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Get A Camper, Start A Rally, And Go

Doug Baughman tells us about his custom Northstar Arrow 8.5 flatbed, how he used it as a snowplow, his many mods, and plans for the Midwest Truck Camper Rally.

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Every year it seems like we welcome another truck camper rally and, more importantly, a new truck camper rally organizer to our growing community.  This past August, long time Truck Camper Magazine reader, Doug Baughman, held the first annual Midwest Truck Camper Rally at Amana Colonies RV Park in Amana, Iowa.  By all accounts, the rally was a big success and Doug is already talking about next year’s event.

Through our coordinations to promote and cover the Midwest Truck Camper Rally, we got to know a little more about Doug Baughman, his rig, and truck camping lifestyle.  It turns out he has quite an interesting and unique truck camper rig, which he continues to make more unique with an increasing number of modifications.  When we learned that Doug used his truck camper as a snowplow on the second day he owned it, we knew we had a story for TCM.

Meet Doug Baughman; farmer, family man, rally organizer, modder, and truck camper.

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Above: Tammie, Katie, and Doug Baughman

TCM: How did you get started with truck camping?

Doug: When I was growing up, my family camped in a travel trailer maybe five weekends out of the year.  My wife didn’t camp at all as a kid.

When we first got married, we bought a twenty-six foot travel trailer and camped with it for two or three years.  When our daughter, Katie, showed up we sold the travel trailer for expenses, plus there were things I didn’t like about it.

A few years after Katie was born, we started thinking about a truck camper.  Farming, finances and an upset in our income made it so that we weren’t able to buy until last Fall.  At one point, my farming experience and finances were upside down by seventy percent.  I lost a bunch of ground.  Now don’t buy anything unless we have the cash to buy it.

Katie is six years old now.  I’ll blink a few times and she’s going to be sixteen.  Last year was a decent year for us, so we decided to upgrade our truck and buy a camper.  We looked at campers and found out that Northstars are built here in Iowa.  If we have any problems, we don’t have to drive far.  We also liked the floorplan of the Arrow with the bench seat, so that’s what we went with.

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Above: The Northstar Arrow with storage boxes underneath

TCM: How did you come up with the idea for storage compartments under the wings of your camper?

Doug: I had a flatbed for farm use and was dreaming up a way to make storage boxes to store more stuff.  When I ordered my camper, I told Rex Willett of Northstar Campers about my idea.  He offered to help me put it together.  Northstar was already building campers that way for their pop-ups that go to Australia.  They were able to build the storage boxes, LED lights, rope lights, and speakers for less than I could build the storage boxes myself.

I didn’t have the truck and bed at the time we ordered the camper, so Rex waited to make the storage boxes until I had my truck.  My flatbed has side gates that flip up and down.  They are about six inches tall.  There’s a post that the gate holds up against.  That had to be cut out and lifted out for the door of the storage compartment to open. We had to make sure it would fit correctly.

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Above: South of Ennis, Montana

TCM: Did you have to special order your truck?

Doug: I found my truck at the Ford dealer I’ve worked with for years.  I trust them.  I then went to a farm supply dealer and they helped me get my flatbed from a flatbed manufacturing company called Bradford Built.  They make many different models of flatbeds, and a model that works great with truck campers.  It didn’t need any alterations.  I just had to order one with a narrow headache rack.  They can even do custom jobs if you like.

It was a nine month wait for the model I wanted with the narrow headache rack.  We didn’t want to wait that long so I took one off the farm supply dealers lot and altered it a little to work for the truck camper.  It was simple for him to do.

I’m really happy with the combination.  This brand of flatbed is great for my camper.  Most flatbeds are perfectly rectangular. Ours behind cab is tapered at an angle.  We had to get extension bracket for the camper to clear the duallies.  Since this flatbed was cut in on the front corners, it has the perfect place for electric jacks to have their own area.  Whenever we stop, it’s amazing on the amount of people who come to look at my rig.

TCM: Tell us about your truck camping lifestyle.

Doug: We don’t have typical trips.  It’s wherever we feel like going.  This past January and February we went to Missouri for two weeks.  On April first, we went up to Spirit Lake here in Iowa.  I am a farmer for a living and that slows us up in the Spring and the Fall.

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Above: Prairie Rose State Park, Iowa

This past year we went to our Prairie Rose State Park after I got the crops planted.

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Above: The Red Bus tour at Glacier National Park during the Montana Camper Rally

Then we took a trip from Iowa to the Montana Truck Camper Rally for three weeks.

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Above: Click to enlarge

On that trip we saw as many sights as we could.

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Above: Doug’s UTV being towed behind the truck camper

In August we packed up our trailer, and our UTV to pull behind the truck camper.  We headed to our Midwest Truck Camper Rally that we were hosting at the Amana Colonies, in Amana, Iowa.  The campground where the rally was held is large.  The UTV helped in getting things set up.

