Authors: Karen Musser Nortman
A Frannie and Larry Campground
Karen Musser Nortman
Cover Artwork by Gretchen
Cover Design by Libby Shannon
© 2013 by Karen Musser Nortman.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any
electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording or
information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the
This is a work
of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of
the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is
purely coincidental. Except for Cuba, who has now gone to the Land of
Dedicated to the
wonderful staff of all state parks.
About the Author
Mid Friday Afternoon
The hills rolled out in front
of them, alternating dead brown stubble in the harvested fields and emerging
vibrant color in the tree rows, muted by the fine dust in the air. The sky
above was the hard crystal blue that makes for popular calendar pictures. The
atmosphere inside the cab of the pickup, however, was not a thing of beauty,
and quickly becoming less so.
“This can’t be part of the
detour,” Larry Shoemaker grumbled. “We’re not even going in the right
direction.” He glanced at the compass direction highlighted in the rear-view
mirror and then hunched over the steering wheel, a small frown on his face.
His wife, Frannie, sat with
the road map spread out over her knees. She looked up and shrugged. “I can’t
tell. This map doesn’t show any gravel roads. I can see a water tower in the
distance over there,” she pointed out the passenger window, “but I don’t know if
that’s Crockett or maybe Orien.”
“Grandpa, are we lost?” came
a small voice from the back seat. Frannie turned and looked at seven-year-old
Joe and his narrow worried face.
“Well, we’re not really
lost—,” Frannie began, but Larry interrupted.
“I’m never lost, Joe. Just
sometimes I don’t know exactly where I am.”
“I think that’s lost,” Joe’s
sister Sabet, two years older, said, "You should get a GPS, Grandpa".
"Thanks for the advice,
Sabet," Larry grimaced.
The Shoemakers’ old yellow
lab, Cuba, sat between the kids and seemed to sense the uncertainty, hanging
her head between the front seats and panting like a steam engine.
“We just need to find a place
where I can turn this rig around. There’ll be a farm driveway or something
soon,” Larry said. "I hope." The rig he referred to was the
thirty-foot Fleetwood Terry travel trailer in tow behind the pickup. But what
appeared first instead of a driveway, as they headed down a hill into a wooded
area, was a yellow sign with stern black lettering announcing: “Level B
Service. Enter at your own risk.” And the road surface turned from gravel to
“Oh-oh,” Frannie said.
“‘Level B maintenance’ is DOT-speak for ‘no maintenance.’”
Larry didn’t answer, his
mouth set in a grim line. The truck and trailer jolted along hitting potholes
and ruts too numerous to miss. At the bottom of the hill, the road took a wide
curve to the right. The trees lining the road ended on the left in a large
field. The field was open but not empty, and Joe said “Wow! Look at
that—a junkyard!” Rows of old cars, trucks, farm equipment, and quite a
few campers stretched back from the road.
“It’s not a junkyard, it’s a
camper day-care,” Sabet said with a grin. It was a sobriquet she had come up
with several years before, and used it for every RV dealer and storage area she
Larry slowed the truck to a
crawl. “There has to be a way in, where maybe I can turn around.”
They scanned the fence as
they passed. Larry spotted a dirt drive crossing the ditch. “There!” he said,
bringing the truck to a halt.
“But there’s a gate,” Frannie
“I know. I’ll see if it’s
locked.” He unhooked his seat belt, got out of the truck and walked over to the
wide, metal gate. They were in luck—the gate had a simple latch, and the
padlock intended to provide security was locked only to the fence. Larry
unhooked the gate and walked the end of it into the yard, swinging it wide. He
surveyed the entrance area. Not big enough to pull the trailer in and turn it
around, but he should be able to back in and reverse his direction. He returned
to the truck, and as he got in, said to Frannie, “I’m going to need you to spot
She nodded, unhooked her seat
belt and climbed out of the truck. Larry leaned over and instructed her through
the open window.
“I’m going to pull forward and
back in. I think if you stand on the road left of the gate, I should be able to
see you in my right hand mirror.”
“Can I help, Grandpa?” Sabet
He turned in his seat and
looked at her. “You know, I bet you can. Frannie, have her stand inside the gate
on my side—she can watch that the wheels aren’t going in the ditch.”
Frannie opened the crew door for Sabet to clamber out. The two walked around
the front of the truck and through the gate. While Larry pulled slowly forward,
Frannie showed Sabet a safe place to stand and told her what to watch for. When
the back of the trailer had passed the driveway entrance, Frannie signaled
Larry to stop. He got out again and walked back to the driveway. Frannie
thought that launching the shuttle was probably a piece of cake compared to the
delicate maneuver they were about to undertake. But, there was no traffic and
they often had backed into tight campsites. Their own driveway had presented a
few challenges to their marital bliss.
“Sabet, when the trailer
wheels are past this spot,” he marked a line in the dirt with his heel, “I want
you to give me this signal.” He raised his arm and made wide circles in the
air. “Can you do that?”
She nodded gravely and
mimicked his action.
“That’s it. I’ll have Joe
move to the front seat and he can watch the right mirror, too.” He returned to
the cab, signaled Joe to move up front, gave him instructions, and slowly began
to back up the unwieldy trailer.
Before he started the turn,
Frannie checked and saw that Sabet was watching the wheels intently and at the
right time, raising her arm, drawing wild circles in the air. As Larry started
to turn, Frannie moved to the right side of the road where she could see both
the left side of the gate and Larry’s right hand mirror.
