Full-time RVers, George and Sarah Baker, use their self-leveling Ford F450 flatbed for a fifth wheel, an Arctic Fox 990, and a Tri Glide Harley. Look out Route 66.
Back in September of 2009, Truck Camper Magazine published a “Ditch the Fifth” series with truck camper owners who had made the switch from a fifth wheel to a truck camper. At the time, our perspective was focused on how truck campers were more versatile and efficient than fifth wheels, and thus a better choice for many.
Since that time, our viewpoint has changed. We have met many fifth wheel owners and learned about the advantages and disadvantages of that RV type. Some of these fifth wheel owners also owned a truck camper forcing us to reconsider our truck campers or nothing attitude.
There are excellent reasons that motorhomes and towables of every category exist. Each RV product type serves its own niche, purpose, and advantages. Truck campers aren’t better across the board, just generally better for what we want in a RV. As our tagline says, “Go Anywhere. Camp Anywhere. Tow Anything”.
There’s no law that says you have to pick an RV type, and stick with it. More importantly, there’s no law that says you have to only have one RV. Besides, truck campers are to fifth wheels as minivans are to motorcycles; totally different animals.
George and Sarah Baker’s full-time RV lifestyle illustrates this point beautifully. The Bakers keep a fifth wheel at a private campground in Texas, and snowbird there every winter. In the spring, they lock-up their fifth wheel, back their Ford F450 under an Arctic Fox 990, and hit the road.
Their fifth wheel stays behind as their home base. Their camper, and a Harley Tri Glide motorcycle are their escape and explore vehicles. I may be the Publisher of Truck Camper Magazine, but their two RV approach to a full-time RV lifestyle makes sense. They get the space and comfort of a large fifth wheel all winter, and the simplicity and maneuverability of a truck camper all summer. Even better, it’s all done with one truck.
Above: Sarah and George’s 2003 Ford F450 and 2008 Arctic Fox 990
TCM: Explain how you became full-timer RVers who split your time between a fifth-wheel and a truck camper.
George: We have been camping all of our married life. First with tents, then a pop-up, and then a fifth wheel. We have also been to all of the lower forty-eight states on a motorcycle, camping in a tent or a bunkhouse motorcycle camper. Right now, we spend the winters in our forty-foot fifth wheel and travel during the summer in our truck camper.
Sarah: We talked about this lifestyle for twenty years before we retired. When we sold our house we already had our fifth wheel. In fact, we lived in the fifth wheel for four years before we retired. When we retired, we traveled during the summer, and work camped in the winter. The following year we bought our place here.
Above: Sarah and George’s fifth wheel
George: Living full-time in a RV is really not a lot different than living a house. The fifth wheel stays in the same place all the time. The difference is that we have no yard work, no trees, and no maintenance on a house. We have maintenance on the fifth wheel, but not at the cost of a house. It’s cheaper to stay in a fifth wheel than in a house.
We live in a 55+ retirement RV community. We own our own 50’ by 70’ lot with a 12’ by 24’ shed that can be used as a workshop, or for storage. We pay about $1,000 dollars in dues every year. That covers everything from maintenance of the campground, to the clubhouse, to the water bill, to the campground roads, and everything that the manager does to take care of the grounds.
We pay our electric bill and property taxes, but taxes are only $40 dollars a year for our lot. Once you pay for your lot, your only cost is yearly dues and your electric bill. Since we’re gone in the summer, we don’t pay that then.
TCM: You just made a lot of folks very jealous. No yard work? No snow removal? No outside house work? From your perspective as full-time RVers, are there any downsides to living without a house?
George: For me, there are no downsides. There’s no lawn to mow and no shrubs to trim. That’s all taken care of. The only downside is the relatively small living area. If you want a big living area with a big garden or your own trees, you need a house.
As full-time RVers, we have the freedom to come and go when we want. There are no worries about someone stealing something while we’re gone. With our community, everyone watches out for everyone. Plus, our community is a lot of fun. There are card games four times a week, dinners throughout winter, and movies in clubhouse. If someone is sick, there’s always someone to look after them. It’s a great community.
TCM: That almost sounds like a truck camper rally, all winter long, in great weather. Where do you keep your camper while you’re using your fifth wheel, and vice versa?
