Jim and Ginny Holifield continue to live their motorhoming dream, even after more than 40 years on the road.
By Doug Uhlenbrock, Associate Editor
The sun had yet to crack the eastern horizon on a crisp March morning in Perry, Georgia, during FMCA’s 77th International Convention, but already the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter was alive. Emerging from the darkness, in all directions folks converged “” first in trickles, then in streams “” on a large, open-air building to grab a cup of coffee and a couple of doughnuts during the association’s traditional wake-up gathering.
Handshakes were exchanged, backs were slapped, and laughter could be heard above the music being played by the Frustrated Maestros. Some convention-goers darted here and there looking for something or someone, then were gone, while others, less hurried, sat or milled about enjoying their refreshments. To the uninitiated, this controlled chaos might seem a bit overwhelming. But longtime FMCAers Jim and Ginny Holifield, L387, couldn’t imagine a better way to start a convention day.
The Holifields have attended dozens of these early-morning socials, having traveled to every FMCA summer convention except for the very first in Ticonderoga, New York, and all but a handful of the winter gatherings. As the couple enjoyed their coffee and doughnuts, Jim, wearing a red FMCA jacket weighted down with the 70-some hash marks from previous conventions, surmised that only Genny Jennings Luckey, L26, a charter FMCA member, has been to as many conventions as they have.
Jim, 82, and Ginny, 78, joined FMCA in 1965 at a time when the association was in its infancy, and conventions weren’t the grand productions they are today. Their first, at the Darke County Fairgrounds in Greenville, Ohio, attracted a whopping 232 coaches. But the couple recalls those days fondly. “Conventions have grown a lot,” Jim said. “There were a lot of kids when we first started. But now the kids are mostly grandkids. I remember when my sons would carry water to make coffee for Coffee Hours in the morning.”
While times have changed, the Holifields continue to make their convention pilgrimages each year “” FMCA’s gathering in Redmond, Oregon, this past August, was their 72nd “” to rejoin old friends and make new ones. Motorhoming and FMCA are staples in their lives.
Living A Dream
Traveling in a motorhome has been a lifelong ambition for Jim, even before he knew that such vehicles existed. Ginny said that when her husband was just a boy, he wanted a bus with a home inside. For most people, childhood dreams are either forgotten or swept away by the reality of life. Not so for Jim. He eventually got his bus house and the Holifields have been traveling ever since.
For a couple so involved in motorhoming, it’s ironic that they actually met on an airplane. Jim, who eventually became an orthodontist, was doing graduate work at the University of Kentucky. On a trip home to Pennsylvania in October 1950 “” to see his girlfriend “” he chatted with a young stewardess named Virginia Anne Crowe “” Ginny for short “” on his TWA flight to Pittsburgh. After the plane arrived in the Steel City at 4:00 a.m., the two spent another couple hours in the airport getting acquainted. After saying good-bye, Jim completed the final leg of his trip home, broke up with his girlfriend, and began courting Ginny, then a recent graduate of the University of Missouri, via mail, long-distance calls, and occasional meetings during her layovers in Dayton, Ohio, New York City, and Philadelphia.
It didn’t take long for the young couple to realize they were a perfect match, and just nine months later they were married by Ginny’s father, a minister, in a double ceremony that also included her sister, Ruth (Drissell). Another sister, Carol (Ruffati), served as maid of honor. Two weeks later Jim began dental school in Philadelphia, while Ginny, grounded by a TWA policy that prohibited married women from working as stewardesses, was diverted into the company’s flight reservations office.
In 1954 their first child, Sharon, was born, followed by James Jr. in 1955 and Steven in 1959. During this period Jim practiced dentistry in his hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; moved the family to North Hollywood, California, where he worked as a pedodontist for 2 1/2 years; then, was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Medicine, where he studied orthodontics.
After Jim completed his training in 1961, he purchased a 1947 Flxible bus for $1,500. (Jim said his classmates recommended that he seek psychiatric evaluation after making the purchase.) He removed all but the front four seats, packed it full of furniture, and the young family of five moved to their home in Sacramento, California “” the same house that Jim and Ginny still live in today. Jim retired in 1993 after 33 years as an orthodontist.
The couple’s oldest son, Jim Jr., still recalls the family’s first “motorhome” trip. “My very first memories of this are when I was 5 or so years old and our family packed our first Flxible full of mattresses and stuff and moved to California,” he said. “My sister and I would play in the back, crawling around the nooks and crannies of the packed-full coach.”
Once settled in, Jim began his first coach conversion. At the time production motorhomes were fairly rare and there certainly weren’t many companies that supplied the type of equipment and appliances needed by individual coach-building pioneers to replicate the conveniences of home in a moving vehicle.
