Editor’s Note: The following is a story filed by ABC News talking to RVers about fuel costs during a recent RV consumer rally in Vermont. The piece will air tonight (Sept. 5) on Nightline at 11:35 Eastern.
RVs – guzzlers of gas, devourers of diesel, ferocious feeders of fuel.
Running one of these vehicular behemoths is anything but light on the wallet, but a group of RV enthusiasts say the cost is worth it for a vacation on wheels.
At the recent Northeast Regional Motor Coach Association Rally in Essex Junction, Vt., Janice Dixon spoke fondly of her recent RV trip to California.
“We drove out and back, $4,562 in fuel – was the best trip we’ve ever taken,” she told ABC News’ John Berman. “I’d do it again.”
Conversations on fuel costs are par for the course.
“When you have one of these, it’s inevitable you’re going to spend gas, fuel,” she said.
“What else are you going to do?” her husband, Richard Dixon, said. “If you don’t do something like this, what are you going to do? Sit home and watch the prices go up and complain and bellyache over everything and do nothing? No, get out and live. See this country.”
Fuel prices are dropping, but it’s still not cheap to fill up a 40-foot vehicle that gets six to seven miles per gallon. That’s right, six or seven miles a gallon. Somewhere Al Gore is crying.
That helps explain why sales of recreational vehicles have dropped 28% from last year. And helps explain why the rally in Vermont is about half as big as the last time it was held here.
Donny and Beth Osterhout, or “Donny O” and “Beth O” as they are called in RV circles, say the price of fuel has changed their habits somewhat, but not enough to make them park for good.
Donny Osterhout said they “just lay over a little longer so we spend more time in one place, that way, we’re not rolling the wheels quite as much, basically. ”
The Osterhouts live full time in their 40-foot Monaco Dynasty and spend most of the year in upstate New York and Florida, stopping at points in between.
“It’s a life without reservations,” Beth Osterhout said. “You don’t have to make reservations and it’s relaxed without reservations.”
It is a life they obviously love.
“Being able to pick up any time and move and you can be in one place today and friends call tomorrow,” Donny Osterhout said, “and say we’re going to be at a certain park or we’re going to be in a certain city and we can just pick up and within 15 minutes we’re on the road and off to meet friends again.”
“The camaraderie of the RV industry is that everybody knows that you can be instant friends and had never ever met anyone — ever, but you can sit next to them and be a neighbor that weekend and be instant friends and know when you see Donny O again, you know you can be instant friends again,” Beth Osterhout said.
The rally in Vermont becomes an instant town. More than an instant town, really. In most towns you don’t get the impromptu singing or the perpetual cocktail gatherings that seem to be part of RV life.
But not everyone thinks this lifestyle makes sense.
Beth Osterhout said their kids think it’s the worst investment they’ve ever made. They know their RV won’t appreciate in value, but it’s what they want to do.
The life they describe, the one without reservations, is getting to be a harder sell. Just ask Marty Hanoud. He has been in the RV business for more than 35 years.
Sales, Hanoud said optimistically, are “not as good as they were three years ago, but you know it’s starting to rebound. I think we’re pretty much at the bottom.”
Fuel prices have affected business, he said, but again he insisted RVs are coming back.
The optimism, perhaps, masks the fact Hanoud has laid off a quarter of his staff in the last year, and no longer provides what used to be a regular perk for buyers – a free tank of gas with each purchase. If he can’t sell efficiency, Hanoud still tries to sell the life.
“It’s just a great way to go, for somebody who loves this lifestyle and the camaraderie and the friendship and people you meet,” he said. “It lasts a long time.”
On Saturday night the most coveted door prizes were $150 gas cards, which obviously don’t go very far for these RV aficionados.
At the end of every RV rally there is a right of passage – a painful right of passage – to the gas station. The 150-gallon tank can cost $500 to fill up. The numbers there clearly hurt, but not enough to make them stop living the RV life.
“No, not really,” one rally attendee said. “I guess people fix it up in a way that you spend less on some stuff and you spend more on gas, but you don’t stop driving. It’s fun.”