The Summer of '66 found me on vacation with my parents to Florida. I don't remember why my sisters didn't go that year, but the back seat was occupied by Me, Myself, and I. Boring. Mile after mile, not much was said to me, except Mom's never-ending spiel on points of interest from the AAA Trip-Ticket Map. Gheesh! Summer vacations were suppose to be fun, not educational!
Finally, we arrived in Florida and set up our tent trailer at a campsite on the banks of the famous Swanee River. (I still hear Wayne Newton singing that song in my head.) One thing I clearly remember was the humidity. A swimming towel I hung up that evening to dry was even wetter the following morning. I can't imagine how folks dried their clothes before dryers were invented. Clotheslines were of little use. Talk about Jungle Rot, now I know what G.I.'s had to deal with in damp conditions.
We visited Silver Springs, the h0me of the Glass-Bottomed Boats. The tour of the river was amazing to a Ohio boy that had never seen a clear body of water. Through the boat's floor, you could easily see sixty feet down. There were Catfish six feet long and scores of other colorful species. A recent episode of "I Spy" was filmed there and props of a ancient ruins were left behind for tourist to "ohhh" and "Awww" over. Some Tarzan movies were also filmed partly at this location and monkeys hung down from branches looking for handouts from the boat operators. My parents bought an end table made of abalone shells encased in acrylic. It sure didn't go with our decor, but my dad loved it. It sat next to his recliner until the day he died.
One afternoon a man approached our campsite, dressed in a suit and tie, looking totally out of place. He asked my parents if they would like to go on a one hour plane ride, have a full course lunch and tour a resort development. Their only obligation was to listen to a one hour sales presentation on possibly buying some land to build a vacation home on someday. My father readily agreed and the man said a bus would pick us up in the morning to take us to the airport.
The man left and Mom looked at Pop like he was out of his mind. He eased her mind by telling her, "Don't worry. Buying property is the last thing I'm thinking of. I figured we would get to go on a free plane ride, have a nice lunch, and enjoy the afternoon, free of charge." Yeah, right...
We hopped on the bus for the short trip to the airport and boarded a beat-up silver Turbo-Prop plane to Lake Wales, Florida. This was my first plane trip, so my nose was glued to the window.
We arrived at the resort called River Ranch. The adults were ushered into a large conference hall and the kids were led away like Lemmings to a play area, stables, and marina. Everything was free of charge and I had a blast doing everything they had to offer.
My last activity was taking out a small motorboat with an outboard motor. The man at the marina asked if I knew how to operate the boat. I assured him my family had a boat and I drove it all the time. What he didn't know was I did it from my father's lap. I was only eleven, but he let me take the boat out on my own on Lake Wales. I lost track of time, zipping up and down the lake. What fun! When I did finally show up at the marina, several adults were standing there waiting on me. I was holding up the bus that was returning us to the airport. I thought I was in big trouble, but my parents said they were just glad I was back safe and sound.
My folks did buy property at River Ranch. Not one lot, but two. Two and a half acres. The sales people convinced them that property values would soar with Disney World being built soon, just a stone's throw up the road. This was a Ground Floor Opportunity according to them and streets and utilities would be put in soon to start housing. A "Convenient Payment Plan" enticed my parents and made it affordable to middle-class people like my mom and dad.
They began making plans to build a retirement home there. Months turned into years and no development was ever done at River Ranch. Finally, the property developers were nailed for committing fraud. It was learned that no one could build on this property because it was part of a Federal Flood Plain and no permanent structures could be built there. My parents along with thousands of others were Hood-Winked, Swindled, and just plain Ripped-Off. They were literally sold Swamp Land in Florida!
Many years later, as part of a Class-Action Suit, my parents were offered another piece of property in Cape Coral. They didn't bother following up on it and my dad thought it was just another swindle. After the time limit expired on this land swap, "60 Minutes" ran a story on "The Great American Land swindle", detailing what happened to these hapless victims. They said that at least a lot of the people got a fair deal by being able to trade their property for one in Cape Coral. My dad heard that and you could have knocked him over with a feather!
Long after I was married and had children of my own, my father told me that the property in Florida was intended as an investment for my college education. He was sorry I had to struggle on my own to pay for college. Property deed in hand, I went to River Ranch to see what was there in the 90's and to try and sell it. The land could be sold to campers or fisherman to use and have access to the local river. The past property taxes that were due was worth more than the value of the property itself. So much for trying to unload a White Elephant.