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Above: Go Anywhere, Camp Anywhere, Plow Anything?

TCM: And you plow snow with your camper on your truck?

Doug: The day we picked up the camper was December 28th.  It started snowing half way home.  I wasn’t excited about that since I had never driven a large vehicle on ice and snow covered highways before.

After we made it home, it continued to snow that night.  We were planning our trip to Missouri, but I had to plow the snow first.  Since the camper was already on the truck, I plowed snow with the camper loaded.  Otherwise I would have needed to unload the camper and put sandbags in the truck.  Why not just keep the camper on?  It’s a lot of weight in the back of the truck.  So that’s what I did.

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Above: Doug and Kate inside their Northstar Arrow

TCM: How does your daughter, Katie, like the camper?

Doug: One thing that’s nice about homeschooling Katie is that she can come along with us.  She is in school wherever we go.  She officially starts school this year.

The Northstar Camper is her first camping experience.  We hope to use it to go to historical places.  Instead of just reading about historical places in books, which she will do, we can also go and visit them.  There’s a bunch of Lewis and Clark stuff around here.  The truck camper will allow for a lot of learning experiences for her.  I learn by doing.  Kids tend to remember fun trips.

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Above: The step system Doug added to his camper

TCM: Let’s talk about your mods.  You entered three of them in our mod contest this year, but it looks like you have quite a few others.

Doug: I like to tinker.  For example, I added a step system to get into the camper.  I went online and bought four steps and a fifth on top. These steps are typically for fifth wheels.  I welded some risers and welded the receivers on the flatbed.  The flatbed is steel so I can weld anything on it.  It gives me endless possibilities compared to a box truck.  I wanted steps that were more stable for Katie getting in and out.

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Above: Doug’s barbeque mod. Click to enlarge.

My grill has two pivot points.  One is welded to bottom of flatbed and the other is on the passenger’s side of the steps for stability while bouncing down the road.  When I want to use the grill it just swings out to the side.

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Above: The fire extinguisher Doug added to his camper

I added a fire extinguisher on my steps.  The local blacksmith had made a few extra brackets for our tractors so I used one of those.  I tend to be overly safe.  I put a big twenty pound fire extinguisher there.  It’s bolted to the steps for easy removal down the road.

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Above: Light added for the flag at night

I also got a light for our flag from the local hardware store.  Proper etiquette is important to me in respecting those who serve.  I keep a light on at night.  I spent four dollars on this mod.

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Above: Chair rack on ladder and backup camera

I have a chair rack on my ladder as well.  It was cheaper to make one than to buy one.  It only cost me twenty dollars to make.  Luckily, I know how to weld.  There’s also a backup camera attached to my ladder.

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Above: CB antenna on the hood of the truck

I use CBs on the farm all the time.  I couldn’t put the antenna back on the roof of the truck, so I bought a bracket and remounted it by the hood.

The only modification I have made to the interior of the camper was adding shelves to the closet.  I have future mods in mind.

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Above: Doug Baughman and Don Kingfield at the Midwest Truck Camper Rally

TCM: When did you come up with the idea to start the Midwest truck camper rally?

Doug: In the Midwest, you don’t see many truck campers and there weren’t any truck camper rallies that I was aware of.  We would like to go to the Gettysburg or Mid-Atlantic  truck camper rallies, but round-trip it would cost around $2,500 in fuel.

After we got the camper, I started thinking about hosting a rally.  A few days after we got home with the camper, I asked Tammie if she was okay with having a rally here.  She said, “Sure, why not?”  So, on December 30th, I made a phone call to Amana Colonies.  I was surprised that they answered.

In two or three days, everything fell into place.  I asked Rich Bain, the Montana Truck Camper Rally organizer, a few questions.  I also talked to Dan Quinn from NATCOA and Mike Tassinari from the Northeast Truck Camping Jamboree for ideas.  We made posts on forums to let people know what was happening.  I asked people for raffle items.  I tried to get our own state to support it, as well as local restaurants.  I wound up with thirteen sponsors.

It was quick and easy and, when everything fell into place, I knew it was supposed to happen.  I really enjoyed hosting the rally.

When I started planning it, I was wondering if we’d even have four rigs in attendance.  Twenty-one rigs were at the event.  Everybody there was so excited and happy for something in the middle of the country.  We met a guy we didn’t even know a week before the rally who lives just thirty minutes from our house.  Another couple who came lives an hour away.  At the rally, we all shared email addresses and offered to open up our driveways if people are passing through.

