life. Years have provided more information about my intriguing ancestor.

There are many conflicting stories about Olive, her life, the town that took her name, her family. Even the book she traveled to promote years after her return to Fort Yuma included inaccurate accounts of her relationship with the Mohave tribe. People then (like now) were more likely to read about vicious savages enslaving young pioneer women than an adopted daughter whom they saved (with her sister Mary Ann) from their hostile captors (a more violent tribe, likely the Yavapais). Olive's in-person accounts of her time with the Mohave were generally quoted as being "affectionate" and "familial".

The small town of Oatman, Arizona, was originally named Vivian after the mining company who owned the land and employed the residents. A few years later the name was changed to Oatman. While it is agreed that it was named to honor Olive's story, there continue to be multiple versions of why.

Records of mine workers show a John Oatman working there in the early 1900's and some claim that John was Olive's son by a Mohave father and that he was behind the name change to honor his mother. There is no evidence anywhere to support Olive having children. When she later married a man named John Fairchild they adopted a daughter. It is believed she was unable to bear children.

Stories circulated for years that when Mary Ann died, Olive "escaped her captors and wandered into" the small mining camp and from there she was transported to Fort Yuma by the miners. This was the alleged event that prompted the town's name change. All accounts from Olive herself, as well as records at Fort Yuma, indicate the Mohave returned her to Fort Yuma when Olive's brother Lorenzo (who she believed had died with her family) negotiated a "trade". He was waiting for her when she arrived at the fort.

The massacre and kidnapping of the Oatman family happened in 1851 and the story was told over and over for years. The attack allegedly occurred in the area that later became the Vivian Mine. Most now believe (myself included) that the town was renamed in 1909, six years following Olive's death, for the famous event, honoring the young family whose dreams of California were cut short in the desert.

Olive lived to age 65 with her husband and daughter in Texas where she died of a heart attack.

One hundred and eleven years later the town of Oatman is alive and "kickin'", and tourist dollars are mined at a much higher rate than the gold ore of it's past.

Gun fights and stagecoaches attempt the feel of the old west, between rows of motorcycles and SUVs, and captured on a thousand smart phone cameras.

The Oatman Hotel survived the fire of 1921 and is surrounded by numerous shops, eateries, a couple galleries, and lots of burros. Few people know about Olive, but most know about the burros before they arrive.

When my father and I visited Oatman years ago there was a logbook for all "Oatmans" to sign-in. Adults were required to have identification and children were vouched for by an identified Oatman adult. It was pretty cool to sign the book along side Dad. A special connection to a historical location.

If the book still exists, or if signatures are still collected, it is a well-kept secret - or a very poorly advertised opportunity.

I don't believe Olive ever saw the tent camp of Vivian so there would be no comparative reaction were she to see the little town that now has her name. However I'm pretty confident she would be embarrassed by the many pictures of her with the blue chin tattoo she was always covering with her hand. Although it was a symbol of belonging during her life with the Mohave, it marked her as damaged when she returned to the white world. She would have hoped to be remembered differently I'm sure.

Even with all the fictional accounts and the cheesy tourist shops that now makeup Oatman, it is fun to have a town named after your family. It may not be Washington, or Donner, or even Kellogg - but it's on the map.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Gatherings of Friends and Family - Joys and Sorrows

I considered making this two posts but since the events were right on top of each other I kept it as one. Pictures from Laughlin and Oatman may make a separate post later.

Every April several of us gather in Laughlin, Nevada, for a high school/town reunion of sorts. We didn't go to school in Laughlin, but our town doesn't exist anymore. Unlike current graduating classes that number in the 100's, the graduating classes of Eagle Mountain, California, averaged in the 40's. The year of graduation marks milestone gatherings like 25 years and 40 years, but a lot of us make it every year that we can. Being from a small town/school, we knew parents and siblings who also show up. Teachers and coaches join us (still weird to drink and swear with them). Many spouses have become part of the family as well. Because the high school closed with the town when the Kaiser Steel Mine shut down in 1983, these gatherings are bittersweet for us. There are still many we knew as friends who don't come to the gatherings and every year we miss them. Others have passed away without ever returning and those opportunities are lost forever.

