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Meet a Member | Family Motor Coach Association

Tom and Louise Butler, Emery, S.D.

FMCA members Louise and Tom Butler

FMCA membership number: F294521

Our current motorhome:
A 2004 40-foot Monaco Windsor with two slideouts

Three words that best describe our motorhome:
Convenience, reliable, beautiful

The best thing about our motorhome:
It has almost all the conveniences we could want. We have a washer/drier, a KVH satellite dish with auto-search, and an HWH auto leveling using only air bags. The Aladdin computerized monitoring system monitors electrical, tanks, engine functions and backup monitor all at the touch of a button. Our coach also has a power cord reel, internal water filters, a large pantry, a microwave/convection oven, and a power awning with wind sensor.

We have a solar panel on top and a power management system that drops out electrical loads to keep us from blowing circuit breakers in campgrounds. When the power goes off or when boondocking, the inverter automatically picks up the 110-volt electric. When the batteries get low, the generator starts automatically. When the batteries are fully charged, the generator shuts down automatically. I told my wife when we bought this coach the convenience items likely added 10 years to the time I would be able to keep up with the physical aspects of living full-time in the RV! Louise is proud to show this motorhome to friends and family and people who are considering this lifestyle.

Other motorhomes we’ve owned:
We started with a 1994 Monaco Dynasty 38-footer with no slides. We had been looking at various RVs for six months and had decided we definitely wanted a Monaco. We bought it used from a Canadian couple who were visiting in St. Louis at the time. We learned the hard way that they had a Canadian title for the coach and thus we had to “import” it before we could get it licensed in the U.S. It took about six weeks to get the necessary paperwork from the manufacturer and process paperwork through U.S. Customs! In the end, it didn’t cost us any money because the coach was originally manufactured in the U.S.

We decided to buy a motorhome because:
We liked to travel and the quality of motorhomes was so much better than trailers. Motorhomes were easier to drive than towing a large trailer, and when we get to our destination I would much rather drive a toad than a big dual-wheeled diesel pickup truck.

Our occupations:
I taught science in public schools in Troy, Missouri, for 19 years and then served as a director of the science program for a school district in St. Louis County for nine years. That, coupled with purchasing retirement credit for my two years military service (Vietnam 1970 to 1971) allowed me to retire in 1999 at 52 years old. My wife taught elementary science in the sixth grade and several years in the gifted program in Hazelwood, Missouri, for 27 years and finished with three years as an elementary principal in Normandy, Missouri. She retired in 1998. We both worked for the Teachers Academy for Mathematics and Science headquartered out of Chicago from 1999 to 2001. We finally decided we loved travel too much to keep working and submitted our resignations in June 2001.

Children, grandchildren:
I have two children and four grandchildren. Louise has two children and two grandchildren.

We travel in our motorhome:
Approximately 12 months of the year. When we’re not motorhoming, we’re in a motel or hotel somewhere! Life in a motel is a bummer. I’d much rather be in the motorhome, but sometimes it is just cheaper and quicker to make a short trip via air.

Our favorite motorhoming destinations:
We winter at Sandpipers Resort in Edinburg, Texas. When we began traveling I thought we would wander from place to place across the southern U.S. during the winter. When we drove into Sandpipers we were hooked. It is a clothing optional (nudist) park. The park is filled with people who relish living. We have a heated pool and hot tub, great tennis courts, friends who love to bicycle in the U.S. and Mexico, and Louise has any card game she wants. We enjoy playing golf all winter long. There are exotic birds in abundance and friends who can guide us to the best spots to see them. So that is almost half our year.

Our summers incorporate visiting each of our families and then finding interesting new places to see. One year we did the deserts and mountains of California. Another trip took us east to visit Kitty Hawk, N.C., to celebrate the 100th anniversary of powered flight. In 2004 we started in Louisville, Kentucky, and followed Lewis and Clark all the way to Fort Clatsup in Oregon. Along the way we read entries from their journals and visited most of the interpretative centers. We spent a month exploring Mount Saint Helens before attending the FMCA Convention in Redmond, Ore.

