Family & Friends
By Helen Caserta, F101979
“B-3 …. O-65 …. “Bingo!” The first activity of the 20th Century Wagontrainers’ (TCW) 40th Anniversary Rally, held September 14 through 17, 2006, at the New Jersey State Fairgrounds in Augusta, was officially under way. After many months of planning, rally hosts Charles and Helen Caserta, F101979, and chapter president Richard Russo, F249341, and his wife, Nancy, welcomed guests to the event. This rally site was chosen because the fairgrounds offered additional activities that members could enjoy, namely the Small Farm and Rural Home Show and a horse show.
The 71 coaches that arrived were skillfully directed into their spots in the various parking areas by parking chairman Ed Patterson, F225153, and his able crew. These areas were designated for chapter officers; a “small coach” area, which was near the state-of-the-art bathrooms with wonderful showers; Old Timers Avenue, where coaches with four-digit FMCA membership numbers were parked; handicapped parking; and general parking. All sites had electric, many had water, and a dump station was available on the final day.
Rally attendees included members of TCW, along with ambassadors from other chapters, including Capitol, Knot Fore Busses Only, and Jersey Gems. The guest list also included Eastern Area national vice president Judy Czarsty, F79148, and past national area vice presidents Jean Pryor, L12913, and Steve Czarsty, as well as many former chapter officers.
On Thursday evening Bob Frey, F218146, provided the necessary audiovisual equipment so we could watch the movie RV, starring Robin Williams, on a big-screen TV. The activity center rocked with laughter as members enjoyed the movie while they nibbled on popcorn.
Friday morning, after coffee, bagels, and muffins, the seminars and crafts began. Jim Soden, F239451, ably discussed “Watts the Problem” to a large group of mostly men, while Nina Frey presented the first of her crafts, “Iris Folded Card.” This project featured a Christmas tree done in various colored foils. The class filled quickly, and an additional session was held.
At lunchtime we decided to do something a little different. We had an all-member luncheon to which we invited past members and friends. Twenty percent of the attendees were “passport” or former members of TCW who no longer owned coaches. Before and after lunch these folks seemed to enjoy the little museum we created with old pictures and mementos loaned to us for this special occasion. Afterward many folks drifted to Old Timers Avenue, which took on the appearance of a lively street fair.
Following lunch the activity room quickly filled again for the afternoon seminar, “Spam, Phishing, Hoaxes, Oh My!” presented by Dennis Lawyer, F160324, who also handled the rally registrations. A number of ladies attended the afternoon craft, titled “Decoupage Plate,” led by Carol Soden. Many lovely plates were displayed that evening.
That night we enjoyed a big treat. Ventriloquist Kenny Warren and his buddy, “LeRoy Cool,” performed a hilarious show. Kenny invited chapter members Eleanor D’Amico, F157440; Bob Frey; and Victor Stivaly, F9677, to join the act onstage, to everyone’s enjoyment.
The weather was much improved when we awoke on Saturday morning, which started with coffee and light breakfast fare again. During TCW’s annual meeting, all chapter officers were re-elected: president Richard Russo; senior vice president Jack Hornor, F312134; vice presidents Dolly Conway, F7720, and Matt Hoelzel, F198186; secretary Charlotte Lawyer, F160324; treasurer Myrna Patterson, F225153; national director Helen Caserta; and alternate national director Jack Peters, F163677.
Following the meeting, Joan Caserta, F84551, gave an impressive seminar on “Traveling with Pets.” During the craft seminar, again led by Nina Frey, attendees learned how to make a “String Art Card.”
Bill and Pat Geller, F132709, put their best foot forward by providing the fixings for an old-fashioned ice cream social with various flavors of ice cream (including sugar-free), lots of toppings, whipped cream, and cherries, of course.
While the men attended the “Battery Maintenance” seminar given by Jim Soden, the ladies played bingo called by Carol Soden, with prizes awarded to the winners. As this was going on, our barbecued chicken dinner was being prepared. Many of us took half of our meal home.
We returned to our coaches to get ready for Las Vegas night. We were encouraged to dress in our glitziest outfits before joining the group back in the activity hall, which had been lavishly decorated by Dennis and Charlotte Lawyer and their son, Chris. There were plenty of Vegas-type games, including blackjack, keno, dice toss, and roulette, plus musical entertainment by Joan, Mary, and Charlie Caserta. Those who weren’t interested in playing the games watched National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation on the big-screen TV. A life-size cardboard cutout of Elvis was present, and some members had their picture taken with it.
Later in the evening the anniversary cake, cleverly assembled by Helen Hutchinson, F342417, using 368 cupcakes, was brought out and enjoyed by all. To round out a terrific evening, numerous prizes were awarded to lucky winners. Everyone who “dressed” for the occasion received prizes, while all winning tickets could be deposited in cups for a Chinese auction-type of award system.
