Monday, May 26, 2008

Meet Dick Strader . . .

As you know, this blog is about living and working free, both or either. Saturday afternoon and evening (May 24th) I spent time with Richard “Dick” Strader, a retired broadcast journalist and full-time RVer. In earlier posts I mentioned that my plan is to join the ranks of some million (+/- a few) full-time RVers. I met Dick through a radio interview I listened to on WV Public Radio, one of several public radio stations I can listen to from my location in the northern Shenandoah Valley. Since I’ve had this nomadic dream of being an RV gypsy since my college days, some 40 years ago, my ears instantly tuned into this interesting interview. And while I was listening, it became apparent that Dick was actually located in an RV park about ten minutes from my home. Obviously, I had to contact him and go meet him.

It was about a year ago that I first met Dick and his black lab companion, Cody. Since that time, I’ve followed Dick’s travels around the country and Canada and met with him when he was back here in this region last October (his home base is the Charles Town, WV area). Now, Dick is retired and as he stated to me the first time I met him, he has hung up his “gloves” and doesn’t have any interest in any further journalistic endeavors. So, he’s not working free because he’s not working at all. But, he is living free. He sold his house and acreage, downsized and eliminated most of his possessions and “stuff” and basically has a small amount of storage somewhere, likely at a friend’s or family member’s home. On board his 36’ Winnebago Journey motor home he carries only what he needs to enjoy the lifestyle he has adopted.

Needless to say, scaling down from four acres and a large home (where he had lived for 20+ years) with a small barn full of tools and equipment to about 325 square feet (including storage space) of very efficient living space was quite a change – emotional, psychological and physical. But, as I sat in Dick’s “condo on wheels,” I could tell he was totally at home and comfortable in his modern day “gypsy wagon”. He has everything he needs. He removed a lounge chair from the coach and replaced it with a computer workstation and a pet transport cage where Cody rides when they are on the move. He has a TV in the front and another in the bedroom (yes, a separate bedroom). For entertainment he has satellite DirecTV, DVD and VHS videocassette capability with a fully integrated surround sound system. Additionally, he has the capability of watching local TV channels, local radio and Sirius satellite radio. And for Internet connectivity, he has a Hughes Net mobile Internet satellite connection. He also has a N.O.A. weather alert radio and a GPS guidance system.

His galley is well equipped with a range top, sink, convection and microwave oven, coffee maker, a very nice sized refrigerator, panty, etc. He has a fully equipped bathroom with a nice stall shower. His RV appears to be well insulated, has very adequate air conditioning and heat with heat pumps and an auxiliary furnace – both while stationary and in motion. And, while those of us who live in fixed homes, apartments or condos may have electricity supplied by the local power company, Dick can power up from “shore power” (the regular utility company), batteries that convert DC to AC with an inverter or with his own generator that operates off the diesel fuel tank. So, a power failure is not an issue for him. He may also have some solar panels on the roof to keep the batteries charged. I didn’t ask him about that. He also carries LP (propane) gas on board that can operate the auxiliary furnace and the refrigerator and probably the hot water heater. There are a lot more amenities, but the final one and the big one is that he can move his home from location to location, region to region at whim.

Like many full-time RVers, essentially, Dick follows the sun. He heads south to the warmer climates for the winter and north for the summer to the cooler climates. Not unlike a captain of a seagoing vessel, Dick charts a course with “ports of call” along the way. He only cruises a maximum of four hours per day, thus, avoiding fatigue and also morning and evening rush hours. So, while he may be heading to southwestern Texas for the winter he may take a month or so to reach his final destination as he stops along the way to visit cities and sights that he’s always wanted to explore and visit old friends along the way, but until now, he’s not been able to. Now, he’s FREE to see all of the great country he’s a citizen of. He sees the sights. He learns about the region. He meets the people. Everyday is an adventure as he crisscrosses the vast expanses of this continent.

And, while Dick no longer considers himself an active “journalist” – in fact, he is still a “style” of journalist. You can remove the boy from the farm, but you can’t remove the farm from the boy. Along his travels, he sends updates on his location, some of the sights he’s seen and tales of some of his adventures along the way to his e-mail list of friends from coast to coast and around the world. And, he is always adding new friends to his list as he meets interesting people along the way, both from the locations he’s in and fellow RVers. And, with his little digital camera, he illustrates his tales. Of course, while this all may sound idyllic (and for the most part it is) he does have an occasional story that illustrates some frustration, like when he had some engine problems with his large Caterpillar diesel power plant. It took several service places along the road that specialize in his kind of engine and numerous phone calls to the manufacturers to finally track down the problem and resolve it. Or, perhaps, some high adventure when he was outrunning tornados in northern Texas or torrential rains and floods in Oklahoma and Missouri. But, just like the captain of a boat at sea, handling these kinds of situations is just part of another day of Freedom.

So, where is Dick Strader off to next? Well, on Thursday, May 29th, he drops his leveling jacks, pulls up the awnings, retracts the Internet satellite antenna, disconnects the power, fills up his water tank, hooks up his “dingy” (a small car he tows behind the motorhome) and embarks on a trip to our neighbor to the north - Winnipeg, Manitoba to be more precise. He’s already plotted his course and the “ports of call” along the way, including a stop at the famous Cleveland Clinic, to get some consults on a few medical matters. He’ll also see old friends and meet some new friends along the way. And, he’s already calculating his return course from Winnipeg next September when he’ll return to his “home-base” for about a month in October.

This is, to me, at least, what LIVING FREE is all about. Dick Strader’s home is anywhere he wants it to be for as long as he wants it to be his home. Everyday is an adventure. Everyday he learns something new and meets interesting new people. Everyday . . . he lives his dream. I can’t wait to start living mine.



Unknown said...

Is ths Dick Strader of VOA's African service of the 70s? I greatly enjoyed his radio programmes as a university student in Ghana back then.

Ed Helvey said...

Indeed it is, Osei - one and the same. I email back and forth with him regularly and see him, usually, twice a year when he and I are both in the Winchester, VA area at the same time. I may cross paths with him more when I'm on the road as a full-time RVer, too.

Ed Helvey said...

Osei -- here is a comment from Dick Strader directly to you.

Hello Osei..Dick Stader here. It is so nice to be remembered from the "African Safari" days. I am greatly pleased that you enjoyed the program. Do you recall my late Dear Friend and Colleague, Y.B.B. Mushala and the Farmer's Forum segment of the program? We introduced Rabbits to Ghana as a protein supplement. I also remember with great nostalgia visiting Accra and Kumasi. If you will contact Mr. Helvey he can give you my email address. I would like to establish contact with you. Dick Strader..("Your Safari Guide to Good Morning Listening at the Radio.")

(Send me your email address either as another comment for the blog - I will not post it - or directly to me at I'll pass it on to Dick and I'll send his email address to you.)