By Lazelle Jones
Occasionally a story pops up that has remained quiet for years, but by its very nature demands to be told. Such is the case with Cliff Custer, L4949, of Harrisonburg, Virginia.
To begin with, he’s 93 years old and can provide a living history for much of the 20th century. After nearly three-and-a-half decades of motorhoming, he still enjoys the lifestyle. He had a stellar career of more than 60 years working in the petroleum industry. But the thing that grabbed my attention was the fact that, since 1970, Mr. Custer has owned and enjoyed 33 different motorhomes.
I first saw this information about Mr. Custer noted in a Born Free Motorcoach ad. Quite frankly, I thought it probably was a typographical error. Not so. Mr. Custer verified that the 33-motorhome figure was indeed correct and said that he was ready for motorhome number 34.
Anyone reading this will probably think that Mr. Custer has been trading motorhomes at the rate of one per year since 1970, but that’s not exactly how it’s worked. He is what you might consider a “six-month” motorhome traveler. For a majority of the past 30-plus years, he has owned two motorhomes at a time “” a type A or bus conversion, and a type C. The large ones have included a Travco; Prevost coach conversions; a Newell; several Country Coaches; and others. He used these when wintering in such places as Arizona. Once spring arrived, Cliff and his late wife, Daisy, would drive the large coach back to their home in Virginia and swap it out for the type C motorhome, in which they would then travel to places throughout North America.
He said he has made a trip to Alaska on 12 different occasions, traveling as far north as Prudhoe Bay and as far south as ferry touring on the Alaska Marine Highway along the southern coastline.
Today Mr. Custer owns only one motorhome, a Born Free Built for Two. He also has a full-time driver named Betty who has been taking him around to various North American venues for the past several years. Some of Mr. Custer’s best adventures have occurred in Mexico. He has traveled there many times and said he loves the country, from Oaxaca to Mexico City, along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, and throughout the Mexican interior. He’s been on Copper Canyon piggyback railroad adventures and visited all of the Mexican pyramids. You name the place, and Mr. Custer likely has seen it. On three different occasions he has led or participated in motorhome caravans to Mexico that each totaled approximately 100 coaches. Now that’s amazing!
Ever since the mid-1970s, Mr. Custer’s summer motorhomes have been Born Free models. He was a member of FMCA’s Born Free chapter (which dissolved in 2002) and served as chapter president. In fact, he said he was personally responsible for encouraging Born Free Motorcoach company president John Dodgen and his engineers and designers to create the 26-foot Born Free models that are available today. Over lunch one day, Mr. Dodgen sketched out the floor plan for the 26-foot model on a napkin while Cliff told him what he wanted. One of the interesting notes to this story, Mr. Custer said, was that the final cost of the unit came in $7,500 below the figure that Dodgen Industries had estimated. Mr. Custer paid the total amount up front to have the 26-foot coach created. When he took delivery, Mr. Dodgen gave him a refund check for “” you guessed it “” $7,500.
So how did Mr. Custer first get into the motorhoming lifestyle? He began traveling North America by highway in the 1940s, but came to a crossroads in 1970 (figuratively speaking) when he considered buying a cabin as a getaway instead of a motorhome. Had he chosen the cabin, he would have missed out on what he said have been 34 of the best years of his life. Instead he bought a Travco motorhome, which literally set in motion decades of enjoyable travel.
During the 1970s, when FMCA was raising money to purchase land for its headquarters, Mr. Custer helped collect several thousand dollars from the sale of FMCA lifetime memberships. With the purchase of his own lifetime membership, Cliff added an “L” to his FMCA member number. He is a part of the strong, silent heritage that makes FMCA the excellent organization it is today.
Thank you, Cliff Custer, for your contributions to the association. Keep on cruising and please get back to us when you are 100, so folks can catch up on what you’ve done these next six years.