Inside "Alma"


Alma

Not a name you hear very often, but in my case twice in my lifetime. The first “Alma” I knew was the elementary school teacher I had for first and second grades. We all knew her as Mrs. Cutler, but Barry Korobkin went behind her desk one day and looked at the green spiral notebook and found out her first name; Alma. He then made the horrific mistake of calling her by that name. I think they got the idea to name hurricanes after women soon thereafter, because Hurricane Alma grabbed ahold of Barry’s shirt collar and took him out in the hallway for a little discussion.

The next time I heard the name was in the 1980’s when we lived in West Virginia. Our home was a few miles north of town on a side road that ran along the side of a creek. Between our third acre and the main highway were two pieces of property one with a large home with a circular drive and swimming pool, and another with a large open field and a farm pond. Across the lane was a 60 acre tract with a barn, an old house, a few outbuildings and an old camping trailer, an “Alma” Travel Trailer. Alma was built in 1948 with oak 2x2’s, with sheet metal covering it all and looked like the modern day Airstream except the Alma was built solid as a tank. Supported with a single axel, she had a small living room up front neat the tung, with a kitchen complete with a sink, gas stove, gas operated refrigerator and storage cabinets galore. In side the living room was a built in kerosene heater with a floor vent to draw air in from beneathe and a pipe to vent the gases through the roof. At the fr end was a sliding door, a “pocket door” that ran behind the kitchen, that opened up to a ¾ bed and a rear door, again with plenty of cubbies and shelves and storage. And windows in front, along the sides and rear, all that opened with a rod that held them open at a variety of positions or pulled them closed and locked.

The old man who lived in the trailer, Bill Rutan, told me he used to haul “Alma” to Florida every year, even making it all the way to Key West once. His traveling days and Alma’s were long over and she now sat axle on the ground with the earth half way up the wheels. He had a little metal set of steps that pulled down in front and back to gain access, a fuel line feeding kerosene from a 50 gallon drum on a stand outside, and a water line feeding the sink from a spring up the hillside for water. A trusty outhouse served its purpose. Bill had lived there for 20 years since his wife died and he moved out of the old house into the trailer. “Easier to take care of,” was his explanation. “All I need right here.”

I used to walk across the lane and up the dirt path to the trailer every so often just to say hello, and he would invite me in for a beer. I would in turn leave him with a stack of magazines to read. He was in his 80’s but sharp as a tack and a pretty bright guy. He had an old red pick up truck parked nearby, one he used to run into town for provisions or to visit one of his two daughters. They didn’t get along with each other, but were both dedicated to their father.

When Bill got sick, they moved him into a nursing home, and he didn’t last long. The day he died the two sisters made visits to the property they inherited putting first one then a second padlock on the old trailer door.

They held an auction for the contents of the old house, barn and the old trailer. I bid on a box of old stuff (there was a Model T steering wheel in it) and an old copper kettle used to make apple butter that held parts of an old Kennedy Radio from 1908. But the best prize was the old trailer I won for $300.

I took a shovel and did my best to dig out from around the wheel and axel, then had a buddy with a big four wheel drive truck hook up to the trailer and he pulled her out of the spot she’s settled into for 20 years or more. He brought her down the gravel drive to my house across the lane and backed her into my driveway next to the garage. Coletta and I spent the winter cleaning her up. Imagine cooking inside a small enclosure for 20 years, never cleaning a thing or running sponge or rag around.

The grease had to be scrapped off with a putty knife before you could even see the floors, walls or cabinets, but scrape and soak we did. The floors needed new linoleum and the walls and curved ceilings new paneling. I carefully removed every cabinet door with every stainless steel screw and aluminum hinge and using a toothbrush cleaned them all until they shined like new. I sanded down all the Maplewood cabinet doors and coated them with satin polyurethane, and put new shelf paper inside them all. The mattress and box spring were tossed and a new set custom made for the back bedroom and a pull out sofa moved into the front room for seating by day and sleeping by night. The pull down table still functioning in the living room for meals. With a little scraping and fresh paint, shiny silver with bright red trim around the windows and doors, we called her our Silver Bullet like the Coors Company Logo.

We found the refrigerator still worked with a new compressor motor and belt, the gas stove also worked quite nicely once cleaned and the aluminum sink with its single spigot made her ready to accept utilities including external power to run the lights fore and aft. We sold the camper trailer we had been using on our lot on the lake and prepared the site for its new occupant, Alma. Now then, we never had her on the road so she didn’t have any tags or insurance or even registration, and we bought her “as is.” So when it came time to haul her the 20 miles to the lake, we decided the most prudent course was first thing Sunday morning.

At the break of day, 6:00 AM, my buddy with the truck hooked her up again and checked the tires. One was fine, a little low on air, while the other was flat as a pancake. I hooked my compressor to the first one, and put two cans of “flat fixer” in the second, and off we went. Slow but steady, the three miles to town, stopping at the first of two stoplights, then through town past the storefronts, and police station, and banks and church past the second light and heading out of town in the other direction. Five more miles and the turnoff to the lake, a ten mile dirt road with bumps and potholes, slow but steady we ran until we pulled into the campground and in front of our campsite. Slowly but surely we backed her up onto the platform made ready for her two wheels. When I laid down on the ground to guide her in place it was then that I noticed the huge chunks of rubber missing from the bias ply tires till holding air mind you. Parked and leveled, hooked up to the camp water supply and electric power that was where she would remain for many years.

We would build a 10 x 20 foot deck in front of her with a roof and steps down to the ground. A smaller deck to meet the back door and the woods behind. Down the hill was our lake and boat tied to the docks, swimming , boating and many years of pure joy. Our kids were 5 and 6, and every Friday night we would load up our food and clothes, and head to the campsite, have a quick dinner and then to the lake where we could swim and ski with no one else around. By Saturday at 10:00 the campsite would fill as the lake would down below. We would swim or jump off the diving board or slide down the slide into the swimming area loaded with kids and adults cooling off from the summer sun. The lake was 15 miles long from end to end with coves and open bays, from the dam to the river and rapids upstream. We would enjoy all day Saturday and Sunday when folks packed up to leave for home leaving us to enjoy the lake by ourselves again at 5:00 PM. Grab dinner, a last swim or ski run, then home for school and work leaving Alma and my 16 foot ski boat under its tarp for the week, waiting for us to return the next weekend from May through September. It was a great lifestyle and one we enjoyed for many years until we moved to Maryland.

We kept our membership in the Boat Club after we moved. I mean a place to park our camper (which we left throughout the winter as well), water from a spring that fed the camp water supply, electricity strung on poles throughout the five acre site, clean out houses, a picnic pavilion, and a string of docks with “fingers” to tie your boat to, all for $100 bucks season. Not bad when you consider.

When we realized we would not be making the five hour trip back too often, and then to spend time with Coletta’s family, we ended up selling the trailer, and deck and all to our friend the dentist and his wife for $1500. He got a lot of use out of her until that fateful day when he decided he better cut down the huge oak tree leaning over the camper. “Didn’t want that dropping branches on old Alma,” he told me as he filled one of my cavities my mouth pried open with a rubber gizmo. “No, so I got out the old chain saw and cut that tree down I did,” he went on, “right on top of poor old Alma.” “UH! Uh uh u h uh uh?” was all I could muster as he reached over and grabbed the photo showing Alma with a huge oak squashing down the middle of her. He sold her to a bunch of hunters who hauled her out of there to a hunting camp down the road (guess those tires still held out) where she probably remains today with her stove, heater, sink, gas fired fridge, kitchen/bedroom and just that cozy feeling being inside of good old Alma.


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