We both took our first look at New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada in 2005. Walking on the ocean floor at Burncoat, Nova Scotia, and watching the tidal bore working up river at high tide were real thrills. Spotting our first moose in Cape Breton just after Louise had invoked her moose call, “Here, moosie moosie,” gave us both a good laugh.

Louise Butler In 2006 we took the trip of a lifetime. We left the U.S. on Memorial Day, spent two weeks with friends from Sandpipers on Vancouver Island, took the Sea to Sky Highway to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and then the Alaska Highway to Whitehorse. We braved the trip to Dawson City, Yukon Territory, and parked there for a week while we explored the far north. We took our towed vehicle, a Chevrolet Trailblazer, to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, and stayed overnight in the land of the midnight sun. Flying a charter out of Fairbanks to Barrow, Alaska, we enjoyed a tour of Barrow and a fantastic performance at the Inuit Heritage Center.

We also visited Fairbanks, North Pole, Denali, the Kenai Peninsula, Seward, Prince William Sound, Skagway, Anchorage, and so many other great places. We parked our motorhome right at the terminus of the Matanuska Glacier and walked on the glacier twice. We watched bears catch and eat salmon at Hydar, Alaska, more bears than I ever expected to see. Friends from Sandpipers took us to their cabin in the woods where we saw moose wander by each evening. We almost ran over a young calf in mid-stream on the boat trip back from the cabin. It was Labor Day before we returned to the lower 48 feeling like we were the luckiest people on earth.

In 2007 we decided to limit our travel a little to cope with fuel costs. We joined Sandpiper friends to travel from Yankton, S.D., across South Dakota (our adopted home) through Colorado and into Utah. Bill and Laura let us lead them through canyon country. Laura is terrified of heights, so we really challenged her and she responded by actually getting up to the edge of some of the overlooks as long as there was a wall or fence! Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion, Capital Reef, Glen Canyon and Natural Bridges each gave us spectacular vistas of their own.

In 2008 we decided that life had to go on no matter what fuel cost. We traveled east from Missouri to Detroit, Mich., and Windsor, Ontario. We enjoyed the Red Bull Air Races before setting off on a journey across western Ontario. A quick trip south from Duluth to the Minneapolis for the FMCA convention and then we continued on west across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. We finished the trip with a run through eastern Washington and Oregon before going to California for our visit with Louise’s daughter and family.

Our all-time favorite motorhome trip or motorhoming memory:
After seven years living in a motorhome, it is impossible to have a clear-cut favorite. Louise says her favorite trip was the Lewis and Clark trip across country, and I have to admit that I have often thought it would be fun to do a similar trip some day. Another favorite was a leisurely drive down the southern half of the Natchez Trace Parkway. After two days we ended the trip at sunset atop the Emerald Mound near Natchez. We went back the next spring for the Natchez Pilgrimage. Touring the old homes was a real treat. Then we drove the whole Trace, from Natchez to Louisville. A 45-mph speed limit and signs at each turnoff to indicate if there was a loop drive, and most were, made for very relaxing driving. Along the way we found the Meriwether Lewis grave site. This was the beginning of our Lewis and Clark summer.

Our “dream” motorhome trip: a year motorhoming around Australia.

Our perfect day of motorhome travel:
A light day of travel. We like interesting roads with places to stop along the way to stretch our legs. While traveling along the northern shore of Lake Superior we stopped at several viewpoints. After shopping at the Agawa Native Crafts village we pulled into Lake Superior Provincial Park on Pancake Bay to have lunch. We ate in the RV because the bugs were fierce at the picnic tables. After lunch we walked along the shore of Pancake Bay, barefoot in the sand. As long as we were in the open the wind kept the mosquitoes at bay. Park personnel gave us permission to take an alternate exit from the park as they thought the loop at the end of the picnic drive would be too tight for our rig. After lunch we stopped to see the pictographs at Agawa Rock. Finally we made our way to Wawa RV Resort to find a friendly welcome and a nice campsite for the next few nights. The day ends with us hooked up and the Trailblazer ready for tomorrow’s exploration. The sun is setting in the West and dinner is on the table. Life is good in a motorhome.