This year was Bill's 40th reunion (mine was last year) and with 23 of the 48 in attendance (7 have passed away), it was a great turnout. One couple who married two days after graduation came from Texas for the first time. He and Bill were good friends and she and I were as well, so the four of us enjoyed getting caught up on a short road trip to Oatman, AZ. We were also looking forward to spending time with another very good friend who graduated with Bill, and his wonderful wife of 30 years. Last year we spent a little time with them and have been looking forward to another chance to get caught up. As expected we had so much fun with them. They have a pad and hookups at their home in Tombstone so we also modified our initial route to include their place next year.

On Sunday we took the Jeep out in the desert and revisited the area where we played a couple years ago with rented ATVs. Some dirt roads, a lot of trails through washes and around rocks (scraped over one - oops), a short hike at the end of the first road - good fun! The plan was to turn around and return the way we came but at every opportunity we just kept going forward. When we came to some buildings with an old rv parked at the top of a hill we figured there must be a more civilized route from the other side. Yep, another turn found us back on dirt roads amongst houses with a view of Lake Mohave! Although short, it was still a great time bouncing and bumping out in the desert, and we returned to the hotel with lots of dirt, dust and scratches on the Jeep as souvenirs of our adventure.

This year we stayed Sunday night and had dinner and drinks with a smaller group of good friends. It was another highlight of the weekend wrapped up with great live music outside on the river-walk.

Monday afternoon we were back home to a wild welcome from Tessa and more happy memories of good times with old friends.

Tuesday our focus took a sharp turn toward immediate family. Our sister-in-law Marilynn called in tears having just met with Wayne's (Bill's older brother) doctors. She was given a decision that none of us ever want to make. After conversations with the family, all agreed that Wayne's wishes must be honored. Things expected to move quickly and we waited for the inevitable next phone call.

Wayne's kids and their spouses along with the oldest grandson, cousin and spouse, and daughter-in-law were with Marilynn in his room on Wednesday. We were still expecting "that " call. By the afternoon it was clear Wayne had a different itinerary and we decided it was time for the drive to Napa on Thursday morning.

During our drive the news from the hospital varied from "he's singing to us" to "Wayne says hurry." The last 15 miles were hell. The cars crawling on Hwy 29 had little regard for my need to get Bill to his brother before he passed - arrggh! Upon arrival it was "you'd better hurry." We got to the room, and with a raspy voice Wayne chastised us for taking "soooo long."

The next two days we gathered with Wayne and family at St Helena Hospital, then headed home at noon on Saturday. Multiple family members kept Wayne entertained, and at times Wayne was the entertainer. Some times he was with us and others he was far away. His wife and daughters took turns holding vigil each night. He spoke with his mom on the phone who had him chuckling, and he approved the tattoo pattern for those who want to remember him that way. The brothers shared memories and their love of music in quiet, intermittent moments of lucidity. Saturday was quieter than the day before. It was borrowed time that everyone needed and will always be grateful for.

Dying is hard and very sad. More so than death. Uncertainty is cruel and exhausting. Only a family who loves deeply from the heart while still listening to each other with their heads will truly survive it. The Gravel(le)s will be just fine.

Today is Sunday and Wayne still has unfinished business. Maybe he needs to say goodbye to the cat. Nobody knows. Arrangements are being made to move him home for hospice care. His will is stubborn but his fragile body may not survive the mountain roads. That call is still coming.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Sharing Becomes Caring, Or Why Black Tank Stories Make Me Give a S#*t

Southeast Canada, Arizona forest, Kentucky/Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Arizona desert, Southern California. I was in all of those places this morning, enjoying a large diversity of geography, weather, culture, flora and fauna. From all those places I can venture out to numerous other locations and share even more sites and experiences. The variety of locales is matched only by the variety of lifestyle and personality of those I travel with. Working/retired, married/single, pets/furless, motorhome/trailer/5'er/car, fulltimer/snowbird, grandparent/childless, hiker/walker, hookup/boondock, and so many more. It's delightful to share these places with such unique and different people.

