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Camper, 101, Has a Million Miles Under His Belt

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was hard to tell whether the people gathered around John Henry Wine were more impressed with the fact that he has driven nearly a million miles in a recreational vehicle or that he has managed to live 101 years and can still climb up a hill.

No matter. The RVers, in matching Lazy Daze Caravan Club jackets, plopped an orange Lazy Daze cap on John Henry Wine’s head last week and proclaimed him several things, including Honorary Senior Wagon Master, RV Enthusiast of the Century and the Oldest Active Member of the Good Sam recreational vehicle club.

“Everybody’s taking pictures!” was about all John Henry Wine had to say as he sat in the main showroom of the Long Beach Convention Center and ascended into recreational immortality.

Talk about happy campers. Hundreds of RV fanatics, lost in a sea of late-model Road Rangers and Winnebagos, paid homage to a man who avoided three dates with death to become the Dalai Lama of RVers--even if the state did revoke his driver’s license at the age of 99.

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In addition to his 15 minutes of fame and a promise that his picture will be on the cover of the June issue of an RV magazine, Wine took home three engraved plaques, a check for $200 to repaint his Lazy Daze RV, his new hat, a purple Good Sam jacket and a caramel-colored Lazy Daze Caravaners jacket.

He also got a lifetime pass to the Western RV show, but says he is not interested in buying any newfangled trailers with microwave ovens and forced-air furnaces.

Born Jan. 4, 1889, in a log cabin that his father built in Blountville, Tenn., Wine came down with typhoid fever at the age of 16. Everybody thought he was dead. They covered him up with a sheet and called the undertaker.

“Then one of my uncles came and said, ‘I believe that boy is still alive,’ ” Wine said. “So they called the undertaker and told him not to come, which I was glad about.”

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A couple of years after that he enlisted as a World War I cavalry groomer. A horse fell on his foot. He went to the hospital and the rest of his unit went overseas, where its members were massacred in the battle of the Argonne Forest.

“Wiped out to a man,” said Clark Terrill, Wine’s camping friend and a “Golden Caravaner” in his own right. “We say he’s living on borrowed time. I think he’s got some cat blood in him.”

Wine, known to his friends as Jack, took a job driving a water wagon in Tampico, Mexico, in 1923, where he says he ran into Pancho Villa, who was hanging Americans in a square.

“There we was, in pretty bad shape,” Wine said.

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He was rescued by the Army and ultimately settled in 1927 in Nuevo, a little town near Riverside, where he painted houses for a living and still resides today.

He bought a Shasta 16-foot trailer in 1948 and camped with his first wife until she died. In 1968, at the age of 79, he married a widow named Ruth, whom he had known and played cards with since 1927.

Ruth brought to the marriage an El Dorado slip-on camper (cab over truck). They bought their first Lazy Daze RV in 1970 and their second in 1976, which he still has today and drove until he failed the Department of Motor Vehicles’ eye test two years ago.

Now Ruth does all the driving. She’s only 84.

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All told, he has hit 49 states and gone a million miles. (You can’t go to Hawaii in an RV so he flew there.)

Today, they stay within 100 miles of home and try not to go to elevations higher than 4,000 feet. Otherwise, they camp just the way they always have, about twice a month with a white toy poodle that sleeps wherever she wants.


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