Escapees RV Club was founded in 1978. In the four decades since, so much has happened to move the club forward and grow both the membership and the services and benefits that members enjoy. With so many of our founding members now off the road and enjoying a quieter life, we want to ensure their stories and legacy are shared with newer club members. If it weren’t for our founding Escapees, this club would be an entirely different organization, if we even existed at all.
In this edited excerpt from History of the Escapees Club, Kay Peterson, co-founder of Escapees RV Club, shares some of the history behind Rainbow’s End, the first of the Escapees Rainbow Parks.
The Need For An Escapees Headquarters
By 1983, the need for a centralized headquarters was undeniably obvious. The club was growing faster now, although we had done no advertising since 1981. In January of 1983, there were 1,984 families who had joined Escapees. By the end of 1983, that number climbed to 2,239 families. There is no account of how many of those families were still active members because we made the decision to not reissue numbers when a member dropped out. Those who remembered their old member number could rejoin under that number, but there is an unknown number of people who rejoined under a new number.
With so many members to process, it became increasingly difficult for us to properly run the club from the road. It took time and energy to seek out a reliable and reasonable printer every time we distributed another newsletter. Our books were selling well by mail and that meant handling those checks, carrying the books with us, and filling mail orders. Add to that the mound of letters we received from members that had to be read and answered. We clearly needed help and needed to establish a permanent headquarters with a telephone.
I continued answering the letters and editing and publishing the newsletter as we traveled, but we needed someone to stay at the permanent location, wherever it was. That person needed to have knowledge of the club since they would be our telephone contact as well as process book orders, new memberships, and membership renewals. And it needed to be someone who believed in what we were trying to do. Our daughter, Cathie, seemed the ideal person. She had already helped with some of these things for more than a year.
When we approached her about working for the club, she agreed even though she would get far less money than she could earn elsewhere. She officially became the Escapees RV Club Executive Secretary in January 1983. From there, she advanced to managing the office and mail room, then Club Administrator, then President of Escapees RV Club. She retired as President in 2017, after welcoming her son, Travis, to take her place.
The next priority was to find a place for this permanent headquarters. Over the years, many people have asked why we chose the obscure little town of Livingston, Texas.
You could say it was because a man ran into a tree. The man was Glen Green, SKP#10.
Like Joe, Glen was an electrical construction tramp and it was on a job in Washington State that Joe and I first met Glen. Cathie had already met and become good friends with the Greens. In 1981, the Greens decided to stop traveling. They bought a small farm in Dallardsville, near Livingston, Texas. In his spare time, Glen became a volunteer firefighter for the local fire department.
One day, a small aircraft crashed somewhere in the woods around Dallardsville. Glen hopped in his truck and joined the search. It had been raining, and the red clay roads of East Texas were slick. He drove too fast, lost control, and skidded into a tree. Glen sustained many broken bones and a severe head injury which put him into a coma.
Glen’s wife reached out to Cathie for help. At that time, Cathie and her husband were in Oregon waiting for work, so they packed up and headed south to be with their friends. Glen was in a coma for three weeks and spent many months in a full-body cast. In the time Cathie spent helping Glen recover, she fell in love with the Big Thicket in Deep East Texas.
When we suggested Cathie work for Escapees, she was still staying on the Greens’ farm, helping Glen and his wife through Glen’s rehabilitation. When we asked where she wanted headquarters to be, she immediately said “Livingston, Texas.”
This was a good choice for many reasons. Livingston is located within reasonable distance of both I10 and I45, popular snowbird routes. It’s also halfway between the East and West coasts and is in one of the few states that do not require a state income tax.
Our first idea was to find about 10 undeveloped acres where we could have a building for our club’s national headquarters and an area adjoining where members could boondock for free for as long as they needed. We envisioned adding a campground of this type every couple of years in different states.
Cathie found a 27-acre property in Livingston, Texas, six miles south of the town services. It was larger than we thought we needed, but by buying extra land, we could sell off the unneeded portion to members. Selling that land would enable the club to pay off its land debt. As soon as we announced our plan, there was an immediate positive response.
We didn’t want this to be another SKP Co-op because we were not ready to undertake the vast development project that would require. Our priority was not to provide another home-base park but rather to build an office for headquarters. We knew that if we started another SKP Co-op, there would be too much pressure from those who bought in to get services installed. Yet we needed their financial help as there was no way we cold buy 27 acres and build an office.