Our worst motorhoming experience:
The inevitable wrong turn. This was our first real trip after we moved into the motorhome full-time. We left St. Louis for Florida. Somewhere in Kentucky we decided to find a campground. After turning off the interstate highway, we followed directions until we came to a T. I should have parked there and made a phone call, but I didn’t. We turned left and the road quickly made a sharp right turn. I learned that the front wheels were behind me when we didn’t drop a wheel in the ditch. The road became narrower and I drove on the left side as often as the right to avoid tree limbs. Eventually we came to a small store and pulled off to get directions. In about a mile we were back on a better road and made our way back to the interstate. We never did find the campground. It was after dark before we found a parking place. We ended up boondocking that night.

Our motorhoming pet peeve:
Poor traffic signage, everything from misleading signs to turn lanes that have an arrow indicating right turn only under one of the three cars ahead. Intersections without street signs, exit-only lanes in heavy traffic areas, and signs hidden by foliage. I swear if I ever win the lottery I will buy chain saws for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, though I don’t think anyone in New England knows how to or is willing to cut a tree down. We ended up creeping through the automobile entry gate to the Golden Gate Bridge because the sign for oversized traffic was too close to the bridge for me to get in the proper lane.

The best addition or alteration we’ve made to our motorhome:
When we purchased this motorhome we immediately had it outfitted with solar screens from Motor Coach Designs. The initial purchase covered the windshield and driver/passenger side windows. Before the first year was up we ordered screens for each of the remaining windows. MCD installed those for us at the FMCA Convention in Redmond, Ore., in 2004. Now we have some real protection from the sun to help keep us cool and give us a little privacy while being able to see outside. We use these any time we are in a hot climate for any extended period of time.

If we could change one thing about our motorhome, it would be:
I would like the motorhome to be a “transformer.” Imagine a motorhome the size of a small car that folds out to a double-wide mobile home when you park! Oh, well. Louise wants a real range top and oven. I would say larger storage compartments in the basement. And oh, yes, rubber edges on all the compartment doors and slide outs!

Something about motorhoming that we know now but did NOT know when we started:
You really can’t appreciate the convenience of traveling anywhere you want and having all your stuff with you. Anytime we travel by other means we are always compromising our activities because we don’t have everything we need. We read books and gave much thought to moving into the motorhome but really hadn’t internalized the idea of home on the road until we had made several trips. Now when anyone asks where I live I point to the motorhome. I tell them, “Our address is South Dakota, but we live here.”

When driving a motorhome, the most important thing to remember is:
Easy does it. Easy on the accelerator, easy on the brake, crest the mountain pass slowly and in a low gear. Relax and take your time. Let the rest of the race car set pass you at every opportunity. Those poor suckers are rushing to work or home. I don’t have to do either. I drive my pace. When traffic backs up behind me I pull aside to let them pass at a safe location. I will not drive on the shoulder to let traffic pass. I quit doing that after one individual driver failed to let me pull back onto the highway to avoid debris on the shoulder. My rig is way too expensive to be driving among the hazards on the shoulder.

Our advice for other motorhome owners:
Enjoy your wonderful asset. Life is short and no one knows if we’ll be able to travel next year. Health, finances or other considerations could take away your ability to travel, so use it while you can.

Our hobbies:
Louise is a writer; she has had numerous articles published, some for pay, others for fun. She enjoys card games, particularly Bridge and Canasta. She does crossword puzzles and had a fling with Sudoku. She always has a book or two on the nightstand and enjoys the book exchanges at RV parks. She plays golf, tennis and bowls. She will ride a bicycle for short easy rides on bike trails and loves to swim. A daily walk and occasional weightlifting keep her in top physical shape. We have a Bowflex in the basement so we can work out.

