Newspaper Article Archive of
It’s migration time for snowbirds, the gray wave of winter wimps beginning their annual spring flight north with the robins, purple martins and turkey vultures.
Here at Sun Life RV Resort in Mesa, the RV park is almost half empty and most will have left by May 1. Sun Life will enter the Twilight Zone by the time I leave at the end of May, with its streets deserted and 70s’ soft rock playing over the speakers to an empty pool.
The locals will be glad to see us go, although we Northerners pump a lot of money into the area, an estimated $2.4 billion annually to the Arizona economy. Still, they complain about the way we drive and the long lines at stores and restaurants along the miles and miles of 55-plus communities.
The RV resorts cater to motor homes, fifth-wheel campers and park models (a fancy name for the permanent small mobile homes). The giant motorhomes can cost more than a half million dollars, while the older park models can go for as low as $4,000.
I live in a park model and the open lot next to me has already seen several RVs come and go as the snowbirds from farther south or bordering states pause here for a few days on their trips home.
About half of the snowbirds are from Canada and are now hurrying back because they can only stay outside the country for so long without losing their national healthcare coverage.
The coming and going of the rumbling motorhomes makes me think of an urban legend told to me by a longtime resident in Sunlife – the phantom RV of Maricopa County.
He swears he saw it silently glide past late one night when he was up due to a chronic prostate problem.
“It glowed with an inner light of its own like a plastic Halloween pumpkin,” he swore, “and slowed at the empty concrete pads as if trying to find its lot. A pale, haunted face stared out the passenger window. It looked like a 1961 Dodge Frank Motorhome with its 26-foot art deco fiberglass body, though Henry down the street swears it was a 1968 Ultra Van Corvair – but he’s as blind as a bat.”
My neighbor went on to say that the legend relates that the RV belonged to a retired couple from Ohio who became lost when most of the Phoenix-Mesa area was still desert with a few two-lane highways.
After running out of gas and with no air conditioning, they fell victim to the torturous heat as their RV turned into a solar oven. Legend has it that at midnight their ghostly motorhome traverses the multitude of RV parks looking for the lot they never reached.
I woke early one morning to the eerie, blood-chilling sound of some demonic vehicle, and I immediately thought of the phantom RV.
I sprang to the window, though hesitated at a last-second fear of what I’d see. When I threw aside the curtain, I saw it was only a city solid waste truck with its clattering robotic arm emptying garbage containers.
“They’re propane powered,” my neighbor replied when I mentioned the incident. “The fueling station uses natural gas that is delivered by a pipeline to be compressed to 3,600 psi for fueling the trucks.”
It turns out that just like train watchers who collect railroad memorabilia and film trains across the country, there are garbage truck enthusiasts who can wax poetic about the vehicles and related subjects. According to my neighbor, Mesa solid waste employees are the unsung heroes of city crews.
“Did you know George Dempster invented the Dempster Dumper system in 1937, which used wheeled waste containers that were mechanically tipped into the truck?” my neighbor asked me.
I believe it was a rhetorical question.
“Wagons were used for centuries to haul garbage, with the first self-propelled garbage trucks used in England. They were steam-powered from the Thornycroft Steam Wagon and Carriage Company in 1987,” he continued,” “The Garwood Load Packer revolutionized the industry in 1938 with a primitive compactor that could double a truck’s capacity.”
“If you want to learn more” he concluded, “go to trucksandparts.com to its ‘The History of Garbage Men and Their Trucks’ for more information.”
Obviously, the desert can play strange tricks on a person’s mind. But my addled neighbor isn’t the only one to have this strange fixation on garbage trucks.
If you don’t believe me, look up Mesa solid waste trucks on YouTube where you will see a number of videos of the trucks emptying garbage and recycling bins throughout the burbs.
He is also not the only one to have viewed spectral visions. According to the Internet, there have been a multitude of ghost sightings in downtown Mesa.
I’m beginning to get antsy about soon being alone in a virtually deserted RV park. I’m considering heading back to Iowa early before I see the phantom motorhome, or worse yet, a haunted garbage truck.