I met Ken when I sent out a plea for some mechanical advice on one of my Facebook RV Travel groups. Ken responded and graciously offered to come look, agreeing to meet me at the dog park. This was back in early February before COVID-19 disrupted life.
While he perused my problem we had a nice chat enjoying what passes for winter in the desert southwest; blue sky and warm sunshine on this day. He mentioned having lived in Florida which promptly made me think of the Kennedy Space Center, and I asked if he had ever seen the space shuttle launch. He told me he had seen almost all of them including the Challenger disaster back in 1984. Wow! I needed to know that story. I asked if I could interview him and he agreed.
Ken grew up in the eastern portion of Washington State, went to college there becoming a Communication Electronics Technician then joined the Navy in 1968 as Seaman Apprentice instead of Seaman Recruit due to his college education.
Once out of the Navy he took a bit of time off before going to work for the local Ford dealership working his way from his entry level job washing cars to doing warranty work. His boss offered to send him to mechanic school but instead choose to move with his new wife to Florida where her father lived. Packing everything they could stuff into their station wagon they drove cross country where they spent the next 20 years.
Ken worked as a television tech. It was at the back door of this business that he was able to step out and see every launch of the space shuttles and other rockets that were launched from the Kennedy Space Center, the former Cape Canaveral. He always knew when a launch was imminent as the TVs in the shop had every channel showing the launches, and it was always break time when the launches occurred *smile*.
On January 28, 1986 Ken told me he watched in awe, as he did with every launch, as Challenger rose into the sky. Awe changed to horror as the space shuttle, 73 seconds after liftoff and carrying seven including the first American female astronaut and the first black astronaut, broke apart right before his eyes. An O-ring associated with the right solid rocket booster failed causing the shuttle to break apart. He bows his head for a few seconds, but just before he does I see the sadness in his eyes. I remember that day and exactly where I was. Do you?
After his wife passed in 1994, Ken spent two more years in Florida then moved to Mississippi where an old buddy of his lived and he procured a job working for ServiceMaster. He tells me he likes the southern states and warm weather and decided that northern Mississippi would become his home.
Ken’s first home on wheels was a pop-up tent trailer. He had found this unit in 2008 and had been using it on weekends and holidays. It was selling for a price he wanted to pay, but it had a downside. He was in Mississippi and the pop-up was in Illinois. He wanted it bad enough that he took a 24 hour non-stop round trip to go pick it up, leaving early on a Saturday and was home on Sunday. Whew! Bet he loved hearing that alarm on Monday morning.
After a time, as many folks do, he felt he needed more room , and in 2010 he made the decision to move up, and he went from the pop-up to a 33′ motor home. He retired in 2012 and began to travel.
To fill in some time Ken tried camp hosting at a county park in Oregon. This is where you sign on for a specified amount of time to be the campground host signing people into the campground, cleaning restrooms, and other various and sundry jobs in return for your camping spot, hopefully with electric and water included.
The following year Ken decided to try the seasonal work that Amazon and the big chain stores like JC Penny offer during the holiday season from October through December, securing those gigs from a group called Camperforce (Amazon’s word for seasonal camping workers) and Workcamping (The word JC PENNEY uses to describe same). These big companies used to pay all camping fees in a nearby campground wherever they happen to be needing warehouse or other jobs filled and also paid a good hourly wage. Sometimes the job is extended to include the after Christmas return-it-I-don’t-like-it rush. He enjoys these jobs more than hosting and continues to seek these holiday working gigs even though the all-paid perks are disappearing.
By 2016 he decided to do more off-roading and sold the motor home and purchased a 33′ fifth wheel, the fiver being more amendable to rough roads in outlying areas.
When the seasonal work is finished Ken heads from wherever he happens to be to someplace warm (This year it was Quartzsite) for the rest of the winter and early spring before heading back home to Mississippi for the summer and fall.
Ken has been to 29 of the 50 states: All of the west, Midwest, and the south, the southern states being his favorites as he is not a fan of the cold.
While traveling he keeps busy looking to take in anything military and never passes up a museum. He also enjoys geocaching and has 1343 finds to his credit.
It was very nice meeting you Ken! Thanks for the mechanical info and telling me your story. Happy and safe travels!