March, 2015 – We have been members of Escapees RV Club since our first year of RVing full-time, and we have always wanted to visit the Escapees headquarters in Livingston, Texas, just north of Houston.
After visiting the stunning Caverns of Sonora in south-central Texas and getting a disc brake conversion done on our trailer in Forth Worth, we scooted east, stopping at the Casita Travel Trailer factory for a quickie tour, before spending five days at the Rainbow’s End RV Park on the huge Escapees campus.
Escapees RV Club is an amazing organization that is as varied as any club could possibly be. Drawing together RVers of all shapes and sizes and ages and interests, Escapees provides a huge range of services for all of us, from bootcamp training sessions for new RVers to specialized RV weighing stations to overnight RV accommodations of just about every variety (ownership, long and short term RV site rentals, cheap dry camping, park model rentals, etc.), assisted RV living for the elderly, mail forwarding services, an RV magazine, and on and on.
When we arrived at the Livingston, Texas, headquarters, the annual Escapees rally called Escapade was taking place in Tucson, Arizona. At that event, an exciting new facet of Escapees was introduced — Xscapers — a new branch of the club that is dedicated to younger RVers.
This is an exciting development in a very dynamic club that has always sought to find new and creative ways to support the RV lifestyle.
Escapees was founded by Kay and Joe Peterson, a couple that was among the pioneers of the full-time RV lifestyle many decades ago. They were avid “boondockers,” and they overnighted in their RV without hookups to electricity or water on a regular basis.
With boondocking in its roots, most Escapees RV parks offer dry camping sites, usually for $5 per night (a little more for non-members). We were delighted to find that the Escapees Rainbow’s End RV Park in Livingston has three wonderful dry camping sites to choose from. After we walked to each site to check it out (none were in use — and we were told they rarely are!), we settled on a nice, big site called “Dry Camp A.” Unlike the smaller full hookup sites, this site was big and had a great feeling of privacy with lots of trees bounding two sides.
Ironically, the heavens did nothing but pour pitchforks on us for our entire stay. After taking one sunny pic of our RV set up in its Rainbow’s End RV Park home, we saw nothing but driving rain for five more days! Mark started calling our site “Wet Camp A.”
The Escapees compound in Livingston is enormous. Not only is there the expansive Rainbow’s End RV Park, but there are park model homes and stick-built homes on sites scattered all around the outskirts of the park, plus the CARE RV-based assisted living center and its affiliated RV sites at one end, and, of course, company headquarters and offices at the mammoth mail sorting facility.
Smack in the middle of all this is a tiny ice cream shop called the Rest Stop.
We had assumed that everyone on the Escapees property was an RVer, so it was a big surprise to find that quite a few people live there in houses without RVs. We got chatting with Theresa at the Rest Stop as she scooped our ice cream, and discovered that although she has dreams of casting off in an RV someday, for right now she enjoys living in a house in the community and hearing the travel tales from RVers who stop in for ice cream. She warmly recounted meeting an RVing family with lots of kids who came by.
Escapees Corporate Headquarters was just steps from our site, “Wet Camp A,” and we stopped in for a tour. Because almost the entire Escapees staff was at the Escapade rally in Tucson at the time, there was just a skeleton crew working, but the group taking the tour numbered 12 or so people anyway! These free tours are offered twice a week.
One of the most impressive aspects of the tour was seeing the Escapees mail sorting facility. Escapees forwards such a large volume of mail to its mail forwarding clients everyday that a US Mail semi-tractor trailer truck has to deliver it all. Escapees even has their own zip code, and they get more mail than the post office in Livingston! Everyday, the mail truck backs up to the sorting facility, triggering a daylong flurry of activity for some 20 people.
We watched an enormous machine presort the mail and then walked through a big room filled with filing cabinets where each client has a folder holding their mail. It was a very impressive operation!
We learned that Escapees will soon be offering a service where clients can view a scanned image of each envelope they receive and then opt to have it opened or shredded. This could come in very handy for time-sensitive or important documents that you’re waiting to receive. We have used the mail forwarding service offered by Dakota Post in South Dakota since 2007, and they have also begun to offer a mail scanning service which we have been beta testing for them. It’s pretty neat to be able to see what mail you have waiting for you!