“In the beginning it was tough, because you couldn’t get a lot of the stuff you needed,” Jim said. “So you ended up making it yourself.”
This left folks like Jim to rely on their own ingenuity when it came to designing and building their motorhomes. In those days, anything was possible when a person had an idea, some mechanical ability, and a touch of mad genius. From this early trial-and-error period evolved the contemporary motorhomes we all enjoy today.
The Holifields eventually owned three other Flxible buses before they purchased a GMC 4106 bus in 1975. This would become the Holifield coach for the next 22 years and 400,000 miles “” their “Funhome.”
Just as he’d done with each previous coach, Jim included design features to make living and traveling more convenient, doing all of the plumbing, electrical wiring, carpeting, and woodwork himself. For instance, he wanted to be able to control everything in the coach “” lights, utilities, etc. “” from one central location. So he constructed and wired a large control panel in the front of the bus that included 100 switches. He also built the bathroom and subsequently moved its location three times to accommodate other changes, including the addition of a crib area so the couple’s grown children could bring their toddlers along.
The Only Way To Travel
During the early years, friends and family might have questioned the couples’ sanity. Why go through all this work when there were airplanes and hotels that could provide the same transportation and lodging accommodations? Well, the Holifields determined early in their married life that they would be travelers, and in Jim’s mind the only way to get from point A to point B (often followed by points C, D, and E) was by motorhome. According to Ginny, Jim’s affinity for motorhoming is easy to explain. “He just loves to drive.”
Whether it was a weekend getaway, a cross-country trip to visit relatives, or a month-long sight-seeing journey, the family would pack into the coach and head for the open road. Even during Christmas break.
“We went to plenty of rallies during the holiday season,” Jim recalled. “We would have a Christmas tree in the bus, usually a real tree. That is, until one of my sons told me it was a fire hazard, so we got a fake one.”
The motorhoming bug was not restricted to the immediate family. Ginny’s two sisters and their husbands, Ruth and Norman Drissell, F161307, and Carol and Ray Ruffatti, F179000, also joined the RVing fraternity in the early 1990s after experiencing firsthand the joy of the lifestyle during trips with the Holifields. In fact, the three couples took trips to Newfoundland, Canada, in 1992, and to Alaska and Mexico in 1994.
But those excursions were tame compared to the one “big” trip this related group took in 1999. Along with five other couples they set off from McAllen, Texas, on a five-month, 23,000-mile journey to the southernmost city in the world at the tip of South America.
The first part of the route traced the west coast of Central America to Panama. There, the motorhomes were loaded onto a ship and taken to Lima, Peru, where they were met by the travelers, who arrived via airplane. From there the group continued south along the west coast of Peru and Chile until they reached their destination: Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.
On the return portion of the trip, the motorhomers skirted the eastern coastline, traveling through Uruguay and into Brazil, where they made a side trip to see the Iguaza waterfalls. The entourage then backtracked to the coast and continued north until reaching the mouth of the Amazon River in Belem, Brazil. Here the motorhomes “” and their occupants “” were loaded onto barges for a five-day, 1,000-mile trip upriver to Manaus. After unloading from the barges, the group drove to Caracas, Venezuela. The motorhomes were put on a freighter and shipped back to Texas, where they eventually were picked up by their respective owners for the drive back home.
The Holifields’ travelogue isn’t limited to trips within the Western Hemisphere. In 1993 Jim and Ginny hopped a plane to Europe where they rented a motorhome and toured Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and France for a month.
Finding A Second Family
Prior to the formation of Family Motor Coach Association in 1963, motorhome enthusiasts like the Holifields were pretty much on their own when it came to meeting others with similar interests. Chance encounters at campgrounds or fuel stops might lead to the exchange of addresses or phone numbers, perhaps resulting in plans for a future weekend rendezvous, but nothing in the form of organized activity. That changed when FMCA’s goose egg was hatched in Hinckley, Maine, establishing a new era for those with the desire to travel and live in the same vehicle.
It didn’t take long for the Holifields to discover and join FMCA, becoming the association’s 387th family member.
“I found out about FMCA when we were in Monterey, California, in a rented Cortez motorhome in 1964,” Jim said. “A man from back east in a motorhome told us to join FMCA. He told us to send in $5 to Hanson, Massachusetts (FMCA’s original headquarters). We waited three months for a reply, but when it came we were told the dues had been raised to $10. So we had to reapply and waited another couple of months for F387. If not for all that, we would have had a much lower F number.”