I love astronomy and travel with a 17.5-inch reflector, which I built twice. For 22 years I hauled the telescope around in a pickup truck. When we moved into the motorhome, I took the mirrors out and salvaged what I could from the old telescope. Then I built a highly portable model. It travels everywhere with us. Pieces are stowed in three different compartments in the motorhome and the eyepieces are under the bed.

I love to take pictures, so I carry a camera everywhere when we explore. In 2004 I switched from film to digital. Now I take about 10,000 pictures each year. I have purchased twin 1 terabyte (1,000-gigabyte) drives to store my photos and keep a copy stored in a fireproof safe in my daughter’s basement. I also keep a copy in a fireproof safe in the motorhome. I recently purchased a second digital camera, an updated version of my first one. This spring we purchased a video projector to facilitate my travel talks.FMCA member Tom Butler enjoys biking.

I hold a private pilot’s license and rent planes to fly whenever we stay in an area for a while. I have rented planes on the East Coast, West Coast and everywhere in between. I flew several times in Alaska, once over the Kenai Peninsula and the other time to Denali. On occasion I have flown extended flights from our winter home in Texas.

I love bicycling. We travel with two BikeEs on the bike rack on the back of the Trailblazer. Other than cost, I don’t know why more seniors aren’t riding recumbent bicycles. One of my favorite rides was coasting from Dante’s View in Death Valley to Furnace Creek. The whole ride was about 30 miles and I didn’t have to pedal more than a mile or so total. Louise clocked me at 35 miles an hour coming down the alluvial fan from the peak! I play golf and tennis, bowl, hike, lift weights and am a computer junkie. Whenever possible I will snorkel for hours.

Favorite restaurant: Macaroni Grill

A celebrity we admire: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Something others would be surprised to know about us:
We are social nudists. Not everyone knows that or would suspect it. Like most nudists, we look like anyone else. Nudism isn’t about having a beautiful body. It is about body acceptance. Shed your clothes and you are vulnerable. Suddenly you become more comfortable with your own skin. RVing has given us a reasonably inexpensive way to stay at nudist resorts. Our winter retreat is Sandpipers Nudist Resort in Edinburg, Texas.

If we were awarded a shopping spree at the store of our choice, the store we’d choose:
Wal-Mart. Living in an RV, we don’t have much room for material goods. Wal-Mart is a frequent shopping stop and where we can get many of the items we frequently need.

Favorite campground: Sandpipers Resort, Edinburg, Texas

When motorhomers visit our state or hometown, they should be sure to see:
For natural features you can’t beat Badlands National Park, the falls in Sioux Falls, or Wind Cave National Park. Custer State Park has excellent wildlife and the Black Hills offer excellent wild areas. For manmade features, the Corn Palace may sound corny but it has a long and interesting history. Mount Rushmore is high on the list of most people who visit South Dakota. The Crazy Horse Monument is not far away and a work in progress but also has an excellent collection of Native American cultural items. Each spring there is a Volksmarch to the outstretched arm of Crazy Horse. If you are physically able, this is an event not to be missed. The epic festival of South Dakota is the annual Harley migration to Sturgis.

Items that we always keep in our motorhome’s refrigerator while traveling:
Wine, sausage, cheese, diet coke, milk and ice cream.

Our advice to new motorhomers:
Our happiest times are when we have no schedule and can stay or go as we please. If a place is welcoming and interesting we stay longer. Sometimes we drive long distances, sometimes we stay in one place for a long time. Take your time and explore as you go.

Behind our motorhome, we tow:
A 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer EXT. We started with a tow dolly and a Pontiac Bonneville but the tow dolly was such a problem that we discarded it for towing four wheels down. We have never looked back on that decision. The trailblazer carries our BikeEs on a bike rack. The seats for the BikeEs are stored in the third row of seats in the trailblazer. We call it our sports locker because we keep our bowling balls, golf clubs and hiking and backpacking gear in the Trailblazer. Some of the gear resides in our “Big Mac.” Big Mac is a car-top carrier from Sears. We have had only a few problems with the four-wheel towing since we switched in 2002. When we load up friends in the Trailblazer they always are amazed at the convenience of a six-passenger vehicle where everyone can talk together. They will frequently ask, “What car is this?”

