Phillip stared as Flipper undulated into the station, and gaped at the apparition that was Monstro. “That's the most dangerous rig I've ever seen on the road,” he said, pointing at the sky-blue Travco. “If you've been driving that thing, you've got no right to complain about that garden hose. And that- I know a Spartan when I see one, but still- what the hell is that?”
Seen close-up, the first impression of Monstro was not so much size as sheer, primordial power. By the standards of modern RVs, its 27-foot length was not unduly impressive, though its height was considerable thanks to its large wheels and an added nautical-looking superstructure amidships. But what it lacked in size, it clearly made up for in dinosaurian durability. The originally silver skin had been allowed to weather to a pearl gray, and bore an impressive collection of dents, yet there was no evidence that its integrity had been compromised. As for the underlying chassis, the wheels and a winch at the front marked it as not only a serious cross-country truck but a likely military vehicle. It looked like it was built to conquer the world, and probably had.
“Those as would know think that Monstro could be the oldest motorhome on the road,” Carlos said. “It was definitely built before 1960, probably no later'n 1956, and maybe even before 1950. There's no way to be sure. It was a one-off home-built, of course; back then, they all were, which is what makes the dates so slippery. It would have taken quite a bit of time to get it running, too, and there were continuous modifications after. But we know it started with three things: that big-arse streamline trailer, a haul-arse hot rod engine, and a bad-arse war surplus Dodge cargo truck. The way those old monsters were built, it's hard to even compare them to anything built later: Low horse power, massive torque, gas mileage that wasn't so much miles per gallon as vice versa, an' built so tough they could've bludgeoned Nazis with the parts. An' the crazy bastard who put it all together definitely knew 'ow to get the most out of what 'e 'ad.
“Long story short, Monstro's gross weight is just over six Imperial tons, give or take a few 'undred kilos depending on what's in the tanks. There's quite a few. That funny bridge thing musta been put in to make up for lost headroom putting 'em in. The engine's petrol, but in a class with a decent diesel. The tech boys rated it as 175 horsepower and 500 Newton-meters of torque. Even before they got to it, the engine was set up to burn on a range of fuels, mainly mixed in with the regular petrol. It wouldn't have taken much work; if fuel had negative octane, those old trucks could run on it. There's two generators, one propane and one petrol, an onboard garbage incinerator, and even a gray-black water tank
“Unfortunately, even the tech boys couldn't do much for fuel economy, 'bout eight miles per gallon, six if you have. But then there's the pulling power... Like I said, it's hard to properly read trucks this old, and for this rig, even getting base measurements was really tricky. The tech boys came up with ratings, but one way or another, they got way under actual performance. I couldn't give you numbers, but I can tell you this much: Once, we used it to move a bus. It was a winch-assisted pull, just far enough to get the bloody thing out of the mud. But that bus was twice as big as Monstro, with twenty people aboard that we couldn't get out, and it was stopped cold and dug in deep. It came right out and kept going till Monstro braked. If it'd been in gear, it prob-ly would've rear-ended Monstro- and I'd call it even money which'd be busted up worse.”
Using Monstro's winch, they pulled the decrepit Travco to one side, making room for Laramie to pull out in the four-wheel-drive specimen. Just as it rolled into the back lot, smoke suddenly erupted from the engine. Laramie killed the engine and hastily evacuated as smoke erupted inside and was followed by fire outside. The more athletic female student sprinted up to douse the desultory blaze with an extinguisher. Carlos turned to Dr. Carradine, grinning like a shark. “I told you so,” he said. He waved his arms as if appealing to the scattered bystanders. “Didn't I say so? It's never just one thing!”
The female student, whose name was Annabelle, drew back as the smoke intensified, “I dunno,” she said, coughing. She turned to Laramie.“What did he say?”
Annabelle's pudgy companion, who answered to Jamie, trudged in and started beating back the smoke with a blanket. Laramie watched her for a moment, with a smile as subtle as the Mona Lisa, before he looked at Annabelle and said, “He said he was ready to take it with us.” Then, while Jamie stuffed the blanket into the grill to stifle the last of the blaze, he lit yet another cigarette.
While Carradine supervised the dismantling the siren Travco, Carlos, Phil and Laramie went back into the junkyard. “We really don't have that many RVs, anymore,” Phil said. “For a while, we had more than we could deal with. Old Pete had made handling trailers and RVs a sideline, buying them cheap, or keeping broken-down ones if the owner didn't want to pay to fix it. And Pete Junior says even back then, once in a while they would find a perfectly good one that someone just parked and left. But right about when I started, it got weird. We were finding at least one every week or so, a lot of them like new. We tried to sell them, but people just weren't buying them, so we scrapped a lot of them We would have probably ended up just leaving them, but by then we weren't finding them anymore. Pete said it was because the market had gotten so bad that manufacturers were shutting down production. He thought it was because gas prices were too high.”
