In this edited excerpt from History of the Escapees Club, a book written in 1998 by Kay Peterson and Todd Paddock, we share some of what it took to create the first SKP Co-op RV park in the early 1980s. These parks are still enjoyed today by members of Escapees RV Club, thanks to the dedication and hard work of members decades ago. Many of the members who invested their time and funds in these Co-ops are no longer with us, but we are forever grateful for them.
The following excerpt is written from Kay’s perspective.
Reality Check - What Would We Do?
Neither Joe nor I are grand visionaries. Our skill is in listening to the ideas of others and, when we believe in an idea, we spend the necessary time, money, and energy to make it work.
After witnessing two friends suffer heart attacks, one fatal, we asked ourselves, what would I do if that happened to Joe? I had no desire to give up traveling. Joe’s earnings were what we lived on and also subsidized the Escapees RV Club, which at that time was still not paying its own expenses. I could go back to work at the nursing profession, but that would mean staying within one of the states in which I was licensed, since at that time agencies for traveling nurses were in their infancy. Our biggest worry was that monthly rentals at RV parks were continually rising. If Joe were unable to work, would we be able to afford to stay in one?
Should We Have An Escapees Campground?
So, it was partially with our own future needs in mind that we looked seriously at the idea of Escapees building their own park. In the October/November 1980 issues of the Escapees newsletter, we presented the problem to the members and finished by saying “Would you like a campground just for Escapees where you can spend part of the winter at minimal cost?”
The response was immediate and enthusiastic.
It didn’t take long for reality to sink in. Our enthusiasm dissipated when we discovered how expensive it was to buy. With the prices we were quoted, there was no way Joe and I could afford to put in a series of small parks. We would have to find a different approach to reach our goal, but we had no intention of abandoning the idea of an Escapees park!
During the 1981 Escapade, it became apparent to us that many members were as excited as we were about having a park. Two of the most enthusiastic members were Ken Pollitt and Andy (Bob) Anderson. Between them, they came up with a plan that might be the answer we were seeking.
The Anderson-Pollitt Plan
Before we left on an extensive land search, we published the April/May 1981 newsletters which included a two-page special report titled “SKP Campground Retreat.” It presented three options and asked members to share their wishes via a survey form.
- Winter Retreat – This would be a campground in a sunbelt state and would be simpler dry camping sites with dumping and water available.
- Summer Retreat – Same as the winter proposal except the campground would be in a Northern state.
- The Anderson-Pollitt Plan – This was the plan introduced by Andy and Ken. We had envisioned five acres for our campground, but their plan would double or triple that amount with the idea of subdividing the additional land into lots. Escapees who were interested in having a home base would buy a membership that entitled them to a lifetime lease to one of those lots.
This leaseholder could erect a storage shed and improve the lot with a garden or landscaping if desired. The lot could only be leased by an Escapees member and could not be transferred to anyone except the nonprofit corporation (SKP Co-op). It would not be a part of the lessee’s estate but would revert back to the corporation at the death of both people named on the lease agreement. This would ensure that the land would always remain in the hands of Escapees members.
SKP Co-Op Rules
This initial report spelled out five rules included here. Basically, the same five rules remain today although they have been modified. As the SKP Co-op system expanded, there were many changes to the bylaws. Because each SKP Co-op is a separate corporation, each writes and enforces its own bylaws.
- Only SKPS can lease the land. If a member drops out of Escapees after buying a lifetime lease, the Co-op will buy back the lease for actual costs involved. This includes the original lease fee plus money for putting in services. Later this was expanded to include reimbursement for landscaping and an approved storage building.
- Leaseholder will pay only a one-time fee not to exceed $400. We soon found this was an unrealistic figure. Today, even the first SKP Co-op membership is several times that amount. Leaseholders also pay an annual maintenance fee, determined by the board of directors, according to current needs. Leaseholder will remain sole possessor of the lot for the lifetime of all adults listed on the lease. Children are not considered to be leaseholders even though our club membership includes them.
