Think your gasoline bill is high? Imagine the grin on a service station owner’s face when Lou Holtmann and his extended family pull out after fueling up their five motorhomes.
According to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, several years ago Holtmann made the day of a salesman at Byerly RV in Eureka, Mo., by announcing he wanted to buy five Four Winds International 31-foot motorhomes. They listed at nearly $70,000 each, and Holtmann planned to pay the tab up front.
Holtmann said at the time: “The poor sales guy, his mouth dropped open about four times.”
A personal tragedy had inspired the purchase. Four loved ones had been killed in a traffic accident, and Holtmann, who is 59 and a retired corporate vice president, decided life was too short to waste.
“Between the kids and grandkids, there’s 20 of us now,” Holtmann said. “We just got back last month from a trip to Kansas, Colorado Springs, New Mexico and Oklahoma City. We all have CBs and we caravan, one behind the other.”
The year before, the caravan headed through Indiana to Gettysburg, Niagara Falls, New York and back.
“Each kid takes a turn and plans a 10-day jaunt to places they think everybody would like,” Holtmann explained. “We get in and go. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Obviously, traveling by motorhome has gotten more expensive in recent months. Holtmann said he never bothered calculating the exact mileage the coaches get, but figures it’s “between 10 and 11 miles to the gallon.”
The homes have 35-gallon fuel tanks, Holtmann said, which have to be filled when three-quarters empty. When only a quarter tank is left, the generator that powers the air-conditioning and refrigerator kicks off to conserve fuel.
“The most we paid this last trip was $3.38 a gallon in New Mexico,” Holtmann said. “The kids were laughing because the most we paid on our first trip was $1.80 gallon.”
The pump usually stops rolling at about $120 or $130 – times five, of course – at current gas prices, Holtmann said.
“It gets your attention,” he added. “The gas stations love us.”
Still, Holtmann said his family saves money in the long run by traveling via motorhome.
“Hotel rooms, obviously, would be the biggest item – we stay mostly in KOAs,” he said. “Sometimes we’ll do a restaurant, but we do most of our own cooking.”
If gasoline prices stay in the $3 range, or go higher, Holtmann said the family may shorten some of the excursions to make up the cost difference.
“We may do one less stop because of the couple hundred extra bucks in fuel costs,” he said. “Do one less attraction.”
But fuel prices be damned, the Holtmann caravan will continue to rumble.
“The gain far outweighs the cost in terms of family and grandkids,” Holtmann said. “Every trip, there’s something that stands out. That’s what it’s all about, building memories. We get to see the United States, and spend time together.”