RALPH BARTHOLDT: There’s no discounting old school travel comfort

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Honer’s dad made Winnebagos.

Anything built like a box on wheels, with cushioned comfort that could sleep six while driving in daylight across North Dakota was a Winnebago.

Others might refer to it as a kiss from heaven because Dakota by daylight is, well, you know, and there are 340 miles of plain, flat, nothing but sun, corn and clouds, if you’re lucky.

The rest area benches only sleep one, but it doesn’t take long for someone to report people who are unshaven, snoring and sporting a shifty, wayward demeanor even in sleep to the highway department people, who show up with cookies, a map and hot coffee in a Styrofoam cup to send you on your way.

At least that is what Honer’s dad said.

I didn’t travel much across North Dakota as a kid. My parents wouldn’t have it. Their threshold for children fighting in a car had a three-hour limit and if North Dakota had been on the itinerary, we would have owned a Winnebago.

The rotund travel coaches came in different shapes and incarnations back then, and maybe still do, but the upholstery was a marvel and the dining area doubled as a jacknife sofa — or a bed in a pinch.

Although as kids who spent some time around other people’s Winnebagos, we liked to sleep on the dirt outside.

It was something we loquaciously called “under the stars,” which made a lot of sense until it rained.

Summers, years later, as Winnebagos toddled into town from the interstate filled with families of people we kindly referred to as tourists, I often wondered if Honer’s dad had a hand in buttoning the mellow yellow upholstery inside those motor coaches. I thought about him tacking the trim around the cabinetry as ash curled from the end of his Pall Mall like the black snakes we burned on the sidewalk on the Fourth of July.

Once at a campsite in Montana, where I stopped to change my boots to fish, I talked with a man who owned one of the rolling Taj Mahals. He likened his gas mileage to an M1 Abrams on a good day, but oh, the wealth of a shower after a hard afternoon in the hammock, he said.

The other day, I followed three Winnebagos over the pass heading east and read the names stenciled to their metal sides out loud.

They conjured images of places that might best be viewed from the pavement.

Grand Teton, Denali, Terra Wind, Mountain Air, Chapparal, Wildcat, Wildwood, Surveyor, Sierra.

That sort of thing.

I imagined inside there were people playing cards, watching taped episodes of “Live! with Kelly and Michael,” and frying bacon on the stainless steel Avion Cayo stovetop.

Honer’s dad no longer has a hand in these, I supposed.

Their aerodynamic luxury could bring a lot to an elk camp though and they would, any of them, bridge the gap, quite comfortably, between us and what lies on the other side of North Dakota.

• • •

Ralph Bartholdt can be reached at rbartholdt@cdapress.com.

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