Two SKP families may join together and become co-owners of a single lot. In this case, the leased land will not revert back to the Co-op until all four have died. But all co-owners of the lease will have only ONE vote in making Co-op decisions. The entire part about two families as co-owners was changed through the bylaws long before the first SKP Co-op was built, and dual membership is not permitted in any of the SKP Co-ops.
- Leaseholders may rent their lots to any SKP member, but NOT to any nonmembers. Again, before the first SKP Co-op was built, this was changed. The bylaws at all SKP Co-ops have members put their lots into a rental pool that the board of directors or manager maintains. Members are not allowed to personally rent their lot to anyone. Rental money is paid to the corporation. The leaseholder is then given credit towards their annual fees according to the bylaws of that SKP Co-op.
- Leaseholder cannot sell the lease to anyone except the SKP Co-op. The reason for this is to prevent anyone from buying a lease for profiteering. It is also a fair way since there will be a waiting list of SKPs wishing to buy in, and the lot should go to whomever is at the top of the list.
- No mobile homes. The SKP Co-op is an RV sanctuary. Any type of RV is permitted, including tip outs and park models.
Rule #5 has caused many arguments through the years. Some SKP Co-ops allow park models and some do not. The bylaws of each park determine how it will be handled. All members have the opportunity to vote on bylaws and bylaw changes because SKP Co-ops are democracies in action. At times, this has meant some dissension between those with opposing viewpoints. Each board has the right to propose changes, but the majority must approve the change before it can be adopted.
Planning The First SKP Co-Op
The Anderson-Pollitt proposal was overwhelmingly supported. In addition to the survey results, the report included in the June/July 1981 newsletter also announced that we found ten acres in Casa Grande, Arizona, for a cost of $48,000. We believed this could be divided into 120 lots that would be 35 feet by 60 feet. We asked each leaseholder to pay $400 so we could pay for the land plus any sales tax, attorney fees to incorporate, building permits, and rezoning fees we were required to pay.
We said that we anticipated partial hookups, water and electricity would cost $300, and full hookups would cost $750. We also said that if we underestimated the cost, which we did, people had the option of paying the remainder or dropping out with a full refund of any money already paid.
The third page of the report included a proposal of how the Escapees campground portion would operate. We said “those SKPs who buy a lifetime lease in the Co-op are also paying for the land that will be set aside for traveling Escapees members to park—without hookups—free of charge.” Note, it remained free for 12 years. In 1996, abuses forced us to charge a small fee. The report continued, “The money that has been donated to the SKP campground fund, which now totals $1,513.94, will be used to put in a dump station and water line for the use of traveling members.
It was intended that all members, whether leaseholders or visitors using the dry camp area, would be allowed to use the clubhouse. The whole concept behind our campground plan centered around our philosophy of sharing and caring.
There would be many other modifications and a few drastic changes for the Escapees park system as the years passed. But the SKP Co-op concept that we established in the plan’s infancy remains basically the same. It led, eventually, to a total of 11 SKP Co-op parks that stretch from Washington state to south Florida.
More Full Hook-Ups!
By the first of August 1981, all 120 lots had been spoken for and there were an additional 32 on the waiting list. This was less than two months after the price and location were announced in the newsletter.
Since there were 120 leaseholders who wanted full hook-up lots, it seemed reasonable to change the development plan. Instead of the 66 boondocking lots originally intended, we would have to decrease the boondocking area to about 12 sites. These would not be considered leaseholds.
The 12 sites became the retreat area. The name later changed to boondock area, and more recently to dry-camping area. This area, which would include a dump station and place to fill with water, was for the use of visiting Escapees. Future SKP Co-ops would be required to set aside a specific number of smaller, unimproved sites for the use of traveling members.
When members learned all leaseholds had been taken, there was an outpouring of demand for either buying additional land to increase the number of sites or starting a second SKP Co-op.
Building a SKP Co-Op: 1981-1982
Clearly, we needed someone who was willing to stay in that sizzling climate during the summer and early fall to deal calmly with the politics, bureaucracy, and plain old red tape. Joe needed to work if we were going to take off the winter to help with the park construction.