So, we tried another method. Instead of buying a membership into a corporation that then provided a leasehold on a lot regulated by the entire membership of that corporation, we decided to sell the unneeded land outright. This would mean buyers were responsible for the installation of their own hook-ups, they would provide their own water and electric services, and they could put in their own septic tank system if they wanted one. This was not a co-op. It was outright ownership of a deeded piece of land that could be developed whenever and however the owner desired. For us, it meant there would be no pressure to “get it done!”
The idea apparently appealed to many people. Lot selection would be according to who sent money first because we needed the money right away to buy the land. Because these were deeded lots, each lot owner could resell the lot for whatever the market would bear. Unfortunately, this led to some extremely inflated and unreasonable resale prices because the land had tripled in value before the first deed was ever filed. However, we were not concerned with the resales; we liked the idea of lot owners being able to build without restriction on their property.
A few members bought into the new plan to help the club establish a headquarters. Those people later sold their property for basically the same price they had paid for it. Others saw the investment property, bought one of the lots, then sat back and waited for the demand. Some made a tremendous profit. Eight years later, when the club needed more room for a larger office building, a swimming pool, and a manager’s site, we bought back two of the half-acre lots that we had sold to members for $1,800. We paid $8,000 and $10,000 for those still-undeveloped lots and were happy to get them!
In 1984, our primary goal was to sell enough acreage to pay for the land and get a gravel road in place. The land sale didn’t begin to pay for any development, so we sold about 200 lifetime memberships to provide cash flow.
Whatever people did with their property was their own business. It gave them freedom that would never be possible under the SKP Co-op plan. We constantly remind ourselves that we are all unique individuals. Those who purchased deeded lots at Rainbow’s End in Texas, and later at Rainbow Plantation in Alabama or North Ranch in Arizona, had the most freedom in designing a home fit for their personal desires.
Why "Rainbow's End"?
Rainbow’s End was named by Cathie. Her first RV was called “The Rainbow,” and her second one “Rainbow, Too” so it seemed a fitting end to her 11 years of full-timing to call the trailer’s resting place “Rainbow’s End.”
Breaking Ground At Rainbow's End
When we purchased the 27-acre property in April, Cathie was still parked at the Green’s farm. She was the first person to start cleared the land and drive the 25 miles to work there whenever she had a little time. Using a machete and a weed whacker, she began clearing the land.
When Joe and I arrived in early May, we were able to work full-time. The only road into the property was a narrow, half-obscured logging trail that is now Rainbow Drive Loop (now called Promise Lane). One of the first tasks was to widen this logging trail into a passable road.
There was no way to get our trailer onto the property and, of course, there were no services. There were a couple of RV parks several miles away, but Joe wanted to be closer for the sake of convenience.
He went to Retha Light, our neighbor on the other side of Pearl Thomas Road. The Light family lives in a mobile home, which they later replaced with a beautiful brick home that is there today. They generously allowed us to park our Avion on a corner of their property until we could get on our own land.
We began the tremendous job of clearing the jungle that would become Rainbow’s End. It was so thickly covered with brush and trees that we had to machete our way through them. Rattlesnakes, coral snakes, and water moccasins were a problem because the snakes had enjoyed free run of the property and had to be “evicted” one by one.
Our goal was to have the logging trail widened into a graded road so an electric pole could be planted. We also needed to have a cleared space big enough for volunteer workers to park on. It took us two months, working mostly by ourselves, to accomplish this.
However, we did have occasional help from members dropping by to see the park. We had already announced there would be a lottery drawing for lots, and we wanted as much done as possible so folks could define their property lines. In the usual Escapees fashion, the lottery would take place at a rally, and we selected the July 4 holiday for this rally.
By July 4, we had a rough-graded road in place. The solitary electric pole had been turned on just a few days before.
Since it was the only electricity source, everyone was told to bring extra extension cords.
As people moved to Rainbow’s End, they registered their vehicles and it became a tradition to tack their former license plates to that first electrical pole.
This practice continued for several years, until the power company made us remove them because they interfered with their employees who may have to climb the pole.
It was an exciting day for the families who came to the lot drawing. Those who could not attend had already sent in their list of preferences. It was a fun rally with lots of eating, sharing stories of our adventures, and comparing plans and dreams.
We had the usual potlucks, but the big meal on July 4 was a real Texas barbecue. Cathie had met Bud Carr, a friend of the Greens, and asked him to cook the barbecue for us. He wasn’t an Escapee at the time, but he did have a 5th wheel RV. He was a real “East Texan” meaning he was born here. His father had run a barbecue restaurant for a time, so Bud cooked Texas-style, including barbecued beef, chicken, and sausage with side dishes of potato salad and beans. After the rally, many of us headed for less hot and humid places.
We chose this date, July 4, as our official founding date.
To Be Continued...
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