Pets that travel with us:
None. When the dog died we sold the house and moved into the motorhome! My wife loves dogs and eagerly meets all the pets others have, but our life is simpler and much freer without a pet.

When we’re online, Web sites we like to visit:
Google queries and Google Earth are frequent stops. The U.S. Post Office site is where we find our next post office. When we are travelling I always check the Flying J site to see where the price of diesel is best and fill up in those locations. If I need fuel right away I always look to see how close we are to cheaper fuel and get just enough to get there. I monitor all our credit cards and bank accounts online and reconcile those accounts when statements are available. All of our bills are electronic and all our payments are also electronic. I order items from Camping World and other suppliers online and manage our subscriptions and memberships online.

The best weather program I have found is the Weather Bug. I can frequently find a nearby station that has the same temperature as our outside thermometer. Their forecasts are localized and generally have much better information than any other programs including the Weather Channel. I can even monitor the weather where our children and mothers live with the Weather Bug using their subscription version. I used the free version for years before switching to the subscription. My flight planning and flight weather comes from the AOPA site. I have a host of sites bookmarked related to RVing. These sites are organized into categories like Fuel Suppliers, Maps and Travel, RV Dealers, RV Insurance, RV Organizations (FMCA), RV Service and Repair, RV Supplies, Tourist Attractions. I use these as needed. Cummins, Allison, HWH, Dometic, and many others are just a click away.

A technical or travel tip we’d like to share with other motorhome owners:
When your car breaks down you take it to your dealer or a shop and they fix it. Motorhomes are not the same. Each component may be repaired by a different supplier. The engine goes to Cummins, the transmission goes to Allison, the refrigerator goes to an authorized Norcold shop, and the water heater can be fixed at an Atwood shop. There are some shops that work on many of these items, but we have found no place that does it all.  Almost every difficulty can be overcome but not necessarily on a schedule you would like. Be patient, relax and enjoy your situation. If your motorhome is disabled, make the best of your situation. Explore the local community while it is fixed. We have only had one time when we couldn’t stay in our motorhome during service and that was a single night at a paint shop.

We joined FMCA because:
Our first motorhome had an FMCA goose egg on it when we looked at it. Not knowing much about motorhomes, I joined every organization related to the RV lifestyle. Over the years I have weeded that down to two organizations. I stay with FMCA because it has so much to offer motorhome owners. The conventions really address our interests. As long as we have a motorhome it will have an FMCA goose egg.

FMCA chapter that we belong to:
We are members of the Monaco International chapter and get to rallies whenever we can. Our strategy with rallies and conventions is to incorporate them into our plans whenever they are near where we are traveling.

Other comments:
We have met amazing people on our travels. Right from the beginning we have met one interesting and amazing person after another. The conversations are often casual and names aren’t always exchanged or remembered, but the conversations linger. There was the 80-year-old Canadian who was in California to participate in a hockey tournament! He had said yes to an invitation to play in the 80-year-old group before the 70-year-old group asked him to play for them!

At the Big Nickel in Sudbury, Ontario, we talked to a miner who worked the nickel mines in the 1930s. Sitting at a lunch table in the cafeteria he told of his immigration to Canada, his love, his wife and her death. He talked about mining and gave us a sample of nickel ore that he was delivering to the gift shop. The Inuit people of Barrow, Alaska, gave us such a wonderful welcome and made us feel part of the community. Participating in a blanket toss after their lovely dance and music performance left me with a lump in my throat for such beautiful people.

We have been able to visit with Louise’s mother regularly and when she had to move out of her home at 83 years old, we were able to park next to her house and help her through the whole process. We spend several weeks each spring and fall with my mother, now 85 years old. I spent two weeks cleaning out my father’s workshop. I built a new porch to replace hazardous old steps. I ask mom for her to-do list every time we visit. We live in our motorhome parked in her driveway while we visit and my tools are always with me. We can be the next-door neighbor to our family members whenever we are needed!

Other FMCA members may contact us via e-mail:

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