Once members, the Holifields immediately began taking an active role in the fledgling organization. They were founding members of the California chapter in 1965, and Jim served as its third president and national director. The Holifields also were charter members of the Western Bus Nuts, Converted Coach, Pipe Dreamers, Golden Gate, PNO, BRB, Busses Only, and GM Bus chapters, and served in official roles in many of them. The Holifields were so active in FMCA that at the 1970 summer convention in Costa Mesa, California, they received the association’s Family of the Year Award.
In 1976, at FMCA’s Centreville, Michigan, convention, Jim and Ginny purchased a life membership, which changed their member number to L387.
Jim’s enthusiasm for FMCA led him to run for national office, where he served as a national vice president from 1972 through 1975, and on the Finance Committee from 1997 to 1998. The Holifields have been members of the Family Motor Coaching Magazine Panel since 2003. (Not surprisingly, Jim has a copy of every FMC magazine ever published.)
Jim Kern, F63208, who recently completed his term as FMCA national treasurer, remembers the Holifields from his early days in the association. “When we joined in 1982, Jim and Ginny were one of the couples who welcomed us and loved us into FMCA,” he said. “(The Holifields) are the kind of mentors you need in FMCA; they set the example. When Jim was national director of the Western Bus Nuts, he gave us more information about what was going on in FMCA than anyone else.”
Today the Holifields are members of 10 chapters and continue to maintain leadership roles in two of these groups. Jim is the national director and vice president of the Pipe Dreamers chapter and Ginny is national director of the Golden Gate chapter.
No Slowing Down
The Holifields’ latest coach, a 2002 26 1/2-foot Lazy Daze, is much smaller than their previous RVs, but it is equipped with all the gadgets you’d expect a serious motorhomer to have, such as a GPS navigation system; a satellite radio receiver, with weather forecasts, stock prices, and traffic information; an MP3 player; and a rearview monitor. And it continues to carry the same “FUNHOME” license plate that previous Holifield coaches have displayed since California vanity plates were made available in the early 1970s.
Another fixture found inside all Holifield coaches past and present is a sign that reads “Home Is Where The Heart Is,” which Jim, half-jokingly, said was hung for the benefit of his wife. “We live in a cul-de-sac, and by the time we’d get to the end of the street Ginny would be getting homesick,” he said.
Once on the road, though, Ginny enjoys motorhoming just as much as her husband of 56 years. “Being able to travel in our RV across our beautiful country during the years our kids were growing up was very special,” she said. “Home is where the heart is. The family togetherness and camaraderie of attending FMCA conventions, visiting national parks, and visiting with friends and families along the way have helped our family remain close.”
Indeed, the couple never missed an opportunity to load the kids “” and eventually the grandkids “” into the motorhome and hit the road. Once their children reached driving age, Jim was even known to give up the steering wheel once in a while and let the youngsters pilot the bus. Daughter Sharon Lovell recalls her days in the driver’s seat and traveling with the family.
“When I turned 16, I drove the Flxible bus with a stick shift that my dad had converted to an RV,” she said. “I also drove the GM 4106 bus when I got older. I really enjoyed driving the buses a lot. . . . After I was married, my mom and dad took our family in the GM 4106 to New England, Washington, D.C., New York, Walt Disney World, and to many national parks such as Yellowstone Park, Grand Canyon, and Mount Rushmore. My dad custom made bunk beds in the bus for my three children that they absolutely loved. My oldest son, who is now 25, was in 38 states before he started first grade.”
Besides the hundreds of chapter gatherings, area rallies, and international conventions they attended, the family traveled in every state “” except Hawaii “” and visited scores of national parks, landmarks, and other attractions, including three World Fairs. The Holifields also used the motorhome to reunite with family throughout the country, attend summer sports training facilities, and to hit the ski slopes.
Youngest son Steve still gets a kick from remembering the trips the family would take during this childhood. “Growing up traveling was great,” he said. “As we crossed the country it was always funny when people asked us if we were the Partridge Family. We laughed when we pulled into a fast-food restaurant in our converted bus and saw the cooks frantically throwing on the burgers thinking a busload of people would soon be entering.”
The Holifields are not planning to scale back on their motorhome excursions any time soon. When asked how often they travel, Jim responded, “Not enough!” The Funhome continues to shuttle the couple to rallies, conventions, and activities for the children and grandchildren.
As for the future, Jim realizes the time will come when he’ll park the motorhome for the final time. But he still has a dream trip, one that he only whispers about when Ginny’s nearby. “Before I hang up the keys I would like to drive around the world,” he said. “At one point I had the complete trip planned with an itinerary.”
Sounds far-fetched, perhaps, but dreams can come true. Just ask the little boy who always wanted a bus with a home inside.