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Back In Love with Truck Camping

Here’s a wonderful story about Jim and Sheila Tomblin, a couple who started with a camper, went the tent and motorhome route while their children were growing up, and then returned to truck campers.

Jim Tomblin has spent his career in electronics and worked with us on an article called, “Camper Batteries 101: The Basics“. But before we get into ampere-hours, battery capacity, and trickle chargers, we thought it would be fun to learn about Jim and Shelia’s thirty plus year camping story. As it turns out, we were right.


Jim and his children camping with their motorhome

The Tomblin’s children and “Bear” on the Rubicon

The 1978 Six-Pac and 1980 Chevy camping at Hat Creek

Jim and the Six-Pac that featured a unique fold-down toilet

Jim and Sheila taking a break with their Six-Pac

A back road into the Badlands of South Dakota – Reddog1 leads the way

Boondocking at Fort Buford with Reddog1

Parking lot at Mount Rushmore

Boondocking near Bodie ghost town

TCM: How did you get into camping?

Jim: My wife, Sheila, and I have been camping and RVing since the early 1970s.  When our boys were really little, our very first rig was small slide-in camper.  I was flying radio-controlled airplanes and going to contests.  Our camper gave Sheila and our youngest boy a place to hide away while I was flying the radio-controlled airplanes.  And we could stay overnight at the events.

After our next boy was born, we got a Class C and did a little camping, but it mostly was going to contests.  I was in glider competitions.  Then we moved to Northern California and sold our Class C.  We were ready to do something else.

In Northern California we saw all the mountains, lakes, and streams.  We decided to go tent camping instead.  The boys were eight and four at the time.  We had a pick-up shell on the back, our tent, and our German Shepard.  For a number of years we spent long weekends in the mountains.  They are the same areas we go to today.

Fishing was the main theme during most camping trips. We had a boat and put all of our camping gear in the boat.  We would find a sandy beach to get away instead of staying in campgrounds.  It was better to get out in the open.  There are several lakes in the middle of California up in the Sierras.

TCM: How did you get into truck camping?

Jim: After the boys grew up and we became empty nesters, which was about 1994, we decided to get away from tents. We weren’t interested in a new camper because we were just experimenting.

In 1993 we were looking for something reasonable for about a thousand dollars.  It took quite a bit of searching to find our Six-Pac.  At the time, had a 1980 Chevy three-quarter ton pick-up.   Our 1978 Six-Pac was great because it was a fully self-contained eight-foot camper.

It had everything.  There was a fiberglass shower, it had a toilet in it that dumped into a combo grey and black tank.  The coolest thing about that camper was that the toilet folded up into wall of bathroom.  It gave us a two-foot by two-foot area to shower.  It was a tremendously innovative thing.

When we got Six-Pac, we put away our tent camping stuff.  Our youngest son wanted to fly radio-controlled power planes with an engine.  We were able to take our Six-Pac to the contests overnight.  At that time, we were both racing.  The Six-Pac provided us with a method to go camping again.

Sheila and I fell back in love with slide-in camping.   Our first long trip was up the California, Oregon and Washington coast.  We were sold.   We kept that camper for about six years.

TCM: Why did you switch to a Bigfoot camper?

Jim: Our Six-Pac was made in 1978 and we were ready for an upgrade.  When we went to the Pleasanton, California show, we went to the camper section and everyone was there. We wanted to find something that didn’t have a metal roof because we didn’t want to have leaks.  Then, we saw the Bigfoot campers and they had 9’6 and 10’6.  Sheila saw the dinette and bathroom and said, “This is what I want”.

The factory representative was there and we talked to him about the benefits of the clam shell design and how it’s not going to rot or leak.   We decided that’s what we wanted.  The representative told us that there was a Bigfoot 9’6” at Sprads RV in Nevada.  We were so excited that we couldn’t even sleep that night.  The next morning we jumped in the car and drove 120 miles to Sprads RV.  They had a number of Bigfoots. We asked how much it cost, went back inside and bought it.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t take it home that day because we had to buy a truck.  After we bought our truck, we went back to Sprads RV and they put Happijac tie-downs on it.  We also had to get Bilstien shocks and airbags in the back to make it sit-up off the overloads.

TCM: What do you like about truck camping?

Jim: Sheila, my wife, and I enjoy exploring America and just getting away from the hustle and bustle for a long or sometimes short weekend.  We have friends that have cabins in the mountains or out at the coast.  A long time ago we said we didn’t care for that type of get away.

Our big trips are of the two to four week duration.  Sheila teaches school and I am retired so we can extend our vacations now. We travel back roads as often as we can and try not to be in a hurry.  In 2006 we went to Yellowstone via non-interstate. In 3500 miles we utilized the interstate for less than 300 miles.  When it came time to stop for the night we would begin to look for a spot to crash for the night. Most of the time we would find a great secluded spot away from the main road.

TCM: Since you’ve been to so many places, where do you suggest others go?

Jim: We live east of Sacramento.  We are an hour and a half from the ocean and an hour and a half from the mountains.  All around us are vast resources for camping.

When we go camping we go to Lawson’s landing near Tomales Bay.  It’s about fifty miles north of San Francisco. There are some commercial and state parks there.  Sheila and I like to wander around the town.  It’s very quaint.  There is a guy who sells fresh crabs right off the bay.  It’s not real crowded there this time of year

The mountains are close as well.  There are a couple of lakes and campgrounds that we like to go to like French Meadows, Hellhole, Big Meadows, Union Valley Reservoir and Loon Lake.

The higher you go into the mountains the smaller the rigs get because the roads are narrow.   Even though we are only ninety miles away from French Meadows, it takes two hours to get there because it is windy and steep.  That’s what makes it nice to own a slide-in camper – it’s nimble.  Up in the mountains, when you are in national forests there are dirt roads that go off in every which way.  If you find a spot that’s been cleared, you can camp there.

TCM: Where do you typically go on your trips?

Jim: Our summer vacations are usually two to four weeks.  We’ve explored lots of the southwest and the coast of Oregon, Washington and California.  We did a three-plus week trip to the Dakotas and Canada this last year.  Part of the vacation Wayne and Ileana Lasyone (Mr. and Mrs. Reddog1) tagged along in their Old restored 1986 Bigfoot.  We had a great time.

Sheila and I enjoy exploring small towns and checking out the highlights.  We are all eyes when going down the road, not wanting to miss anything nature may present.

We also always travel with our dog, Molly.  She’s an Australian Shepard-Queensland Healer mix.  She will watch people in campground and she hikes with us.

TCM: Do you attend camper rallies?

Jim: The first rally we went to was at Yosemite National Park in February a couple of years ago.  That was a kick.  At the rally, they had a waterproof propane heater set-up.  It was like summertime in there.  People would come and go.  Some would go off hiking and when they came back we’d have a potluck.

We had conversations about problems and solutions with our truck campers.   People would talk about where they have been camping and what’s been fun to do with their camper.   It’s like Wayne says, “It’s a time to tell great lies”.  Rallies are an opportunity for a lot of show and tell.  You meet people and develop friendships.  And then at the next rally, it’s great to see those people again.

An example of the ongoing friendships is with, Junket from Clements Falls, Oregon.  He invited me to go fishing with him.  I’m always emailing back and forth to people.  At Scotts Flat we met Kathy for the first time.  That was a huge rally.  There are pictures on NATCOA.  There were twenty or so truck campers and we had a huge campfire.  It was just great.


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