Sunday morning came all too soon. After we enjoyed our morning coffee and goodies, many members again visited the exhibits at the Rural Home and Small Farm Show. By late afternoon all of the coaches had departed the grounds. But before leaving, many folks were heard to say, “A good time was had by all.”
Northwestern Bus Nuts Celebrate 25th Anniversary
By Robert Deisner, F27742
Members of the Northwestern Bus Nuts gathered September 8 through 10, 2006, at Cannon Beach RV Park in Cannon Beach, Oregon, to celebrate the chapter’s 25th anniversary. Of the 53 coaches in attendance, seven belonged to charter members and six to past chapter presidents and guests.
All of the food was cooked by chapter members. The chefs included Joe Melroy, F216817, who prepared chicken on Friday, and Dick Wright, F42952, who provided his famous salmon feast on Saturday. Visitors and guests from other chapters seemed quite impressed with the fare. One of them even joined our chapter.
During the weekend a car show was held 20 miles away in Seaside, Oregon, and many rally attendees traveled to the event. A couple of our own members had entries in the procession.
During social hour on Friday and Saturday, door prizes were given out and just about everyone won something.
Members displayed their newly acquired anniversary jackets and had pictures taken of their individual coaches. These photos will be magically transferred to Bus Nuts chapter badges.
Northwestern Bus Nuts is a member-oriented chapter that relies on member participation, and during the past 25 years this arrangement has worked well. We all look forward to another 25 years of RVing adventures, rallies, and participation in the Northwestern Bus Nuts.
Sharlene Minshall: Solo Motorhomer, Full-Time Adventurer
By Pamela Selbert
You learn a fair amount about Sharlene Minshall, F118896, when you meet her and read the small sign that hangs around her neck: “Don’t Just Stand There “” Hug Me.” This charming lady with the ready smile and upbeat attitude is immediately likable. I met her during a Life on Wheels conference for RVers, where she was offering instruction on such subjects as “Fulltime RVing: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It,” “Mexico, My Mexico,” “O Canada,” and others that chronicled her many experiences. Learn more about her and you’ll definitely stand in awe when you discover where she’s been and what she’s done.
Sharlene’s motorhoming adventures have included living on a beach in Mexico for six months; eating fermented whale blubber with Eskimos on Alaska’s northernmost tip; taking a two-week, 500-mile canoe trip on an Alaskan river; and paragliding off a mountain and herding cattle in Colorado. Her experiences are even more astonishing when you consider that she’s accomplished them while traveling solo for the past 20 years.
Sharlene said that she began her camping days long ago with her husband, Jack, and two daughters. The girls “” Janet Wadlington, who now lives in Washington, and Tracey Norvelle, of Virginia “” “grew up in a 9-foot-by-9-foot tent.” The family camped on weekends and on more extended vacations, traveling on a shoestring budget. For 10 years Sharlene and Jack were co-leaders of Girl Scout troops, taking their troops on outings in a 60-passenger school bus they’d bought as a precursor to the truck camper they’d later own.
At the time the family lived in Niles, Michigan, and Sharlene, who is known to many of her friends as “Charlie,” commuted to her job as a medical secretary in South Bend, Indiana. Her husband was a mechanic. Both loved traveling and talked frequently about full-time motorhoming after retirement. But life threw the couple a curveball, and long before the full-timing plan could be fulfilled, Jack died at age 47. That was in 1982, when Sharlene was just 45.
Three years later she sold her Michigan home and moved to South Bend to be closer to her job. But she hated living in town and decided to proceed with the full-time traveling dream that she had shared with her husband.
“At the time I wasn’t quite ready to tell anybody other than my children and my boss,” she said. “I have four older brothers and knew they would try to discourage me from doing it.”
She bought a 25-foot type C motorhome, took a course in first aid, quit her job, and took off in September 1986. Since then her life has been an intriguing series of odysseys, taken first in the type C, and subsequently in a 27-foot type A Mallard Sprinter, which she purchased new in 1987 and drove for 17 years. She now travels in a 26 1/2-foot Georgetown type A. She refers to the motorhome as “six wheels to adventure.” Sharlene became a member of FMCA in 1988.
She drove 633 miles south of the border into Baja California, Mexico, to Santispak Playas on the Bay of Concepcion along the Sea of Cortez, where she lived for six months. “A lot of Americans and Canadians visited there, and I made lots of friends,” she said. “We lived on the beach in our coaches; ate shrimp; found cave paintings.”
Owners of a former travel firm called Carrs Caravans were among the visitors to the beach. Eventually she followed them to Cabo San Lucas, located at the peninsula’s southernmost tip. They asked her to produce a brochure for them about Cabo, and were so pleased they invited her to accompany them to Alaska to create another brochure.