One of my concerns about the rally was financial.  I couldn’t pay for all the incidental expenses a rally requires.  At the potluck a guy raised his hand and said, “I don’t think Doug should go into debt making this rally happen.  We should have a registration fee next year.”  Everyone there agreed.  So that took a huge weight off me.

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Above: Pictures from the Midwest Truck Camper Rally.  Click to enlarge.

TCM: Tell us about the rally and how it went.

Doug: Everything went well.  The biggest challenge was that I had never cooked for that many people.  We had a spaghetti supper and we had sweet corn for everyone.  I like to cook, but I didn’t know how to cook for forty people.  We were blessed by having Doris Bluth, who ran a restaurant attend the rally and help out.  With her experience, things rolled a little easier.

The rally was great and everyone wanted to talk about truck campers and accessories.  We had an open house and everyone went through everyone else’s rig.

Rex Willett from Northstar Campers came to the rally and held a seminar.  Before he showed up, I was wondering how a Northstar manufacturer was going to make people with different brands feel.

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Above: The camping field at the Midwest Truck Camper Rally

There were many brands at the rally; Northstar, Lance, Northern Lite, Snowriver, Arctic Fox, and a pop-up Four Wheel Grandby.  Rex opened up the conversation by promoting the truck camper industry as a whole.  Everyone listened, and then people asked questions.  It was really cool how he didn’t make it a Northstar seminar.  He also talked about his childhood, his family, and growing up in the camper business.

Getting involved with NATCOA and the rally has opened friendships up for us.  Since the rally, we’ve been talking with the Midwest group emailing and talking on the phone.  It has built great friendships, and Katie has loved meeting all the pets.

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TCM: Are you planning another rally for next year?

Doug: Yes, we are.  Next year’s rally will be from July 23rd to July 27th at the Amana Colonies.  Next year we are also going to tour the Northstar factory.

This year we toured the Amana Colonies and learned the history.  There was a 1880s general store that is still working, and a church.  We had a brewery tour set-up.  It is the fourth oldest brewery in the United States.  We also went to a theater production.  I haven’t gone to one since high school and thought all theater stuff was opera.  That was bad judgement on my part.  The production was, “Lumber Jacks in Love”.  I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.  It was very funny.  I am hoping to do that again next year.  I’m also opening up a new door for me in that I am looking into more theater productions to go see.  It’s hard to believe that going truck camping would open up a door into theater.  It’s funny how life goes.

The difficult part about setting up a rally is finding an area where there’s something else to do other than just getting together; like a museum.  I got lucky and picked a cool place the first year.  It is also about finding campgrounds who are willing to work with you and have a shelter for gatherings.  That part is very difficult.

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Above: Camping at Marble Beach, Iowa

TCM: What are your next truck camping plans?

Doug: I want to go to New England to see the fall colors.  I also want to go to Florida to visit Don Kingfield, who was a huge supporter of the rally.  The Gettysburg rally also looks like fun.  There is so much I want to do.

There are United States decal maps where you are supposed to put stickers when you visit each state.  What we’d like to do is have an Iowa map with spaces for every county.  There’s so much to see in our own state.  We are going to do many trips around here.  Our goal is to fill up the Iowa map.

We want to go to the Iowa State fair, since it’s the largest in the country.  We want to go meet Doris and Mark Bluth at Redrock Lake where they are volunteering.  And we need to go back to the Amana Colonies to get our picture taken with the sign for a certain Torklift International Treasure Hunt Contest I want to win.

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Above: Doug enjoys breakfast at the Midwest Truck Camper Rally

TCM: Do you have anything else you’d like to add to your interview?

Doug: I’m a camera photo nut, so I urge people to take lots of pictures.  It creates lots of memories for down the road.  Enjoy life more because life is too short.  Get out and go truck camping, enjoy friends, and enjoy this beautiful country of ours.

Truck camper people are a different breed.  They are a lot more friendly, and easy to get along with.  During the rally, I gave a gentleman a ride back to his camper.  He told me that he hated large crowds and that he wasn’t sure about coming to the rally.  He said that he was so thankful he came.  The people at the rallies are all different and from different parts of the country, but we all have truck campers in common.  Truck campers have a really neat bond and bring people together.  I felt I accomplished my goal at the rally.  I held a rally that brought strangers together with one thing in common.  That is truck campers.  They brought us all together as a family of friends, and I know that it will continue in the future.

Truck: 2008 Ford F350, Bradford built flatbed, crew cab, long bed, dually, 4×4, diesel
Camper: 2013 Northstar Arrow 8.5
Tie-downs/Turnbuckles: Torklift
Suspension: Torklift Stable-Load Overloads
Gear: See mod question above

Thank you to Tammie and Doug Baughman and John Bull for the photos.

Truck Camper Information
American RV Dealership Grand Rapids, Michigan

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