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Last August, retirees Ray and Bonnie Seaberg said goodbye to their Michigan family and drove off to see America. Sitting behind the wheel of a 1-ton Chevrolet dually pickup, the Seabergs pulled behind them their new home – a 31-foot Coachmen travel trailer. After visiting Florida, they headed to Texas, and planned to continue further west, maybe Arizona.
But, according to a report in the Temple Daily Telegram, things changed when gas prices went through the roof.
After a few months in South Texas, the Seabergs found their way to Temple RV Park in June, and Bonnie Seaberg went to work at a local restaurant. Their trailer hasn’t moved since.
“We’re not getting along real well with the gas prices. When we left Michigan it was $2.50 a gallon,” said Ray Seaberg, relaxing under an oak tree decorated with wind chimes and a bird feeder. “You can’t afford it.”
The Seabergs are one of many living semi-permanently in Central Texas RV parks. Doctors, nurses and construction workers in contract positions and other retirees are adopting the RV lifestyle.
“We have many long term and monthly clients, especially in the form of workers,” said Alice Oltmer, owner of Belton RV Park. “This has grown quite a bit in the last years.”
With folks like the Michigan couple getting 11 mpg, those 200-300 mile days can translate into big bucks coughed up at the gas pump. Compared to a monthly rate at local RV parks – $300-$400 – it’s apparent letting a little grass grow under your Winnebago is cheaper.
Just a short piece down the road from Belton, at Lucky’s RV Park, Gene Page proudly displays his red vest covered with patches from RV rallies. In love with their luxurious travel trailer, he says fuel prices “have put the whammy on us.”
Rather than longer trips like the one they took last year to Illinois, Page and his wife, originally from Thorndale, plan on traveling to East Texas later this year
As for RVers staying closer to home these days, local RV park owners say their customers are more likely to be from Austin than Amarillo.
RVers themselves aren’t the only ones adapting to high gas prices. Pat Purvis, salesman with Sunbelt RV Center, explained how things have changed.
“We refocused our business to the smaller, more lightweight designs,” Purvis said. “What was once our secondary market has become our primary seller.”
According to the Daily Telegram, Purvis said “ultralights” that can be pulled by smaller vehicles are finding favor with travelers who are now shunning the beefy pickups.
Another trend is RVers repairing their units rather than trading in. Randy Jirasek, owner of All-American RV in Troy, said his customers are spending money on repairs.
“I’ve seen a lot of people who are buying and fixing up older ones, getting rid of big trailers,” Jirasek said. “You can make more (repairing) than selling new RVs.”