A family finds their “Happy Bus” useful when relocating out West.
By Tim Ruddy, F347673
It was another brilliant idea. Shortly after finishing having my head examined for taking two kids and three dogs across the country and back by motorhome, I found myself contemplating a new adventure, something that would break new ground in our RV life. I decided that we would use our motorhome, affectionately called the “Happy Bus,” for a 2,000-plus-mile move from our home in Florida to new digs in the wild west of Colorado.
Now, I must say that my sense of adventure wasn’t the only thing that drove me to consider this little jaunt; it also was my sense of nostalgia. Like many RVers, I am very nostalgic, particularly when it comes to what things should cost. I reckon back to the old days when moving a vehicle from here to there involved giving your buddy some gas money and a couple extra bucks and saying, “See you there in a few days.” Nowadays things are much more complicated. However, all it took for our family to choose this option was a few screams of, “You’re gonna charge me WHAT to move my car/RV?!”
Every real man knows that moving on your own would not be complete without packing it all up yourself (I do read Popular Mechanics, after all). What self-respecting do-it-yourselfer lets other guys come over and handle his precious stuff? Of course, the trickiest part of moving is trying to estimate how much stuff you have before you pack it, especially when your wife and you have some slight disagreement over what is crucial to survival in your new abode.
Personally, I felt that our house would sell better if we left as much of the furniture and decor in it as possible. After all, it would give the house that “furnished” look and help to show prospective buyers some possible decorating ideas. That feeling on my part probably also had something to do with the fact that I would be the one lugging all this stuff out to the moving containers and then trying to cram it all in there like some kind of weird three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.
As with all good husbandly plans, my wife used her superpowers to figure out what I was up to and, serving as judge, jury, and executioner, sentenced me to moving the dining room chandelier. (I must pause here for a moment of silence after having spoken its name.) Like most men, I considered a chandelier to be a glorified lamp, and judging from the fact that it was bolted to the ceiling, I assumed it was staying in the house. I was wrong. The chandelier was a work of art, I was told, and must be kept close to us at all times to provide us with its glorious light in our new home (or something like that; I had stopped paying attention by that point).
So, I took the next five hours and disassembled our “work of art” into about 52 pieces of bronze and alabaster, secured each piece in Bubble Wrap, pronounced a blessing on it, sprinkled it with holy water, and carefully placed it into a box with all the tender loving care usually reserved for a newborn child. And if you believe that last part, I’ve got some waterfront land just west of Miami to sell you.
We chose the PODS system to move a lot of our belongings to our new residence, as it allowed us to pack up our old house into the company’s portable containers, then drive to our new home and get there before our containers were delivered. I had planned on having about 2-1/2 containers of stuff, so I rounded up and ordered three. I found out later that my wife originally had planned on filling about seven containers, but I convinced her that the new owners would probably want us to leave just a few “extras” like the driveway, the sod, the trees in the yard, etc. So, I whittled her down to roughly four containers.
Now the trick was, as the old saying goes, to get “ten pounds of manure into an eight-pound bag.” The first thing I did was call a roofer friend and order the biggest construction refuse container I could find. By the time we were finished, that puppy was almost full.
My next problem was that of manpower. I did my best to cram everything in by myself, but in the end I had to call in the reinforcements. My brother Dan came to the rescue and helped me put the final touches on the moving containers (and top off the trash container). We were able to get more packed than I thought possible, and stayed up till 4:30 a.m. in the process, but not without a few furniture casualties. I’ll take the memory of those items with me to my grave, unless, of course, I get the dreaded “Honey, have you seen the…” call one day. Then all bets are off.
While everyone knows that moving is expensive, I found it interesting to note some of the goofy things that one actually spends money on. Number one on the list is boxes. Basically, a box is a big slab of cardboard folded and cut the right way, and most of the time it’s already been used once or twice (thank you, recycled content). Some places I checked wanted to charge almost $5 for a single moving box. If I paid that, I would have boxes that were worth more than the stuff that was packed in them!