“I didn’t travel in my coach that trip,” she said. “I parked it in Washington and rode to Alaska in the back of a pickup truck where they’d put in a cot for me to sleep on.” The company was setting up a caravan-style trip to Alaska; Sharlene’s task was to entice motorhomers to take part by offering a taste of Alaska in the brochure.
Her Alaskan adventures included a plane flight to Barrow. There, she arranged to meet a former Girl Scout from the troop she had co-led who was working with Eskimos. Sharlene attended a Naluqatuk (a whale kill celebration) and shared muktuk, which is fermented whale blubber. She grimaced at the memory. Other favorite sites from the trip included Denali and the Kenai Peninsula, she said.
“But my major adventures in Alaska have been on my own,” she said. “In 1996, just short of my 60th birthday, I saw a sign for ‘Yukon River Rafting: See the Wilderness,’ and hired a guide for the 500-mile trip between the town of Eagle and the Dalton Highway.”
At first the guide she approached didn’t take her seriously, she said. But once she convinced him that she wasn’t joking, he agreed.
It was a two-week trek through the wilderness, most of it tundra country, in a 17-foot-long canoe. The duo covered approximately 40 miles a day, and camped on sandbars along the river in a tent. A constant wind kept them from traveling faster, she added. They built campfires along the river each night, even though, at that time of year, May 31 to June 13, it was nearly always daylight. And both worked preparing meals. It was “the trip of a lifetime,” she said with a smile. Her guide’s son was waiting at the highway at the end of the trip to drive them back to Eagle.
On another occasion, in 1998, this time in her coach, Sharlene drove Canada’s Trans-Labrador Highway. This jaunt began with a 33-hour ferry trip through an iceberg corridor along the coast of Newfoundland to Goose Bay, Labrador, followed by a 580-mile drive over a haul road to Baie Comeau, Quebec. It was rough going, she recalled, with some 180 miles of the route over axle-deep mud and gravel.
But Sharlene doesn’t always travel alone. Her daughters sometimes come along, occasionally on cross-country trips, sometimes to Florida and elsewhere. And the whole family gets together every two years to celebrate Christmas.
“We don’t exchange gifts anymore; instead we pool our gift money and rent a house somewhere,” she said. “My daughters and I take turns deciding where it’ll be.” The reunions have taken place in Colorado, where on one occasion part of the fun was herding cattle on horseback at a dude ranch. Other gatherings have been held in Minnesota, Michigan, Washington, and New York.
The Colorado sojourn also included another of Sharlene’s favorite experiences: tandem paragliding off Aspen Mountain. The thrill for her was “running to the edge and jumping off into space. I was in front, the experienced jumper in back,” she said. “The weather conditions were perfect. We rose up another 1,000 feet and were in the air nearly half an hour.” She added that she didn’t get sick, as many who are new to the sport do, and hopes that her future includes more tandem jumps.
Sharlene also has volunteered on the road. She worked one summer at Colorado’s Snowmass Maroon Bells Wilderness. “Before I knew it the Forest Service had a mop and bucket in my hands,” she recalled with a grin.
But mostly she’s just enjoyed traveling. “So many things to remember,” she said nostalgically. On other excursions she has kayaked on Mexico’s Sea of Cortez; traveled for a year and a half through Old Mexico; and lived for a time in San Carlos, 200 miles south of the United States.
Sharlene also has recorded much about her journeys in more than 600 RV-related freelance articles and columns that have been published in nearly two dozen magazines, and in six books she has written. Titles include RVing Alaska and Canada; Full-Time RVing: How to Make it Happen; RVing North America, Silver, Single, & Solo; In Pursuit of a Dream; Freedom Unlimited; and others. She has been a columnist for RV Life magazine out of Washington since 1989. Recently she has moved on to a new era of fiction writing as well.
Sharlene also is an accomplished public speaker and began teaching classes at Life on Wheels conferences in 1996. Since then she has taught a variety of courses at all conference locations, managing to make full-time motorhoming seem the most desirable thing in the world.
After 15 years as a full-timer, Sharlene decided to “begin nesting half the year,” and purchased a lot in an Escapees RV park near Congress, Arizona. There she maintains a park model where she can spread out and make plans for RVing the rest of the year. A children’s book and a new non-fiction book tentatively titled RVing Serendipitously will be published in 2007.
Asked if she enjoys traveling alone, Sharlene said, “It beats sitting on the back porch waiting for somebody to ask me to go.” Being alone encourages her to make a real effort to meet people.
The prospect of full-timing may seem a little daunting to some RVers, she said, but she encourages those with the itch to give it a try. “Of course, there are challenges,” she said. “But for those who are thinking about it, my advice is to just get out and do it.
“As for me, I’ll try whatever is in my path.”
For information about Sharlene Minshall’s books or to order copies, contact Gypsy Press, Box 1040, Congress, AZ 85332-1040; or visit
www.full-time-rver.com or www.amazon.com.