The rear of the trailer
started to edge down the drive to the gate.
So far so good.
The gate was wide but there wasn’t much room for error. As Frannie held her
hand up, motioning Larry back, she felt it must
little like coaxing an elephant backward into an elevator.
As the trailer neared the
gate, it looked to Frannie like the rear corner was not going to clear it. She
slammed her hand in the air, palm forward, at the same time yelling, “Stop!”
The trailer rocked to a halt. She jogged over to get a closer look at the
situation. Sure enough, on the present course, the right rear corner would nick
She ran with a noticeable
lack of grace along the side of the trailer to the passenger side window of the
truck. Both Larry and Joe looked at her with questioning faces.
“You’re going to,” she paused
to catch her breath, “hit the gate. You need to crank it a little more.”
“Okay,” Larry said, shifting
into drive. “I’ll have to pull up some and try it again.”
By the time she was back at
her post, Larry had the rig in position for another try. He brought it around
in a little sharper turn. As the rear end neared the gate opening, she motioned
for him to stop and yelled at Sabet, “Does it look okay over there?”
Sabet gave a very tentative,
“I mean, is there room? It
isn’t going to hit the gate?”
Understanding, Sabet gave
up. “Lots of room!” Frannie hoped so and gave Larry
the signal to proceed. Gradually the whole trailer was inside the gate without
injury, as well as part of the truck. Larry shifted into drive and edged back
onto the road, facing the direction from which they had just come. During the
whole process, the trailer, the hitch and the sway bars had creaked, groaned,
and snapped, but it was all sound and fury.
Frannie moved into the
junkyard to help Sabet with the gate. As she approached her granddaughter, she
glanced around at the collection—some looked usable, other pieces just
hulks that could have even been shipwrecks if they weren’t a little too far
from the ocean.
Creepy place, even in broad daylight.
Together, she and Sabet
pulled the gate closed behind them and latched it. When they reached the cab of
the pickup, Joe climbed out and returned to the back seat. Once everyone was
buckled back in, they bounced their way back to the gravel section of the road,
which now almost seemed smooth in comparison to the dirt section.
Frannie had the map back out
and said, “Let’s take a left when we get back to the start of the gravel. At
least there’s a town that way and we can ask directions if nothing looks
Larry agreed and soon they
were back at the intersection in question. As they sat there waiting for a
couple of cars, Larry studied the detour sign.
“I think it’s been moved.
Turned. We should have continued on the blacktop.”
“Why would somebody turn it?”
“Their idea of a joke,” Larry
“Well, it isn’t very funny.”
Joe was indignant. Then he crooked his head sideways. “Course, it was kind of a
neat road. And camper day-care.”
“Look at it this way. Maybe
we’re getting all the bad stuff for the weekend over with at the beginning,”
as they got up to speed.
“That would be great,” she
agreed. “I’m so glad that Ben and Nancy are coming. They haven’t gone with us
“Which would explain why
we’ve been so disorganized.” They both laughed. Nancy Terell and her husband
Ben were good friends who joined them on many of their camping outings. The
group often teased Nancy about her bent for organizing and scheduling, skills
she put to good use as a professional community development leader. Her small
wiry frame and pixieish face disguised her ability to whip any group into
Twenty-five minutes later
they spotted the brown DNR sign signaling the south entrance to Bluffs State
Park. Frannie always loved the release of a weekend of camping, but was
especially excited to have the kids along. Sabet and Joe were at the perfect
age to enjoy camping. They would be staying until Sunday when Frannie and
Larry’s son, Sam, would pick them up because they had school on Monday. Frannie
and Larry planned to stay on a couple more days taking in the fall color and
other local attractions.
After filling the fresh water
tank, Larry nursed truck and trailer through the campground to the loop where
they had reserved a site. It was a perfect early fall afternoon; golden yellows
starting to explode among the dark greens, with a few red sumac. The sun warmed
the air just enough and the scent of woodsmoke was starting to drift through
When they reached the site,
before Larry performed his backing maneuver for the second time in an hour,
Frannie, kids, and dog piled out and greeted two of their weekend companions.
Larry’s sister, Jane Ann and her husband Mickey Ferraro were already set up in
the neighboring spot.
“You made it!” Jane Ann said.
“But not without getting
lost. I’ll explain later. Sabet and Joe, go over by Uncle Mickey and Aunt Jane
Ann while I help Grandpa back in,” Frannie said.
She moved into position on
the far side of the gravel pad where Larry could see her. This time it only
took one try—but then, she thought, he wasn’t trying to aim the thing
through a gate. A half hour later they had unhooked the truck, leveled the
trailer, and made it ready for habitation. Mickey handed Larry a cold beer and
Frannie gratefully accepted iced tea from Jane Ann. The weekend had started.
Happy Camper Tip #1
Backing up is one of the most
fun aspects of camping—NOT! When the campsite is a nice wide, level
cement pad or a ‘pull-through’ site, which is what it says, the difficulty
drops considerably. But the gravel and grass sites in many state and county
parks that are about as level as the Rocky Mountains present more of a
challenge. There are no easy answers, but a couple of caveats are always
useful. First, examine the site before you try it. Are there posts, trees, or
other obstacles waiting to grab your shiny coach? Is there room to open any
slides or awnings that you may have? Is the site deep enough for your unit?
Second, if you can’t see the site in your rear view mirrors, get someone to
watch and it’s helpful to decide what signals the watcher will use before you
start. If the hand signal the watcher is using for 'stop' looks more like
'bring it on,' you could have trouble.