The Bolt

By Jerry D. Haight

Through my windshield I can see nothing but desolate prairie everywhere.  Since leaving Wyoming behind two hours ago, we have traveled about seventy miles even though my engine is turning at sixty two miles per hour. The southwest wind cuts diagonally across our bow slowing our progress. Every now and then a behemoth with 18 wheels heading west leaves us breathless as we negotiate the swirling currents of its wake.  Suddenly, after one such an encounter I can no longer see through my left mirror. It dangles at an obtuse angle uselessly and no longer subject to my electronic mirror controls.  I am near panic for there is no help out here.

Before embarking on our six thousand mile shake-down cruise across our continent, I tried to think of every possible contingency we might encounter and how best to handle them. Most involved tools. Oh! My gosh. So, off to Sears we went, knowing that in their vast stock of tools, surely we would find whatever we needed. Of course, they had almost everything imaginable. They had portable welders that invoked the vision of crawling under a 40 foot motorhome repairing a frame while 18 wheelers rumbled by at break-neck speed. Then they had air compressors and paint guns galore. With those one could repaint a whole motorhome pitted from flying rocks hurled by those 18 wheels. They had jacks that took at least two people to handle. We could, of course, use a jack to raise our twenty-two thousand pound rig while we crawled under it to make a weld. We were thoroughly confused as we left Sears.

Across the mall from Sears stood J. C. Penny’s, like a holy temple. Phyllis’ eyes got that glazed over look I had seen many times during our forty-five year marriage. She said to me, let’s go and see if they have any pants for you. This is actually Phyllis speak for “I am hooked and desperately in need of a Penny fix”.  There is no remedy for this addiction other than succumbing. Once inside, we did, indeed, go to the men’s department and we did find a pair of pants. At the checkout counter there was a small stack of tool kits sitting on the floor. They about tripped us. With a clearance price of just 4.99, they couldn’t be more than just junk.  But, oh well the price is right. So, we bought one of the kits.

Now I find myself on a ladder, beside the motorhome, wind blowing about forty miles per hour. I had just found the weirdest tool shaped like an hourglass in the tool kit purchased from J. C. Penny’s. Much to my amazement, the tool fit inside the bolt that held the mirror to the motorhome. Also in the kit were a ratchet drive and a short shaft that fit perfectly between the mirror and the body of the motorhome. I stand amazed as I see a now solid mirror, repaired by a 4.99 tool kit purchased at J. C. Penny’s,  The repair continues to hold two years later.


It began innocently enough last October when an Itasca 38J crossed my path. It was shown by a dealer at a shopping mall in the micro city of Liberty Lake WA. That it was loaded with equipment could not be denied, but that it would ever be a part of my life could. Our paths separated without further thought. Then a week later, I had a casual conversation with our pastor’s wife.  She asked if I had been at the mall last week. Our conversation then drifted to that very motor home that was the most wonderful she had ever seen.  I learned from her that she and pastor were extremely avid campers and had many rvs over lots of years. It was then the 38J acquired status in my mind. Then she made a fateful comment when she said to tell my wife Phyllis, we are supposed to buy that motor home.

The ensuing weeks focused on the fact that both Phyllis and I planned to retire the next year. We determined our travel goals would be confined to the continental USA when we purchased Misty (our two-year old sheltie).  Our son in Rhode Island would retire from the Navy in July and, yes, it would be very nice to host our kids in their neck of the woods (especially our grandson Nick). But, we have a history purchasing RVs (nothing of this magnitude) that spent solitary lives only to be sold later still in mint condition.

 My search began casually as I began learning the meaning of terms like motorhome, fifth wheel, travel trailer, class A, pusher, rig, galley, grade brakes, and etc. Early on, it became clear that choices and trade offs are more prevalent among RVs than in any decision matrix I had come across. We gravitated toward motorhomes over other types of RVs  because of the greater mobility at our destination, we chose a class A because of the amount of time we felt we would be living in it. We chose the floor plan because of Misty. Somewhere in this process it became apparent that the search was more than casual. I really can not say just when it happened. But by January Phyllis had finally seen a 38J for the first time along with its sister, the 38R. I knew we were hooked when Phyllis noticed that there was more space in the bedroom area for Misty in the 38R than the other and the die was cast. We placed an order for delivery in April.

It would be great to say the day we took delivery was exciting, but frightening would be  more realistic. I got the first glimpse of our new motorhome as I entered the detail shop where it was being prepped. The resemblance to a space ship was remarkable with all the spotlights and workmen wearing white overalls. From ground level, when looking up into the living quarters, it looked enormous. My first thought was “Jerry just what in world were you thinking”? Phyllis’s first thought was “lets go home NOW!”  At that moment that motorhome was the biggest thing I had ever seen. My second thought was of me, the acrophobic, driving that thing over Fourth of July summit in a snowstorm.  

Both of us finally regained our composure and proceeded with the blur of activities including orientation, paper signing, resisting all the irresistible offers of additions we should not be without and then it was just the four of us. Phyllis, Misty, me and the Itasca 38R.

I just began to appreciate the thought and engineering that went into our motorhome when in deed we climbed to the top of Fourth of July summit (no snowstorm) and started down. I learned about the “grade brake system” and as we started down I took special note of where the emergency truck ramps were. But at about45 miles per hour, I tapped the brake peddle and our motorhome held the speed steady and I didn’t even need the emergency truck ramps. Then, I knew the motorhome was really ours.

The walkthrough instructor at the dealer suggested we do shake downs before a long trip and while we did spend several nights in our motorhome, our shake down cruise commenced July 10 and was scheduled for nearly 6000 miles (round trip to Connecticut).

Since leaving Liberty Lake, we had several adventures before getting to Chicago. Our plan was to travel through the Chicago area around 2:00 Sunday afternoon when traffic  was light and make it to South Bend Indiana before night fall the spend the night before our next stop in Binghamton New York.

Now I am sitting here in traffic reflecting on the last two hours. I have had to make many lane changes as lanes disappeared; I have threaded my motorhome through many cone mazes due to construction. Phyllis and I have navigated numerous route adjustments our journey required and still we are safe. Yes, there are huge 18 wheelers all around me as well as busses and cars but each time I have changed lanes, they have made room for me, signaling with their lights, their hands or their eyes. I have spent so much time with this traffic community that I am now feeling comfortable with them (and them with me). And yes, I find these drivers very courteous and I have a new confidence of my own ability to handle an urban situation with patience and courtesy. Yes. This motorhome is really ours.

Oh, by the way, Chicago traffic has now dissipated and we are off to South Bend.