Sharing is the right word I think. It's more than reading and looking at pictures.

A magazine article about a place or a travel experience is a one-time enjoyment. I might save the article for future reference - about the place/thing - but not likely about the writer. I'm not "there" in a magazine article because I have no relationship with the author. A great photo in a magazine might move me and make me want to see the same view with my own eyes, but I'm not feeling the lasting inspiration or humor or pure joy of the moment. I'm still in my chair reading and looking at pictures.

Bloggers take me along for the journey, sharing the everyday experience.

For me, the journey is more than the travels and the beautiful locations. It's the human experiences of real people doing and seeing things that we look forward to doing and seeing. All the excitement of new experiences, as well as the frustrations of missed opportunities, give me a true picture of what our dreamed-about lifestyle can and might be. Like any lifestyle, it's more about how we handle adversity and less about how we avoid it. Knowing that this person has off-days, even while living my dream, makes my planning more realistic. Someone shares a black-tank story with you and you're going to trust them to be real about the rest of the stuff :-).

All that sharing makes me care. About the blogger, their traveling companions (two legs and four), their family back home, even their damn rig!

Blog archives give me a unique opportunity to return to the beginning of the blogger's journey - to start their story at the place I am now. In many cases these archives cover five or more years. Not only have I learned a lot about locations, mistakes, insurance, budgets, routes, weather, and alligators; but I've gotten to know supportive parents, childhood friends, faithful pets, personal phobias, and Valentine's Day surprises. After spending "years" with them I'm invested in their lives. I care about what happens to them. I care about how they feel. When the pet dies or the partner is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, I'm in tears. The purchase of a new rig or the notice of clean test results have me doing the happy dance.

Sharing in the blogosphere makes the world a much smaller place while keeping the comfort of distance.

Someday I hope to meet all of the bloggers I follow and spend some great face-to-face time with them. If one of them were in trouble nearby I wouldn't hesitate to offer help today. But I don't imagine finding a RV park where we all hook up permanent sewer lines and spend the rest of our days sharing lawn space.  Bill and I love our privacy and the quiet of each other's company - making our journey.

Besides, whose grand adventures would we share at our own pace? Who would introduce us to new and wondrous places? Who would share a life we aren't living, and expand our hearts to care about people we will never meet?

I'm off to travel north from Florida and Arizona, and east across Utah, and return to the S&B for the summer, and finish up some medical tests, and plan the route to the workamper job in the northwest, and see some more historic sites in the northeast - all before lunch.

Glad I'm not sharing the fuel costs :-).


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Reserving the Shadow - Confession from a Non-Planner

Spontaneous, adventurous, daring, boondocking, seat-of-the-pants-flying, unscheduled, free - we want to be all of these in our travels. Even in our current road trips there is an expectation that routes will change. While it is fun for us to revisit places together, we always love to point out "This is a road I have never traveled before!"

We are often asked "Where are you going first?" and the answer is usually "We don't know" or "It depends on the weather at the time". Today the answer is "Out the driveway" because that's all the farther we want to plan.

So why do we have reservations for a week in August 2017? In Idaho? At an RV park?

Because we want to be in the Shadow.

One of the many interests we share (there are also a healthy number we don't) is a fascination with weather and astronomy. Growing up in the desert we were exposed to the beauty and harshness of weather, and a night sky full of stars that touched the mountain ranges all around us. Back then, and in the years since, there were lunar and solar eclipses that we viewed like most of the world's population - lunars with the naked eye and solars through some modified viewer, or on television. Very cool to see.

