Fred and Debbie Morgan of Readfield find fulfillment and adventure with an RV lifestyle.
At 62, Fred Morgan was still supervising Maine Department of Transportation paving crews in Augusta, working 70-hour weeks in the summer. It was, simply, time to retire. But slow down? Not a chance. That first summer of retirement, camping at Rangeley State Park with his wife Debbie, Fred ran a backhoe just to stay busy.
“We used to come up here and just camp,” says Debbie Morgan, who retired from managing the cafeteria at Central Maine Power headquarters in Augusta. “But, my husband—he can’t just sit still for very long. He needs something to do.”
The Morgans met in high school, married in 1971 and raised their son Jason and daughter Carrie, who are both married and have kids of their own now. In 2001, with their kids grown, the Morgans bought a three-bedroom camp on five acres in the woods of East Winn with no electricity or water.
“We thought that’s what we always wanted to do, build a camp in the middle of the woods and live this way,” Fred says. “But we’d work all weekend, and go four-wheeling and hunting, and then go back to work. And we never went anywhere else. And the grandkids didn’t care for it up there in the woods.”
So, after a decade, they sold the camp and bought a tag-along trailer and set up at Rangeley State Park.
“I love Rangeley and the western mountains,” Fred says. “The lake is so clear and beautiful it’s unreal. There’s so much to do, a lot of hiking, and we’re trying to make more hiking and biking trails. I love being out on the lake first thing in the morning drinking my coffee. And our grandkids love Rangeley. We have an 18-foot boat, and we take the kids out and catch some beautiful salmon and brookies.”
Debbie is a state park employee in the summer, working in the visitor booth. “I get laid off in September,” she says, sounding pleased. “It works out good. I’m ready to go because it’s getting cold out.”
Despite Fred’s reluctance about Florida and all those big cities, Jason’s in-laws, Carol and Fred Hurley, convinced him to check out Salt Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest, which they described as “just like Maine, but warmer.” In 2013, the Morgans drove their RV down there for a two-week vacation.
“I went out with about eight guys who are retired,” Fred says, “and we were cutting firewood for the campground. The oldest gentleman there was 95, two were in their 80s and two in their 70s. I was looking at what a life they had and how they got around, kayaking, biking, walking, always on the go. Not sitting home in a recliner.”
And that’s about when the Morgans jumped at the chance to be seasonal campground hosts at Salt Springs. They’d basically do all the stuff they’d naturally want to do anyway—fixing things, prepping firewood and generally being welcoming—but they wouldn’t have to pay to stay. Their lifelong dream had been travel, and with this invitation, a door opened.
They traded in the tagalong for a 40-foot Montana fifth wheel with six slideouts. Inside, there’s a 42-inch TV, a king-size bedroom and a front living room with pull-out couches and an electric fireplace.
“It’s just like a home,” Fred says. “We used to try to travel to Florida and make it in 27 or 28 hours, but now we’ll take a week. Last year we took three weeks coming back, stopping at the Florida Panhandle, and Nashville, and Virginia to see Debbie’s brother, just seeing different things. Coming up, we put 3,200 miles on the pickup.”
For the first year they lived in their RV year-round, they kept the house that Fred had built and they’d lived in for 37 years. But it was a headache, worrying about the lawn and the plowing when they weren’t even there to use the place.
Something had to go—and it was the house.
“People say, ‘What a beautiful life you have.’ We do have it made.”
“After 37 years, you don’t realize how much stuff you have that you don’t need,” Debbie says. “It really kind of frees you up.”
At first it was tough to not have a home base to come back to, Fred admits. But, in addition to the kids and grandkids, what he really missed was fall deer hunting in the Maine woods. Now the tradition is they fly back for deer hunting, have Thanksgiving with the kids and stay with Debbie’s lifelong friend Sandi Clark of Readfield. Debbie buys, wraps and leaves the Christmas gifts for the family and packs up some deer meat to take back on the plane, storing the rest in their son’s freezer. And they fly back to Northern Florida, which, despite his initial reservations, Fred loves.
“We go swimming every day in the springs,” Fred says. “It’ll be 62 degrees, and everyone will have jackets on. And I’ll be on my bike in my bathing suit on my way to swim.”
While at Salt Springs, Debbie works at the gatehouse three days a week, and Fred does what Fred does: working outdoors. Everywhere they park their RV, they find campfires, domino games and cookouts—and friends.
“We’re all one big family, because no one’s near their family,” Debbie says. “We have a wonderful time with all these people from all over the United States. And we love the camping environment.”
Floridians Bob and Tish Kirkpatrick met the Morgans at Rangeley and invited them to volunteer at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park in Cross Creek, Florida. One winter, Debbie wore 1940s-style dresses and gave tours of the the property left by the author of “The Yearling,” while Fred pruned orange trees in old-fashioned coveralls.
Eventually, when the grandkids are older, the Morgans want to travel out west. Meanwhile, they’re satisfied with all the wild places and creatures they encounter—moose at Rangeley; deer at Beech Fork Lake Dam in West Virginia where the Morgans volunteered with the Army Corps of Engineers; and bison, wild horses and cracker cows at Payne Prairie Preserve in Florida, where the Morgans ran a visitors center on Saturdays last winter.
“Sometimes we don’t realize what we have,” Fred says. “Like staying at Rangeley State Park and then going to Silver Springs for the winter, people say, ‘What a beautiful life you have.’ We do have it made.”
Amy Paradysz grew up spending summers in an RV at Sebago Lake hopes to be half as adventurous as Fred and Debbie in her retirement years.