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Motor home touring -- the visitors are as important as the vistas

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It's 9:30 at night, and a small truck is pushing a 30-foot motor home into its appointed slot at the Watkins Glen KOA Campground. A crowd of motor-homers has gathered. Through the windshield, they see the gleam of the driver's white knuckles as he grips the wheel in impotent silence. Almost all of them have been in the same position as this driver. Often. ``You know what mine does?'' a tall, gangling man asks, not bothering to wait for an answer. ``It conks out on me. I mean, I have lights and all, but the engine won't do anything. You think I can figure out what's wrong with it? Nobody can fix it.''

``Motor homes are so delicate,'' one lady complains. ``They sit all winter, and all kinds of things go wrong.''

All kinds of things must go right, too.

Because most motor-home owners report long, trouble-free lives from their vehicles. And, even though the repairs one must have done can be expensive and cumbersome (since you're likely to break down on the side of a mountain or in some remote national park), motor-homing must offer great compensations.

After all, 25 million people (owners, relatives, guests, and renters) -- an industry estimate of the number ``involved in the life style'' -- can't all be wrong.

Hit the American highways any time from June to September and you'll have a hard time keeping count of the mobile homes that pass in both directions. Renting, buying, or borrowing these rolling motel-rooms has become the vacation of choice for families, newlyweds, retirees, loners, you name it.

According to a new University of Michigan study, there are 7.8 million motor homes on the road. Last year 398,200 recreational vehicles were sold: a far cry from the all time-high 1972 high of 526,300, but, also, a good sight higher than the industry low of 181,420 units in 1980.

Motor-homers are paying anywhere from a couple thousand dollars for a well-used vehicle to $350,000 for unimaginably plush and roomy models.

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