But we've never been in the Shadow.

No one in the United States has been in the Shadow since 1988. I didn't even know it was here then. Fortunately I do know when it will be here next. The path of the Shadow is mapped with amazing accuracy decades in advance of it's swipe across our planet. In 2017 the United States will play host to the Shadow starting in Newport, Oregon and exiting from Cape Romain, South Carolina - 1 hour, 33 minutes and 16.8 seconds after its arrival. It will not touch land again, melting into the ocean just before the coast of Africa.

Shadow's Path - August 21, 2017

People will come from all over the world to stand in the Shadow.

Although I didn't know it was here the last time, thousands of eclipse-chasers (not really a chase if you get there first, but that's what they call themselves) came here to experience it, and they will again. One unique phenomenom (like the whole deal isn't phenomenal enough by itself) of this event is that the sun will rise while eclipsed. What? Wow! They say this is something that veteran chasers rarely witness. A truly amazing natural wonder.

Which is why we won't be on the coast when we're in the Shadow.

The most amazing and wonderous natural events can be ruined, or at least lessened in their greatness IMHO, by two things. People and weather. Too much of either will diminish the best experience and I attempt to avoid both. Shadow-cancelling fog is a possibility on the central coast of Oregon any time of year. Hordes of eclipse chasers mixed with the yearly summer-beach-going-vacationers making the location a chaotic nightmare is a strong probability.

There are many places where we can stand for up to two minutes in the Shadow.

At an hour and a half, this joining of Shadow with land is not going to be a quickie. This is a respectable, long-term relationship we're talking about. It will cover a lot of ground. While it will all be exciting, we would like to avoid the hot and sweaty phase. So south and east in August is out for us. The southern tip of the Grand Tetons will undoutedly be spectacular (and in hindsight I may regret we didn't go there), but I opted for a more off-the-beaten-path location in Rexburg, Idaho, where we will be in full shadow for 2 minutes and 17 seconds.

Not since re-reading Peter Pan have I so anticipated the delight of a Shadow.

This is something worth making plans for, getting reservations, planning advance routes, buying a special outfit (okay, maybe not), putting on the calendar! Where are we going before then? Yep, out the driveway.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

They Can Cancel the Show But They Can't Hide the Rigs

Fortunately I checked the fairgrounds' website for the gate time of the RV show and found out it had been cancelled. It was scheduled for 10 days, but there was no information other than the big CANCELLED label across the announcement. Bummer.

So when you're all warmed up to tour motorhomes do you change plans and do something else? Of course not. Not when you're in SoCal and there are a few large dealers within an hour's drive!

Bill remembered one on the freeway and our GPS confirmed it's location near where he used to work. After detouring through the area that looks nothing like its former self thanks to the never-ending construction, we stopped for lunch at Fuddrukers. Delicious burgers and onion rings made the delay worthwhile and calmed down my hungry-cranky-pants. From there Ms GPS took us to the address which was a new Camping World under - you guessed it - construction. Figured the dealer had closed up shop and was purchased by CW. Bummer again.

Started feeling like we just weren't supposed to look at rigs. Not like we could write a check even if we lost our minds and tried to buy one! So we drove to Bill's old work site and let Tessa out to run around for a bit while we located the other dealer. I thought it was fairly close. Yep, 11 miles south. What the heck, beautiful day, no where else to be, let's keep going.

This time we found it. Even though there was a gatehouse with a guy directing people to the parking lot, and a RV Show sign on the fence, there were very few rigs to check out.  We did manage to get out of the Jeep with Tessa and make it across the front of the lot, but the ever-vigilante salesman cornered us around the back of the first rig. Nope, not going to just meander at our leisure at this place.

One of the main reasons we have focused on diesel pushers with the entry door in front is for the passenger seat legroom and the lack of doghouse to climb over at the dash. For that reason we didn't look at Thor Palazzos in the past, even though there are many of them on the market. The new Winnebago Forza was the same story. Liked the floorplan but with the mid-coach entry I figured the legroom was compromised.