The Escapees community tour usually includes a trolly ride all around the campus, but the trolley driver was at Escapade, so we didn’t see that part of the tour. Next time!!
But we did see the plaque honoring founders Joe and Kay Peterson when they were voted into the RV / MH Hall of Fame in 2001. We had seen this plaque at the RV / MH Museum in Elkhart, Indiana, where all the leaders and innovators in the RV industry are honored (if you are ever near Elkhart, a stop at that museum to see the vintage trailers on their Road Back in Time is a must! Our blog post is here).
Out in the lobby, our guide showed us two really fun little sticky note pads that used to be included in new members’ packets. These were mini invitations to “Friendship Hours” that you could fill out and stick on your RV neighbors’ doors to invite them to a potluck or other gathering. What a neat idea that was!!
Nowadays RVers turn to RVillage to reach out to both nearby neighbors and RVing friends many miles away. But there was something very homey, cozy and friendly about those little sticky note pads, and I wasn’t the only one in the group who said, “Wow… Where can I get some?” Unfortunately, Escapees doesn’t make them any more.
Up on a wall in the main mail sorting room there is a wonderful display of dozens of issues of Escapees Magazine, and I was proud to see a few of our covers in the mix.
Escapees Magazine is written by members for members, and the editors are always looking for beautiful photos and technical “How To” types of articles to include. If you are an Escapees member, and you’ve learned something on the road that you want to share, write it up and send it in!
I wandered down to the CARE facility one afternoon, curious to learn more about this unique program. “CARE” stands for Continued Assistance for Retired Escapees. Participants in CARE live in their own RV in a site next to the big CARE clubhouse, and for $874 a month they get an RV site, help with dumping and propane tanks, three meals a day, housekeeping and laundry services, transportation to doctor’s appointments in town and weekly transportation to grocery shopping as well. What an amazing deal!
The clubhouse is the hub for CARE participants, and when I poked my head in one room, a group was enjoying watching a live concert being streamed in from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, on a huge flat screen TV. I was told that CARE will be offering adult daycare to elderly residents in the general Livingston area soon too.
Many of the RVs in the CARE RV sites have big, beautiful, permanent porches built out front. One of these with two huge wooden rocking chairs really got my attention. It just looked so inviting!
As I was admiring it, an elderly woman came out on the porch in a bright red sweater and waved to me. Her name was Nedra, and we ended up chatting for quite some time. I asked her about CARE and she said, “Come on, I’ll give you a tour of the clubhouse!” and off we went. She proudly showed me the dining hall, which is a big, open, cheery room. She told me the food was wonderful! Visitors can enjoy an inexpensive meal there too if they let the dining room know by 10:30 a.m.
RVers can workamp at CARE as well, and I talked with several RVers who really enjoy helping out this way, either in the dining hall or driving residents around town. Couples work together in teams, and in exchange for a minimum one month commitment to work 28-36 hours a week (per person), you get a free RV site at Rainbow’s End (with metered electricity) and you also get three free meals a day at CARE. If you work in the summertime, you receive a stipend to cover electricity for air conditioning.
Workampers can also work at the other end of the Escapees campus at the Rainbow’s End RV park. I was told that if you work at least 20 hours a week for a month or more, you receive a certificate good for a free night’s stay at any Escapees Rainbow RV Park for every 20 hours you work. We chatted with an RVing couple who really enjoyed defraying their travel costs this way, working at three or four different Escapees RV parks each year.
We really enjoyed our stay at Rainbow’s End, and after spending some time in Livingston, Texas, we came away even more impressed by the diversity of the Escapees RV Club than ever. Thank you, Kay and Joe, for creating a special virtual home — and a true community — for all RV travelers!!
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More info about Escapees:
- Join Escapees RV Club – And say you were referred by “Roads Less Traveled” (if the spirit moves you!)
- Escapees CARE Program (Continued Assistance for Retired Escapees)
- Xscapers – Escapees resources for young RVers
- Kay Peterson – The Inspiring Life Story of a Full-time RVing pioneer & the Co-founder of Escapees
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