Ken Pollitt came to our rescue. Ken and Mary gave up their summer travel plans to help us. It was not an easy decision for him to make. At the age of nine, Ken attended his first Indy 500 race. He never missed being at an Indy 500 race from that day until the spring of 1981, when for the first time, he watched the race on television.
Since 1965 Ken was the Assistant Chief Observer. In 1981, the Indy 500 took place at the same time as the Escapees Rally in Mississippi where Ken knew the SKP Co-op plan, his and Andy’s brainchild, would be discussed. Torn between the two events, he finally decided on the Escapees rally. He didn’t know then that he would never attend another Indy 500.
As fate would have it, he ended up going to neither one. Ken and Mary were packing to leave for Mississippi when Mary fell, breaking her hip. She was recovering nicely when Ken learned we were purchasing property in Casa Grande, Arizona and needed someone to stay close by and be the official SKP Co-op manager, Ken offered his services. None of us knew then that he had given up his last chance to travel. Before the park was finished, a fatal heart attack ended his life.
Ken and Mary moved into a trailer park in Casa Grande so they could establish residency as a further weapon on our side. Ken kept watch over the property and dealt with the bureaucracy. He spent countless hours checking on details, running around the county, and completing the preliminaries. We could not have found a better person or more dedicated advocate of the SKP Co-op plan.
Problems Acquiring Land For The First SKP Co-Op
During this period, we had surveying done and discovered we actually only had eight usable acres because we were a corner lot with street easement on two sides that kept us from using that land. Letters were sent to the 120 leaseholders asking them whether they wanted us to:
- Abandon that property and look for a better deal
- Try to buy an additional five acres of adjacent land
- Reduce each lot size to 35 ft by 55ft with 200-ft streets
A total of 84 votes were cast, with 80 of them in favor of reducing the size of the lot. It seemed evident that Escapees members preferred a home-base park and they wanted it close to good medical and shopping facilities and within an easy drive of a city with extensive cultural opportunities.
"It Can And Will Be Done!"
In the October/November 1981 newsletter, Ken wrote:
“When you stop for a moment and realize we are attempting a quarter of a million dollar project on a shoestring budget, you recognize how necessary it is that we all work together and contribute whatever we can toward bringing this dream to reality. It may take a little more time than we planned, but it can and will be done!”
Many others felt as Ken did, and they came from all corners of the country, bringing a multitude of skills with them. One of those people was Andy Prescott. Andy, a California-licensed civil engineer, drew the plans we needed to submit to the state. He applied for, and obtained, an Arizona license so he could engineer the project for us. He saved us countless dollars, including over $10,000 in septic system costs.
We received our zoning approval on November 23. We had already closed escrow and the property was ours. Twelve Escapees families, eager to start working, were living in trailer parks in Casa Grande, and two more were caretakers on our property. A few of the early arrivals were busy trying to remove the many creosote bushes with picks and shovels. Those bushes were not giving up easily, so Ken hired a local resident to grade the entire 10 acres. A temporary water line was put in place.
First Thanksgiving at RoVers Roost
We planned a big celebration to take place on the property from November 25-29. It had to be a boondocking rally because we didn’t have our building permits. Nobody cared. We were all delighted to get together and meet our new neighbors, discuss our construction plans, and dream about our future lots.
After Thanksgiving dinner, we voted on a nickname for the park. Some of us had been calling it “The Big House” (Casa Grande in English), but others didn’t like the connotation of a prison. We are Escapees, after all. The winning name was RoVers Roost, as suggested by Pat Carnohan.
Where most of us saw a glimpse of paradise, there were a couple of families who saw only a flat, barren, dusty piece of property and were completely disenchanted by the time the rally ended. I cheerfully gave them back their money and replaced them with eager people on the waiting list. I was told that a few years later, both families stopped by and were amazed at the transformation.
Ray Barthelmy, a builder and SKP #66, designed the clubhouse using the old pole barn. Ray’s design included a balcony for storage and two overhead garage doors that could be opened on sunny days to turn the building into sort of a patio. In the following years, those doors were replaced with walls, but the doors served us well in the early days.
Gerry Huslage, SKP #81, was a foreman. He pounded in the first nail and the last nail, and many others in between.