This dealer had no Thor Tuscanys and no Tiffins but there were Palazzos and Forzas on the lot so figured we might as well check them out. Afterall, we had done some driving to get there! The Palazzo was first and we both liked it a lot. Being a diesel pusher there is no doghouse, and we were pleasantly surprised that it has plenty of legroom. With the addition of a pullout shelf and the larger side window, the passenger seat is actually better than the Tiffin. The other thing I like better is the television over the dinette and across from the couch, rather than at a right angle. Has the residential refrigerator, washer and dryer, and outdoor television all standard. Unfortunately it doesn't have a king bed option so we would have to do an after-market modification as the bigger bed is a must-have.

The Forza was similar with good legroom and the better television placement. I liked the fireplace option but the white leather was already filthy and the cabinetry was not real wood (and looked like it). I can't completely cross it off the list yet, but I'd have to see a clean one without the white upholstery.

I meant to take pictures of everything we looked at but the distraction of the salesman made me forget to take any.

Tessa was hesitant about the steps at first but quickly got the hang of the in and out. She checked out the bedrooms and bathrooms and then laid down on the floor while we discussed some of the details.

Got on the freeway for home but turned around and went south another 15 miles to the other large dealership. They have several locations including the one we didn't find earlier. They were also the same dealer whose rigs we looked at (Itasca and Tiffin) at the big October show. Much larger selection, but still no Tuscanys. Lots of Tiffins but no 33aa's. Another fleet-footed salesman caught up with us at the first coach. 

He showed us the new 34' Legacy by Forest River. Nice diesel coach with side entry and a much lower MSRP than the others on our list. Neither one of us felt good in it. It has some nice amenities but wasn't very comfortable. 

We asked about solar installation at the dealership and learned that they install the new "roll-out" flat panels that can be cut to any size, lay flat on the roof, weigh a tenth of the hard panels, and have nearly zero maintenance needs. This was great information, and something to follow up on later as well.

At this point the salesman went to see if the recently sold 33aa was still on the lot somewhere we could go see it, leaving us to wander and look on our own. Yay. Still didn't remember to take pictures so I'll have to come up with another excuse.....

Bounder, Windsport, Itasca, all the ones we looked at were either too big, too small, had a doghouse to crawl over, or were just lacking the "it" factor that we know when we feel it. Met up with the salesman at the gate where he confirmed the 33aa was unavailable. A short discussion on our plans, the dealer's virtues, and changes in standard features on the Tiffin that he hadn't heard about yet (from BFF's Tiffin guy), and we were back in the Jeep.

It was a very fun day that gave us a couple other rigs to consider. There is little doubt that if everything comes together perfectly as planned we will purchase the 33aa. However, given the realities of life, it is good to have options that are less expensive but still desirable. We have to have the king bed and I'm not sure about the Palazzo's 300hp engine instead of the 340hp of the Tiffin. We'll keep doing the research.

Lots of things still need to happen before we can go buying instead of looking, but we didn't let a little thing like a cancelled rv show keep us from checking out some motorhomes!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Nightmare to Dream: Tiffin Customer Service Puts Them Back on Top

There are a lot of things to consider when looking for the rig that will be your home.

What we most want is a coach that runs/works well, built by a company that stands behind it's product and supports their owners. Included in that is buying from a dealer that shares those qualities and has a good working relationship with the manufacturers.

I have owned a couple motorhomes that I inherited, but we have never purchased an RV. My best friend and her husband have had a travel trailer and a couple motorhomes over the years so my indirect experience is through them. Until a couple years ago that experience was pretty positive. They bought quality used units, traveled regularly, repaired the minor issues that arose, enjoyed themselves. 

