Whenever Chuck saw a sign for something, we would go. Chuck would see a sign that would say, “Ride on the Back of Live Turtles” and we got photos of the kids riding turtles. If we saw a bridge that spanned across a ravine, the kids would go. We always stopped.
We sometimes traveled by the seat of our pants. For example, Chuck had a dealer with campers in Minneapolis. So the whole family went to Minneapolis. I took the kids to the zoo while Chuck talked to the dealer.
There are lots of little stories. Truck camping was a way of life for us. We took our kids where ever we went. All four boys fit longways in the cabover bed. Then Jack and Jill were on the bunk. Chuck and I slept in the breakfast nook. We did that until the boys got into scouting and then they slept in their tents outside.
As we aged, we started finding little campgrounds closer to home. We really liked Lake Rathbun, a civil engineered lake. President Nixon had just dedicated it when we started going. It felt like our own private lake because it didn’t take off in popularity.
We all went water skiing and fishing at the lake. All of our kids are good water skiers. Rory would catch fish and clean them before we even got back to the campground. He still likes to fish.
One time at Lake Rathbun near Centerville in southeast Iowa, the boys started complaining about sleeping in the tent. They had had it with sleeping on the ground. I said, “Okay girls we’re sleeping in the tent” and took the girls and everything we needed into the tent. It was a dreadful night and we could hear all the sounds that we never heard in our truck campers.
The next morning we were up at 6:00 am because the sun was beating on us. It was terrible. The girls got up and cleaned the tent. It was spotless with the cot beds made. When the boys came out I said, “Okay girls, this is our chance. We’re going to tell the boys that this is now our tent and they can’t have it back”. The girls said, “Okay, mom” and we told the boys that they couldn’t have their tent back. It was the girls tent now.
Well, the boys said, “That’s not going to happen. That’s our tent and we didn’t like sleeping in the truck camper”. The girls laughed and laughed. We had pulled a Huck Finn on the boys and conned them right out of the camper.
When Rory was five years old we were camping in Wisconsin and he fell off the dock into the water. The water was so very deep that we couldn’t see him in the water. Then he came back up and Chuck grabbed him. With his big blue eyes sparkling, Rory said, “Boy was that cold”!
When he was about ten years old, Rory liked to take a sleeping bag when we went truck camping and sleep by the campfire. Then he would wake up very early and go fishing. I would be worried when I got up and didn’t see him there. Rory was always the adventurous one with a real love for nature.
Rex was always lighting off fire crackers and getting into trouble. He also liked putting a Stingray or motorcycle in the back of the camper. He could bring what he wanted but he had to sit on it where ever we went. We always told people they could tow a boat or motorcycle with their camper. We lived what we preached. That was fun.
There’s a funny story about Rex. He was about seven or eight years old at the time. We were in a river boat at West Battle Lake in Minnesota and went to where the local people were fishing. Our anchor wasn’t long enough to reach the bottom where the locals were fishing so we drifted close to the edge of the lake. Then we started catching fish, after fish, after fish. Chuck got tired of taking fish off hooks for the kids and said, “From now on you have to take your own fish off and put your own lure on”. Well, Rex caught a fish and all of the sudden shouted out, “That son of a bitch bit my finger!” We just about died laughing. He thought he was going to get in trouble for saying a bad word. It’s still a joke now in the family.
You can go anywhere with a truck camper. We really enjoyed taking the kids where ever we went. We felt blessed to do that. And we met a lot of Chuck’s dealers and got close to them.
Rex and Rory know their dealers and their wives and kids. That’s how their dad did it. When you do that, you get bonded. Chuck and I are still good friends with a couple in Rockford, Illinois who owned a dealership. They’re in their eighties and we still talk once a week, even now.
I was good to know that Rex’s son went on the production line recently. That’s four generations of R.C. Willetts working at Texson and Northstar.