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SOME SENIORS FIND A LITTLE ROAD WORK REWARDING

Jane Parmer, a former fourth-grade teacher, works her way around the country teaching people how to make fancy chocolates.

Bill and Rusty Morley left jobs as an engineer and paralegal, respectively, to spend summers volunteering in Custer State Park, S.D., and winters helping out at a Florida wildlife refuge.

They are among the growing number of senior travelers who take their recreational-vehicle homes with them as they work in paid or volunteer jobs from coast to coast, reports Arline Chandler in her new book, "Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure" (Flying Horse Press, $15.95).

RV ownership has increased 50 percent among those 55 and older since 1980, according to a University of Michigan study. That's the biggest jump for any age group. Almost half of the nation's 9 million RVs are owned by persons over 55. RVers generally approach their life on the road in one of two ways, Chandler says.

"One group adopts the philosophy: 'If the grass needs mowing, move!' " she writes. "But another group eyes the tall grass and thinks: 'Maybe the park needs help with maintenance.' "

Some senior RVers need to work to afford their extensive travels, Chandler says. Others use their earnings for luxuries like a cruise or winter at a plush RV resort. They seek paid or volunteer jobs because they have become bored with excess leisure time.

Chandler, who gave up teaching kindergarten to become a full-time writer and part-time RVer with her husband, James, offers ideas for honing or developing marketable skills for on-the-road jobs.

Some of the most obvious RV-related jobs are in campground management and vehicle maintenance and repairs, Chandler has found. People with expertise in electrical and plumbing systems as well as heating and air-conditioning units or appliances can find work in service centers, campgrounds, RV caravans and other spots. She lists schools and courses that train people as RV technicians and campground managers.

Chandler gives one example after another of RVers finding full- or part-time employment. Tom and Shirley Engels, for example, found work in Branson, Mo., music theaters, selling concessions, ushering and clerking in a gift shop.

Chandler tells about a specialized organization that provides RVers to house-sit, or to park and keep an eye on construction sites, new and used car lots, rental property and farms. Ray and Marie Kattler "ranch-sat" in Cody, Wyo., for a while, taking caring of the Scottish Highland cattle of the traveling owner.

Chandler cites RVers like Jane Parmer who have turned hobbies into money-making ventures on the road. Amateur magicians, musicians and artists can put their skills to use. So can those who know how to sew, or who have experience in health care or any of the construction trades.

Theme parks often hire RVers, particularly in the spring and fall, when their summer and holiday student help is unavailable. There's also money to be made delivering RVs and other specialty vehicles from manufacturing plants to sales lots or buyers.

Volunteer opportunities are equally varied. National and state parks and public lands often need assistance, ranging from campground hosting to trail and visitor center maintenance and conducting wildlife surveys. Habitat for Humanity has a contingent of RV volunteers.

One project called for RV volunteers to follow a historic wooden flatboat from Cincinnati to New Orleans, meeting the boat at ports along the way to lead tours aboard and give living history demonstrations. Another year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sought four couples to hand-rear ospreys.

One of the best match-up programs for employers and workers is operated by Workamper News. For a small fee, subscribers list their skills, location and preferences on a form. The forms are scanned for those that meet an employer's requirements, and then they're sent to the employer for review and follow-up.

Workamper News subscribers don't just wait for a call. They receive a bimonthly newsletter packed with help-wanted and situation-wanted ads, and they can check a telephone hot line for the latest listings. The company's Web site provides listings as well, plus a guide to working while camping.

Working while camping isn't the best financial bet for everyone, Chandler cautions. Most jobs are not high-paying, and few provide health insurance. She also advises against hitting the road when deeply in debt for the RV, since it is difficult to earn enough to cover installment payments as well as the cost of living.

Yet Chandler's book may provide the necessary inspiration to those hesitating to join the RV brigades.

"With America as the RVer's back yard, the road-work premise translates to earning power on an individual's terms," Chandler says. "The jobs and money-making opportunities on the road put RV travel within the financial reach of any person whose health permits him or her to take a job, provide a volunteer service or start a business. The how, what, why and where are limited only by an RVer's imagination."

Travel information

An annual subscription to the bimonthly Workamper News is $23. The Workamper referral system costs subscribers $10, plus $2 for each update. Short classified ads are free to subscribers.

Contact Workamper News, 201 Hiram Road, Heber Springs, Ark. 72543; (501) 362-2637;workamp@arkansas.net;www.workamper.com

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