Then they bought the used LaPalma. Many issues arose with that coach and the dealer's handling of some of them was suspicious. It became a money-pit with no manufacturer warranty. They worried about their safety and the cost of the next inevitable repair. Fed up with sinking thousands of dollars into a rig they could no longer enjoy they decided to buy a new coach.  We were already looking at new but this sealed it for us - we'd suffer the depreciation for the warranty.

Their first deal for a new Thor fell through when the dealer refused to honor their agreement on the trade-in value, got very nasty, and then pulled the contract! The experience was so terrible they decided to keep the LaPoopa. But after one trip north and still more problems, they again went new rig shopping. 

About this time Bill and I were narrowing down our choices and the Tiffin Allegro 33aa was at the top. Everything we read about quality and customer service was impressive and we liked what we saw at the RV show where we did a quick walk-through. Bob Tiffin was there and seemed like a pretty stand-up guy who believes in what they build.

So I am very excited when the BFF sends me pics of their new Phaeton! Beautiful coach, everything they wanted, good deal, good buying experience. They plan their shakedown run and head north again. Lovely trip, they note some things that need to be addressed, they schedule an appointment with the dealer upon their return. The only real concern they have is the leaking windows. All the windows. Leaking, not condensation.

The first "alarm" went off when they were told by the service guy that the windows are "supposed to do that". Whaaat? But the service department will be working with the Tiffin area-representative on all the items and certainly that person will not agree that leaking windows is normal or acceptable in their coach. This is around November 11, 2013. The estimate on the repairs is two weeks. 

The first week in December the new Tiffin owners contact the dealer for a pick-up date. There isn't one. Challenges with communicating with the Tiffin rep, holidays, etc., etc. Okay, no problem, they have no plans until after Christmas so no rush. Note to self: NEVER tell a dealer there's no rush.

A couple more calls in December, still working on a couple of the items, they'll have it right after New Years. Middle of January they drive to the dealer and see their rig sitting in the same spot it was in November, covered in dirt, with no sign it has been touched. The service rep now tells them that the Tiffin rep has been working with them on the leaking windows (apparently they aren't supposed to do that). They are now going to try stuffing fabric in the frames to see if that fixes them as the other things they tried were not successful. 

The first thought you had when you read that? Yeah well multiple that by ten and you might imagine the owners' reaction at the dealership. After a passionate explanation as to why that was NOT going to happen, the owner received the direct phone number of the Tiffin rep. The equally passionate phone call resulted in the rep's agreement that fabric-stuffing was out and all new windows were in. There is no "window warehouse" so they have to be made and shipped from Alabama. How long? You guessed it - two weeks. 

The rep suggests they take the rig home to wait for the windows to arrive. The dealer had washed and waxed it so they agreed it would be best to get it off the dirty lot and get it home for the couple weeks. Back in their driveway they are able to check things out more thoroughly. Moisture under the throw rug in the bedroom that looks like it came from the seam of the back slide, more signs of leaking at each window, puddled water in the fusebox.   Mold. 

He has COPD. Mold is something to be avoided at a distance, let alone in the walls and under the bed. They are heartsick. This coach is a sieve, it seems to be tweaked so that nothing lines up right. New windows are not going to fix this. She does her homework and sends Bob Tiffin an email.

At this point it's February and I'm ready to walk away from our dream rig - the 33aa. They have been 90 days without their rig and there are still no new windows at the dealership. Then comes the call from Alabama.

The national rep is flying out to California to talk with them and see the coach. It doesn't take two weeks. He comes to their home. He looks and reads and listens. He makes no excuses. He makes an offer that they turn down. He listens some more. He agrees to recommend they get what they ask for.

Within days they are picking out the color of their new Phaeton. All their belongings in the coach are removed by professionals, cleaned of all the mold, and returned to them neatly boxed a week later. The local Tiffin rep has a job change. The coach is picked up and driven back to Alabama. The new one will be delivered in May.

That Tiffin customer service you've heard about? It's real. That Tiffin Allegro 33aa? It's back on the top of our list.