John Ward knows big rigs, brakes, and gears from top to bottom, side to side, and inside out. In his 55-year driving career, he hauled meat for Safeway Stores, as well as a rig loaded with half a million dollars worth of the company's S&H Green Stamps.
Once, John transported garbage to feed hogs. He drove long hauls from coast to coast and short lines ranging within 500 miles of his California home.
"I've driven chartered buses and school buses. For two years, I transported harvest workers back and forth from the Mexican border to camps in the Braceros Program set up by the U.S. Government," he says.
In the U.S. Civil Service Branch at the Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, John ran the licensing office, taught driver education, and inspected all the vehicles for both the military and civilian personnel. He trained drivers on tankers, fuel trucks, street sweepers, buses, staff cars, pick-up trucks, and tractor trailer rigs.
"It was my job to train and test all personnel and aid them in acquiring a California driver's license" he says, noting he retired from the Air Force Base in 1988. He retired from the Teamsters Union in 1992, after training workers for ten years in the Construction Teamsters Training and Up-Grading Program to drive construction-type equipment including trucks and cranes.
John's professional life has been in the driver's seat - in one form or another. But all the years of earning his living on the road did not burn him out. "I thoroughly enjoy getting behind the wheel," he says, noting that he uses his lifetime skills in a Workamping career that compliments the RV travel he and his wife, Iris, have enjoyed throughout their 50-year marriage.
As an instructor since 1995 for the California-based RV Driving School founded in 1991 by Dick Reed, one of his former students at the Construction Teamsters Training and Up-Grading Program, John perpetuates his love for the driver's seat by teaching RVers to handle their rigs. He and Iris often drive their Bounder rnotorhome to different assignments. "I enjoy helping people learn to drive," John says. "Especially sweet little ladies who tell him how wonderful he is!" Iris interjects.
Primarily, John teaches private lessons in the Southern California area, utilizing highways or church parking lots, which are typically empty on weekdays. Often, he instructs a couple on driving techniques for a new rig. But he also teaches a number of widows who are determined to continue the RVing lifestyle they once enjoyed with a spouse.
One assignment took John to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to teach a woman who had bought a new Residency motorhome. "She had never driven any recreational vehicle," John reports. "I spent four days working with her on driving, maintaining, and setting up her motorhome."
He cites one of his most unusual assignments, training the sales manager of Wide Lite Company in San Marcos, Texas. John recalls the company had bought an empty coach, except for the driver's and passenger's seats. On the outside, huge lettering with the business name covered the sides, front, and back. Inside, the company designed a display of their commercial lighting suitable for stadiums and parking lots. The sales manager contracted the RV Driving School's services to train him for a commercial license in order to drive the rig to different sites for demonstrations. In turn, owner Dick Reed delegated the teaching job to John.
While in San Marcos, John stayed a second week to teach a woman how to drive her new Discovery diesel-pusher motorhome. He supervised hands-on lessons in every aspect of her rig, including hooking and unhooking the utilities, monitoring the holding tanks, and hitching up her tow vehicle.
John participates in the RV Driving School's group sessions, as well. At Escapees Rallies in both Indio and Victorville, California, he joined Dick Reed and another instructor, Jerry Ray, in lessons for as many as ten drivers at once. Individuals practiced their skills in their own vehicles with John or another instructor setting up orange cones for markers and boundaries.
At the Annual RV Show in Pamona, California, the Driving School sets up group training with vehicles provided by numerous RV dealers who exhibit at the show. Except for sessions at the Life On Wheels RV Conference on the campus of the University of Idaho in Moscow, the Driving School typically does not take students in group lessons out on the highways.
Each week prior to the Idaho conference, the RV Driving School instructors set up orange cones in circles on a vacant parking lot. In full-day sessions, students drive their own rigs in circular patterns, with one group on the inside lane, and another driving an opposite direction on the outside lane. John and the other instructors mark off spaces similar to camping sites for students to practice backing in their rigs. Each driver gains additional road experience with an instructor riding in the passenger seat.
In his calm, yet authoritative voice, John exhibits a natural teaching ability as he addresses each student's skills in a positive manner. "You are doing fine," he says to the driver who cuts a little short on a street corner during practice on Moscow's city streets. "Next time, watch the curb pass your shoulder before making the turn."
Back on the parking lot, John stands beside a truck's mirrors, explaining how to make the proper adjustments. Then he walks behind the rig, asking his student to honk her horn when she can no longer see the orange cone he carries. Then he sets the cone down within the driver's range of sight and explains that the spot is the distance she can see in her side mirrors.
During the regular Life On Wheels RV Conference, beginning each year in mid-July, John works with individuals in rigs furnished for the sessions. He and other Driving School instructors pace students in the same circular lanes and parking exercises marked for the pre-conference drivers.
Following the week-long conference, John typically stays in Moscow a second week to teach private driving lessons. With his ready smile and words of encouragement, he puts another crew of RV drivers on the road with new-found confidence.
After three weeks of driving sessions, John and Iris head their Bounder toward their Southern California home for a new batch of assignments, taking them to different destinations. John's past driving experience and his innate talent to teach combine to create a specialized Workamping job. Utilizing the competence developed in his career, he enhances his retirement years with productive work and additional income. Not only is he still in the driver's seat, but he has the satisfaction of putting new drivers on the road with the knowledge and confidence to handle their rigs.