The second offender is that cushioned packaging material also known as Bubble Wrap. When I went to the wholesale packing supply store, the best I could do was about $50 for a giant roll. I asked the salesperson just how much gold they used in its manufacturing process, but she didn’t seem amused by my question. The worst part about the bubble wrapping material was that I had about $40 of it leftover when everything was packed up. Of course, a few large, fragile knickknacks mysteriously met a tragic end, but I digress.
To add insult to injury, we decided to stop at Walt Disney World on our way out of Florida (as if moving wasn’t expensive enough). Mickey was happy to take our farewell donation, and, of course, he did it with a smile. We stayed at the Fort Wilderness Resort, which is a nice RV park, but it’s rather spread out and the sites are very narrow, especially when you have as much stuff strapped to your coach as we did. On the bright side, the site we stayed in is a bit wider now, but you’ll have to ask the person who backed up the RV on that fateful day for details.
As an interesting side note, we did manage to make all the kids in the neighboring sites jealous. On more than one occasion I heard them ask their parents, “Why can’t we move to Disney World, too, Mommy?”
My brother Dan was with us, and while visiting the various Disney theme parks, he got to witness a natural phenomenon known as “bipolar roller coaster disorder” (BRCD). It seems that our son loves roller coasters, or hates them, depending on his proximity to them. All the way to Disney my brother heard, “I can’t wait to ride Space Mountain,” or “The Hulk is going to be awesome!” Little did my brother know that this was my son’s way of psyching himself up for something that scares the heck out of him. About halfway through a coaster line, BRCD would rear its ugly head, and Dan had to practically strap my son to his chest to get him on the ride. Of course, I knew this was coming, so I chose to ride with my daughter. By the way, Dan no longer wonders why I have no hair.
Now it gets fun. Just to keep ourselves nimble, we had agreed to attend my brother Tom’s wedding just outside Atlanta on our way out to Colorado. After all, nothing says sophisticated like stepping out of an RV in your tuxedo or evening gown. The looks from our campsite neighbors were priceless. We felt some obligation to attend, since our 9-year-old daughter had tormented her uncle with cries of “When are you going to get married?” from about the third day of his relationship, as she desperately wanted a new aunt. His only mistake was thinking she would stop pestering him once he got hitched. As he soon found out, the harassment doesn’t end “” the question just changes. About 10 minutes after the ceremony concluded, I heard a shout from the vestibule: “When am I going to get a cousin?” Welcome to my world.
Every pet owner knows that a story like this would not be complete without some trial or tribulation involving our furry friends. Since our Welsh terrier and Yorkie had stolen the show in previous articles (Family Motor Coaching, May, June, July 2007), our Airedale terrier decided the move presented her with a turn to get even. She had always been rather vain, and enjoyed looking at herself in the mirror, but her next move seemed a little overly dramatic. About three weeks before the move, she needed to have a leg removed. Unfortunately, it was because she was diagnosed with bone cancer in one of her front legs. She was only 4 years old, so she became the newest member of the Ruddy Surgery Club. She did extremely well and was recovering nicely by the time we were ready to ship out. Even the steep RV steps were no match for her new abilities.
Looking at the situation, I tried to solve this problem using my engineering skills from college and kill two birds with one stone. I knew that the “Happy Bus” was very safe but that all the dogs were often surprised by sudden stops or bumps in the road while we traveled. My solution: the leftover bubble packing wrap! I had a good two to three layers on each pup before my wife even knew what I was doing. It looked like we had hijacked the Michelin Man’s pets. I even cut holes out in all the right places. Plus, enveloped in their protective gear, they couldn’t sneak up on us anymore. The sound of them walking resembled a high-tech version of the fat-kid-in-corduroy sound we all knew from growing up (yeah, that was me). Although the kids found it funny, my wife was less than amused, and I was forced to cut $40 worth of bubble packing off my dogs.