“He wasn't all wrong, but he didn't get it right,” Carlos said. “The suits killed Travco a few years back, and there were others. Generally Mediocre shut down their mobile home division the same year. The people in the industry were all blaming it on gas prices, like what happened in the big gas shortage. Completely missing the big picture. The shortage made a mark on the business, same as for everybody, but in a year or two, the market recovered, even got better. The big bust was different. Everybody should've been able to see that gas prices had nothin' to do with it. The whole time, people were spending more on luxury cars than they ever did on mobile homes. Not to mention personal computers, VCR's, cable TV, bloody boob jobs... That was the problem. The people who had money to burn, or thought they did, decided there were more fashionable things to waste it on.
“And what it really came down to was people's dreams. When mobile homes were big, it was because a lot of people in the cities were still sentimental about the old ways, living in the country and exploring the wilderness- not to mention, realistic enough to want a fallback if the new ways went south. Even the bloody hippies could appreciate that. But somewhere along the line, things changed. People got too caught up in the big city to think about going back into the land. And I think a lot of them, in some corner of their minds, that if things really fell apart, they would rather die in their condos surrounded by their designer clothes and home electronics than try to live another way. And when it happened, they did.”
Phil halted at a pair of RVs next to Old Pete's place, which turned out to be an especially large trailer built and decorated to look like a fifties-trendy house. “These were Old Pete's pet projects,” he said. “One's a Travco, and we don't have a clue what that other one is.” The Travco was a 29-footer painted entirely yellow. The other was at least as long, and covered up by several tarps. Enough could be seen to know that it was painted deep purple, had a tapered tail and strange humpbacked cab, six wheels, and an elliptical grill with some kind of ornament covering it.
Carlos searched the Travco first, while his companions uncovered the other RV. He came out shaking his head. “I'll take it, but only because we've got nothin' better,” he said. “Call it Mrs. Goldbrick. Now what do we have here?”
“Try Fee Fi Fo Fugly,” said Laramie. The uncovered motorhome looked like a cross between an eggplant and a whale shark. The grill looked eerily like a sucking maw, and a large gold star directly over it did not improve on appearances.
“I'm callin' it Prince Chuck,” said Carlos. “I know what it is, too; saw a want ad once, and learned a little more. It's called Daystar, from about ten years back. Apparently, the people who built it were church folk, an' they got the names from legends about the star of Bethlehem, which say it was so bright the wise men could see it in the day. I don't go that way myself, but I think there could be somethin' to it, if it was the kind of light as some see an' others don't: What they'd call a vision, and we'd call either a hallucination or a UFO. At any rate, it was hugely expensive, upward of fifty G's, an' they say fewer'n a score got built. But who knows...”
They ventured inside through a door in the rear of the bulbous cab. Carlos and Phil inspected the dashboard, while Laramie hung back. After only took a few moments of casual examination, he took off his sunglasses and stared “Holy crap,” he said, rapping the frame of a doorway, “This is real wood! And not that plywood or that particle junk, either, this is solid.”
Carlos looked over his shoulder, and then stood up to take a look himself. It was a surprising find. Wood had been common in trailers well into the 1950s, though even then inferior plywood was typical, especially for interior finishing. By the 1960s, wood products being phased out, and within another decade the closest thing one was likely to see to wood paneling in the average trailer was a tacky overlay pattern on the plastic. “Solid, hell,” Carlos said. “This is teak!”
The tour was hasty but thorough, from the cab back to a sloping rear hatch. Carlos rattled off details as they went along: “Everything in here is like new, and crazy good to begin with... no wonder it was so expensive.” He took one sniff and walked faster through the kitchen. “Bad smell, but that'd be food in the fridge... Looks like we got 35 feet all told. The one I saw was shorter, and the rear was way different. Only four wheels, and it looked almost sawed-off, which put me off. I don't think it had a back door, either. This was definitely a deluxe edition... I wouldn't be surprised if it was a prototype of the line. Short as that was, who knows...” He stepped outside, and returned looking fairly satisfied. “The propane's in decent shape... Everything here looks good enough to roll. We just gotta do somethin' about that fridge...”
Carlos led the way back to the kitchen, looking more apprehensive than he had going into battle. The fridge was about four feet high, just big enough to be trouble to move. Carlos reached cautiously for the handle, and the others showed their confidence by taking several paces back. The smell was even fouler than it had seemed the first time. Carlos stepped to the other side of the fridge, where the opened door would be between him and anything that might fall out. He stretched out his arm, just reaching the handle. He took another sniff, then took another step back and took out his hammer. He reached out again, probing with the point of the hammer. On the third try, he hooked the handle perfectly. He looked up and down the handle, judging the odds of accidentally ripping it off. That was when he noticed that the others were looking down, and he followed their gaze down to the spot where a very small pool of greenish-black fluid had formed under one corner of the door.
The sounds of thumping, crashing, splintering wood, grunting, cursing and repeated applications of duct tape all resounded from behind the open rear hatch. Then Carlos came into view, holding up end of the fridge. The door was shut and sealed with enough duct tape to wrap a mummy, but he called a halt until Phil applied more. Then he bent his shoulders and hoisted it up, and with their combined efforts they managed to heave the appliance several feet. Without a glance to see where it landed and whether the duct tape held, they hurried forward to the cab, where Carlos and Phil started the vehicle and Laramie exited to start up Mrs. Goldbrick. Finally, they all raced as fast as they could away from the abominated fridge.
David N. Brown Mesa Arizona