Before The Bus
EDITOR’S NOTE: While Liberty Coach was incorporated in 1972, the company’s history began years earlier with the travels of Frank (Sr.) and Jeanne Konigseder. The following account is the first in a series of posts excerpted from Jeanne’s unpublished memoir chronicling the couple’s experiences before and after launching Liberty Coach.
Our story starts with boats. When we were first married, we had a 23-foot boat and went boat camping every weekend from April through late October, on the Chain O’Lakes in Illinois as well as the Mississippi River. Later we traded up for a 27-foot cabin cruiser that we wound up keeping at Great Lakes Harbor on Lake Michigan. Both Frank Jr. and Kurt were with us by that time, which could make things challenging – the boat was moored offshore, so we had to row out in a small dinghy with all our food and clothing and baby furniture every time we wanted to go out. After several weeks of this scenario, I gave up and we traded in the cabin cruiser for a 19’ Evinrude boat and started trailering to the Chain O’ Lakes and Lake Michigan for day trips.
Next, we bought a Ford van, built a bed for the kids in the back, hitched the boat to the rear and drove to Florida that winter to visit Grandma and Grandpa Konigseder. We dubbed it the “Gutless Wonder,” after it struggled hard to pull the boat over Mt. Eagle in Tennessee. But it served its purpose. We were able to travel with very little money, eating meals in the van and cooking in motels with an electric frying pan.
In October, 1967 we bought a Franklin slide-in truck camper and used it almost constantly over the next two years. We spent summers in northern Wisconsin with the camper and boat, and took several trips to Florida and other places, including New York and Pennsylvania. Frank made some major modifications to that vehicle, including mounting an air conditioner on the roof and adding a generator, which he fastened onto a platform on the rear of the camper. It was extremely loud when running, but it kept us cool.
That was probably the best unit we owned before we started converting buses. Sometimes I think that if I ever found it again, I’d actually like to take it for a trip. We had lots of good times with that camper.
Even so, we sold it and bought a Kraeger motorhome in 1969. We took that coach on several snowmobiling trips and had many problems, to put it mildly. One example came on a winter night while we were driving home from northern Wisconsin. After getting the coach stuck in the snow twice, the exhaust pipe came loose and, as we were turning a corner, it moved across the undercarriage and cut off all the exposed electric wires, leaving us with no running lights. A sheriff had to escort us to a motel in town so we could fix the problem. Frank had to lie in the snow under the coach to splice the wires together, but even then, we still didn’t have taillights. So the next day, we bought a flashing red light, hooked it to the rear of the coach and hit the road. Then about 30 miles from home, the transmission went out and we had to complete the trip home in first gear.
Don’t get me wrong. We had plenty of good times with that coach. We joined the Illini Coachmen, and the boys met kids from all over the country; we still run into friends from back then to this day. But it was becoming clearer and clearer that we needed a bigger and more reliable vehicle to handle our travel needs. And the coaches we saw on the market were either too expensive or needed too many alterations to suit us. The idea of converting an old bus was beginning to take shape.
NEXT IN A SERIES
Jeanne recounts the family’s summer of dream building in “Labor of Love: Liberty Coach #1”.