Other than the occasional traffic jam (Atlanta at rush hour in an RV is for masochists only), the trip went well with the exception of one slight hiccup “” well, more of a gag, actually, and a science lesson to boot. Let me explain. I had suspected we had a leaky knife valve on the black water tank, and while it was annoying to find the occasional drip of black water, the thought of changing it or fixing it while we were in the process of moving did not really appeal to me at the time. This would change quickly.
On one of our longer travel days, we happened to increase our elevation about 5,000 feet. For those of you who slept through science class, that kind of a change in altitude involves a fairly significant change in pressure (hence the ear popping we all love when climbing those hills). It seems that the knife valve had dripped, but the end cap had held pretty tight over the long ride. The result was a putrid time bomb waiting for me.
When we set up that night, I found I had to fight to get the cap off. When I did, I was hit with a spray of the most foul-smelling mist you could imagine. It was as though someone had opened a soda can full of manure in my face. I’m not sure what color excrement-brown and tank-deodorant-blue combine to make, but it was all over me, and I was green around the gills for sure. I staggered back and immediately started removing my clothes, thinking there would be some kind of three-second rule for the stench to stick to my body. No such luck. My aroma rivaled that of our 14-year-old dog’s breath, which our children claim smells like “Dumpster juice.” It was a bad ending to a long day.
As we traveled across the southern United States, we got quite a few strange looks from fellow travelers and citizens alike. After all, we resembled the Clampetts when they were loaded up on their move to Beverly. Fellow travelers were very curious, but local citizens just wanted to make sure we planned on leaving. Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of small-town citizens more than a bus full of kids and dogs parked for the night. As we passed through town, we could almost hear them saying, “Keep going, keep going, don’t stop ….” In a way, it’s very similar to the mutterings of an airline passenger with an open seat next to him as he waits for the final boarding of an airplane. We did keep going, but with the price of diesel, I thought we might have to stop partway and trade in our coach for a hybrid.
I always like to use our travels to educate the children, and this motorhome trip was no exception. You can gather a lot from speaking with the locals and learning the area folklore. On this trip I was able to share with the kids some tales from the early pioneers on how settlements were formed in the cities of the high plains, the area just east of the Rocky Mountain range. I’ll recount one for you here.
“The wagon train was slowly crawling across the arid plains during a particularly hot afternoon when a shrill voice was heard echoing from the mountains: ‘Stop this #$%^ cart right now!’ A frazzled woman stepped out of the wagon, screaming at her husband and gesturing toward the majestic peaks of the Rocky Mountains towering 9,000 feet above her in snowcapped beauty. ‘We sold everything, then you dragged me 1,500 miles across these scorching plains without so much as a tree for shade, all the while fighting Indians, disease, and starvation, and now you expect me to climb those? I am not moving another step! We’re staying right here, Mister!’ And thus, the city of Denver was born.”
In true RVer fashion, we made a few unscheduled stops and took in some of the local scenery. Probably the most interesting site we visited was the Rolling Hills Zoo in Salina, Kansas. While the Great Plains setting was perfect for the various animals in the zoo, we were impressed with the setup and the number of different species. I almost convinced them to accept my donation (three, actually) to start a domestic canine exhibit, but, unfortunately, some other travelers had already tried to pawn their dogs off as well, and the zoo folks weren’t buying it.
After a short 2,200-mile jaunt, we arrived at our destination. The first thing we noticed was that people in Colorado are extremely friendly. I even had no problem getting the neighbor kids to help unpack the containers. My methods were very effective. As with all kids, their curiosity eventually got the best of them, and they came over to see the new neighbors. At this point I leapt into action with a little friendly chitchat, then cemented the deal with the old standby: “Hey, do you kids want some ice cream?” When they replied in the affirmative, I said, “Great. It’s at the other end of this container. Let’s get this stuff out of here so we can have some.” Of course, once all the stuff was out, I conveniently remembered that I had put the ice cream in the freezer. Aren’t kids great?
And, of course, the female readers of this article probably want to know whether the chandelier made it in one piece. It did, but with one major twist of fate. Shortly after the electrician installed it (I was no longer allowed to touch it), my wife mentioned casually that she didn’t like the way it looked in our new house!