Author gets a lot of mileage out of his research
Bob Schaller’s family life imitates art in his RV mystery series
By JEAN NASH JOHNSON
Bob Schaller and his 8-year-old son, Garrett, arrived in
The Arlingtons are the fictional
characters in Mr. Schaller’s X-Country Adventures, a preteen book series about
a family that travels across
The Arlingtons’ exploits are
actually the Schallers’ Mr
Schaller and his son Garrett, have been providing the
plots for the Arlingtons through their real-life
explorations. Like modern-day explorers, they have seen much of the West and
“I was working all the time, and I knew I didn’t want to miss his childhood,” he says.
The family purchased a used 24-foot RV and began taking weekend trips to remote places in Colorado, and later mini-vacations around the West. Mr. Schaller would lug his Radio Shack TRS-80 computer on the brief getaways under the pretense of getting work done. But the family time always made him forget about the job.
Before he knew it, he was telling Garrett bedtime stories that mixed their adventures and the region’s history.
One night during a visit to
“When our generation was in school, geography mattered,” he
says. “Children love adventures stories and need to learn more
By the time Garrett was 2, Mr. Schaller had a plan.
With careful budgeting and the money he had in savings, he could become a free-lance writer and work on the book series. The family could travel during the summer and research the books.
“I went in and told my boss I was thinking about quitting, and he asked me to take some time and think about it,” he says. “I didn’t need any time. It’s been the best decision of my life – to be able to watch (Garrett) grow and learn and be there for him.”
The Schallers became modern-day explorers on the road with all the conveniences. Their current state-of-the-art RV, an endorsement deal Mr. Schaller’s agent landed him with RVIA, has a slide-out room that expands the living space, a computer workstation, full bath, kitchen microwave and refrigerator/freezer.
They took in
In the following summers, they covered Custer’s home outside
Garrett will probably be 18 by the time they cover all 50
states, and that’s OK with him. He constantly reminds his dad that this is a
collaborative effort. On a visit to
“We decided that better representatives of what
It also was Garrett who corrected his dad during a visit to
a Lewis and Clark museum in
Mr. Schaller is pleased that he is instilling in Garrett a sense of country.
“Our kids take so much for granted about this land, and we are constantly finding out that there’s more to learn about and explore,” he says. “And it’s so easy now to get on the road.”
It takes only a little preparation. He lets the boys decide many of their destinations. Garrett says they first turn to the atlas to choose a location, and the rest is easy.
“We get on the Internet and we type in a state to find out
history stuff and how much it will cost (for an RV hookup). Then we decide
where we want to stop along the way. For
Each family thrill leads to a mystery for the
Mr. Schaller was inspired by the Hardy Boys series he read as a boy and his sister’s Nancy Drew books, which he sometimes sneakily peeked at.
After he laid out a formula for his own work, stories were easy to organize. Each of the books has a Fun Fact File, which is a history lesson at a glance. There are maps, Web sites and pertinent background on the region.
The stories for readers 10 and up are relevant, suspenseful
and fresh. In Message in Montana,
Ashley and Adam set out to find a cast-iron ampersand that Lewis supposedly
In Treasure in Texas,
Adam purchases a holster form a lea market and finds
an old letter inside. The teens try to unravel the mystery behind it as they
Garret says he’s been to
He and his dad are somewhat mum about Return to Texas, the sequel they are in
Don’t be surprised if the second effort takes a more modern approach. Garrett and his dad are both fascinated by their DART bus and rail experience.
“Garrett had never been on a city bus,” Mr. Schaller says, pondering the possibilities.