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February Diary Entry – Filling Up


Whoever first analogized resting or vacationing to “refueling” wasn’t driving a thirty-seven foot, 25,000 pound motorcoach.  Gassing up Big Beluga is nothing like gassing up, say, a Chevy Malibu.  When you’re tooling around in your sporty sedan or minivan, you can let the gas needle slump toward “E,” confident that reserves will get you as far as several more gas stations, where, less than ten minutes and twenty dollars later, the needle again stands tall.  Problem solved. 

RVers, in contrast, commonly begin growing anxious at half a tank.  The anxiety is borne from experience.  Refueling is often a trying and time-consuming task, and easy opportunities for gassing up are far between.  There can be many obstacles and hurdles standing between an RVer’s need for fuel and a successful refueling – hurdles that drive the seasoned helmsperson to add fuel whenever the needle dips below horizontal and the fueling is good.

It’s not enough to see a station.  For starters, the station must be accessible.  Big Beluga towing Baby Beluga (known generically among RVers as the “dinghy”) measures roughly 50 feet.  Put another way, our rig is a few feet shy of an eighteen-wheeler and a tad wider.  But unlike the trucks, the Belugas cannot be reversed.  Tight spaces, sudden lane changes, dead-ends, and so on are treacherous.  The vast majority of gas stations are simply inaccessible to us.   Furthermore, even if the station is accessible, it has to offer diesel.  That brings me to a digression.

Diesel has always seemed a bit intimidating.  First of all, what the hell is it?  It’s not gasoline, and it’s not crude oil.   It’s something else, and it’s otherness has long made me suspicious.   That uneasiness is enhanced by the fact that consumers of diesel have themselves struck me as somewhat of a road clique.  Diesel drivers know something that the rest of us don’t, and they and the rest of us know it.  They have their own conventions and codes and special language and communication devices.  They’re the people who sit above the riff raff of gasoline-powered automobiles, who travel in convoys with their hammers down, who know what a “10-13” is, good buddy, who catch each other on the flip flop, who entertain their fellows with elaborate light shows just for lane changes, who leave their engines rumbling at rest stops (supposedly because it’s the proper thing to do, but probably as much to show off).  Real men drive diesel.  

Yes, diesel is intimidating . . . but it’s also enticing. 


Yep, that’s Big Beluga


Touring in a “coach” over the last several months has been like moving up to the varsity squad.  We’re now, by one measure, members of that relatively exclusive road club with special rules and customs.  On this side, the otherness of diesel sometimes feels like privilege.  Stations who cater to us, for instance, set up special pumps usually in separate places away from the other pumps.  It is where the “professional drivers” fill up.

A “Travel America” Awning Welcoming the Professionals


Yep, we’re now hanging with the freeway’s heavy hitters.  Unfortunately, although driving a diesel-powered engine – a 330 horsepower Caterpillar, to be more precise – does place us among impressive company, it does not entitle us to the same privileges enjoyed by the pros.  Many stations that cater to truckers, for instance, have facilities – arcades, bathrooms, and showers – “for professional drivers only.”  Don’t get me wrong:  we’re not yearning to play pinball or share shower facilities with the boys from Bekins.  My point is just that there is a highway hierarchy recognized by truckers and, to a lesser extent, by the rest of us.  And, from their perspective, a large diesel engine is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of full in-group membership. Thus, my suggestion that we’re traveling in new circles is like a third-stringer bragging about being on the varsity squad. 

Enough about diesel.  Let me get back to the challenge of filling up.  It is not enough that a filling station offers diesel.  Some stations that have diesel are marketing to the pick-up crowd which likes its vehicles built “Ford-tough” or “like a rock” – the sort of people who know what a Hemi is and want one.   Too many stations that offer diesel place the pump on an island between two non-diesel pumps, where it is inaccessible to any vehicle that cannot be parallel parked in Beacon Hill.  We’ve squeezed into such tight spots when we’ve been desperate, but there’s no fun in it – and considerable risk (as our new, $500 slide-out awning proves . . . don’t ask).  So, even stations offering diesel commonly turn out to be freeway mirages for the pilots of thirsty road blimps. 

The unavailability of viable refueling options is one reason why large trucks and RVs sport enormous gas tanks.  18-wheelers often have, not one, but two 300-hundred-gallon fuel tanks.  They are like two-humped camels, built for long-hauls in an unforgiving environment.  Their tanks are so big that drivers commonly spend over $500 at a filling.  To make spending that money easier, truck stops provide two pumps to fill each truck (the one with the dials is known as the “master” and the other, which is simply a faceless pump, is known as the “slave” – a troubling metaphor). 



Common “Master/Slave” Configuration for Double Pumping


By comparison, Big Beluga’s 100-gallon tank seems puny.  At roughly 9 miles per gallon, a full tank can get us almost 1000 miles, not that we’d ever try. 

When our tank is approaching half full (or half empty, depending on one’s perspective), we begin actively to look for refueling opportunities.  Signs for Shell, Mobile, Exxon, Texaco, and the other standards are all but ignored.  We look instead for Petro, Pilot, TA (“Travel America”), which are all Beluga-accessible. There are several good options, but, as any RVer will attest, it’s the Flying J that makes refueling a pleasure – relatively speaking. 


A Flying J Oasis


Flying J is the only company that has gone out of its way to attract RVers, despite their low status among the big rigs.   (We have yet to learn what the “J” stands for – “jockey,” “juice,” “Julius” “joint,” “jelly,” all seem a bad fit.)  No matter, Flying J stations are like a roadside oasis.  They provide, not only accessible diesel pumps, but also a place to refill LP gas tanks and islands with fresh water for RVers to fill up their fresh-water storage tanks, and dumping  stations for RVers to empty their not-so-fresh storage tanks.   Most also permit motorhomers to stop and sleep.   A wise RVer doesn’t pass a “Flying J” lightly. 

            On this trip, we’ve learned something about refueling a diesel-pushing motorcoach.  But we’ve also learned something about replenishing our own reserves.  And, upon reflection, I want to retract the sentence that I opened with.  Refueling a soul is very much like refueling an RV.  Opportunties are rare and should not be passed up lightly. 

Let your J fly!