In the center of the clubhouse floor was an old oil drum that we turned into a wood-burning stove for cozy relaxing after the sun went down. This room was just the first phase of the clubhouse construction. A second room plus rest rooms and a laundry were already planned and were built later when money was available.
Holiday Traditions At SKP Co-Ops
Many of those who attended the Thanksgiving rally brought outdoor and indoor Christmas lights with them. These were strung around the outside of the clubhouse. The Stepaneks wrote “The last rays of daylight hesitated, and the cold desert winds began to gently howl. Our oil-drum furnace was doing its best to give us a bit of warmth. Then, on signal, surprise! We switched on those beautiful colored lights. We were all misty-eyed. Someone started singing “Silent Night” and slowly we all joined in. It was our first Christmas Eve at our first SKP Co-op.”
On Christmas Day, a potluck dinner was held. The format for this dinner changes from park to park, but at Thanksgiving and Christmas, dinner is always shared. On this first Christmas, the inside of the first phase of the clubhouse was still under construction. The decorated tree stood in the corner were the manager’s office is today.
There was no kitchen yet, so all food had to be prepared in our rigs. The group was divided into 10 people per table. Each table prepared their own food. One person was assigned to cook the turkey that everyone chipped in to buy. The remainder of the people at that table were assigned to bring a salad, vegetable, bread, and/or dessert. This assured there would be equal distribution of the types of food and that a table wouldn’t end up with nine desserts. This same method for handling Thanksgiving and Christmas is still followed at all Rainbow Parks and at many of the SKP Co-ops today.
Another tradition that was started at the 1981 holidays was having a New Year’s Eve party to usher out the old year and welcome the new. At this 1981 celebration, Dale and Laura Hooks and Gerry and Maye Huslage hosted a mystery dinner that left everyone laughing and some ogling the “waitresses” who were, under their wigs and fancy dresses, the same men who had recently been digging ditches and covering up sewer pipes.
RoVers Roost Continues Construction
There is no record of all those who worked on construction that winter, but there were many. Some were there for only a few weeks and others were there from start to finish. All those who were part of the construction crew were grateful for the clubhouse where they gathered at the end of the workday to boast about and compare accomplishments. What they achieved was truly remarkable and, even more remarkable, everyone was having fun.
It was not always easy, and there were many hurdles to overcome. We fought to get the $7.50 per lot building fee reduced, and we won. We fought the health code regulations that wanted to class each RV as a one-bedroom house, which would mean an enormously elaborate septic system. Andy Prescott managed to get the number and size of septic tanks and dry wells reduced, saving us over $10,000. And we fought the electric company who wanted to charge an enormous fee to bring electric to each site. That was one battle we wish we had not won.
Learning A Hard Lesson - Negotiating Electric Hookups
They agreed to wire the total park for free rather than the $70,000 they first requested. We patted ourselves on the back a little too soon.
If we had paid for the installation ourselves, we would own the meters. Instead, the power company owns them and every member pays the minimum usage rate rather than having them combined on several meters at a cheaper rate. In addition to this higher usage fee, there is a fee to reconnect each meter when people return from summer travels or any prolonged trip.
It was a hard-learned lesson, but we were able to pass this knowledge on to other SKP Co-ops so they could be better negotiators.
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
There were many days with frustrating delays and working with unreasonable rulings, but we stuck together and found it was amazing what could be accomplished when we pooled our ideas, our knowledge, and our labor. There were many other gifts in addition to labor, for not everyone was physically or financially able to be on the construction crew. Those people donated many items the park could use.
The electricity pedestals were installed, and the wire was buried in ditches, but the electricity couldn’t be turned on until the rest of the construction was finished. So, on January 30, 1982, we held a dance to celebrate our achievements.
Tragedy Strikes The Work Crew
It was Saturday night and our first big event after Christmas. Most people were inside talking and dancing, but there was a small group standing around the campfire. One of those was Lou Maynard, a dedicated worker. He was having a grand time when he suddenly crumpled to the ground. His life ended with dance music playing and people sharing their happiness.
We had a team of CPR experts on the crew and they leapt into action while we waited for the paramedics to arrive. It was too late. Lou was the first members of the work crew and of the SKP Co-op members to die.
Two days later, Dale and Laura drove Lou’s wife, YoYo, to the airport. She was to accompany Lou’s body to Washington D.C. for a hero’s burial. They had just arrived back at camp when Mary Pollitt went running to them for help. Ken had collapsed. Again, CPR experts went into action. The first responders were there in 12 minutes. Again, it was too late.
Ken had just finished writing a check to the Lou Maynard memorial fund. It was his last act.
YoYo insisted the memorial fund be dedicated to the memory of these two good friends. The construction crew voted to use the Maynard-Pollitt memorial fund to buy emergency equipment for the clubhouse, and Gerry Huslage made a headboard and backboard that could be used to transport injured people.
Construction on RoVers Roost Slows
The weather turned bad and heavy rains turned the camp into a mudhole. There were more delays as we waited impatiently for the state and county health departments to approve our plans. It seemed as if everything was in a holding pattern.
It was mid-February, and much had been accomplished since the Thanksgiving rally three months previous. All the electrical pedestals were installed, and the electric wire was buried in ditches. The first phase of the clubhouse was finished and painted. Next fall, the second phase would begin, but for now it served as a place to meet every afternoon to report on the day’s happenings. In the evening, they played games and socialized.
But now, even socializing had a damper on it. People were restless. One by one, the workers hitched up and headed for the Escapade in Hemet, California. They needed to laugh again. Only a few stayed behind to guard the property and do whatever the bureaucracy and nature would allow.
The First Annual Business Meeting At RoVers Roost
On Wednesday, February 24, 1982, we held the first annual business meeting at Hemet. The main order of business was to vote on the bylaws and elect a board of directors. Once the board was elected, they took over running the park, and Joe’s and my responsibility as founders was over.
There was still work to be done at Casa Grande, so after the Escapade many of the workers returned to finish installing full hook-ups to each lot before they left on their summer travels. Roger and Jane Campbell, the appointed managers, stayed behind to baby-sit the almost deserted park.
Snowbirds Return To Roost
In September, folks began returning. This time, they could move into the lot that had been selected through a lottery drawing. All through that autumn and winter, the park was buzzing with activity as folks helped each other put in concrete pads and patios, spread gravel driveways, and build storage buildings.
At the same time, most of them were still volunteering countless hours on of the several work crews. A survey crew was preparing for the final graveling of the streets and boondock area. There was still interior work to be done before the following February when the fifth annual Escapade would take place at this park. But now, it was time to celebrate the second Christmas at RoVers Roost and the completion of two big projects- the cement block wall surrounding the entire park and the 2nd phase of the clubhouse.
More Fundraising For The Co-Op
There was an auction to raise money to finish the interior of the clubhouse. Volunteers offered their services for rent, with the bids placed by fellow members. Services on offer varied from window washing and rig cleaning to cooking meals and painting buildings.
It should be noted that not all of the volunteers, or the winning bids, were leaseholders of RoVers Roost. In fact, many of the volunteers integral to the construction of RoVers Roost weren’t lot owners but were offering their time and funds to help secure a future for their fellow SKPs.
Donations were also sent from members who couldn’t make it by in-person. These donations ranged from games, puzzles, and books for the clubhouse to a trailer for collecting and hauling trash. Many also sponsored one chair or table to help furnish the clubhouse and other spaces.
A Piece Of Wasteland Has Been Transformed
There was a family party to honor those who helped build this SKP Co-op park. Certificates stating the following were given to each person who had helped:
Let it be known that, through the efforts of a small group of individuals, a piece of wasteland has been transformed into a home for 120 families and their friends; and that, therefore, the gratitude of the Escapees RV Club and the SKP Co-op RV park is due them from this day forward for their unstinting labor and generosity in turning an idea into a reality.
The program ended with everyone hugging and showing their appreciation.
Before we even said goodbye to 1982, a second SKP Co-op was already in motion. Land was purchased and the project was well into the organizational stage. The Ranch in Lakewood, New Mexico, was coming to life. Watch for more about this SKP Co-op in an upcoming post!
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