Sarah: We have a storage area for our truck camper at one end of the park. In that storage area, can store any vehicles we’re not using. Any time we want, we can get our truck camper and go somewhere. We went to north Texas for Christmas to see our kids and grandkids. We’ll go to Corpus Christi. And we’re going to the Texas Truck Camper Rally this weekend.
There are a lot of folks here at our park who have a motorhome and small fifth wheel, and then there are others like us with a truck camper and another RV.
We don’t use our fifth wheel for travel. We use our truck camper. Our truck camper allows us the flexibility to get in and out of parking lots and small camping areas. We also like to dry camp in wilderness areas and stay for several days.
Above: Dry camping on BLM land
TCM: How did you decide on a truck camper?
George: A neighbor at our park had a Ford F450 flatbed and an Arctic Fox 990 camper. He had used it for several years, but had some health issues, so he went to a motorhome. We bought it in the summer of 2013. The rig was set up very well.
I like that I can use the same truck for both the truck camper and the fifth wheel. We had a GMC crew cab dually and sold it when we got the Arctic Fox. Now I only have one truck to keep up.
Above: Towing their Harley Davidson behind their Arctic Fox 990
TCM: That is a huge advantage of owning a truck camper and a fifth wheel; only one truck between the two. Even better, you can take that truck to any Ford dealer across the country. Motorhome owners usually need an RV dealer, or a specialized CAT or Cummins diesel shop. What are you towing in the pictures?
George: We tow a five foot by ten foot trailer with a 2011 Harley Davidson Tri Glide three wheel motorcycle. Once we are set up, we can explore the area on the trike.
Above: George with their 2011 Harley Davidson Tri Glide three wheel motorcycle
Sarah: We drove over 12,000 miles last year. We’ve been to forty-nine of the fifty states, and have ridden our motorcycle in all but one; Alaska. We’ve also ridden the motorcycle in five providences of Canada.
With the truck camper we can tow our motorcycle behind us. When we get somewhere, we stop, get on the motorcycle, and ride to see things. With the motorcycle, we enjoy the environment more and get an overview of the area.
Riding a motorcycle is freeing and open. You have all the senses of traveling. If there are wildflowers blooming, you can smell them, and if there are chickens out, you can smell them too. We’ve ridden in all kinds of weather. We really enjoy it.
TCM: Other readers have told us about the connected feeling riding a motorcycle offers versus riding in a truck. Obviously you spend your winters in Texas, but what’s your schedule like when you’re truck camping in the Summer?
George: Last year we left Texas in April and made our way up to Tennessee to visit family. Then we went to the Corvette museum in Kentucky, and the Escapade in Goshen, Indiana.
Above: Traveling through Lincoln, Illinois
From there we made our way to Big Rock, Illinois and visited friends. Then we went on Route 66 west from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Above: Sarah and George on the Santa Monica Pier, California
When we got to Los Angeles, we found a campground and went to the Santa Monica pier to finish Route 66. With Route 66 done, we went to Hollywood and did lots of touristy things. After Hollywood, we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway, and went into Oregon where we volunteered for two and a half months for Oregon Fish and Wildlife.
From Oregon we worked our way back to Texas via Iowa to visit my brother. We returned back to Texas in the middle of October.
TCM: What is Escapade?
George: Escapade is a week-long annual gathering by the Escapees RV Club. When we retired we joined Escapees and Passport America.
Escapees has a lot of benefits. They have a RV parks all over the United States at a reduced rate. Just like Passport America, Escapees has campground deals for its members. We use Passport America quite a bit when we’re traveling.
Escapees also has a mail forwarding service. We use their mail service out of Livingston, Texas as our home address. Escapees also has a magazine that comes out a few times a year.
Above: Oregon Fish and Wildlife volunteer work
TCM: How did you get hooked up with Oregon Fish and Wildlife?
George: It wasn’t something we planned on doing. Before we left Texas, our friends told us about Oregon Fish and Wildlife. When we got up there and saw the beautiful country side, we decided it would be a good thing for us to do. Plus, we love Oregon.
Above: Sarah and George during a volunteer work camping experience
We work camped last summer for two and a half months. We both worked twenty hours a week mowing and doing repair work. In exchange, we got a free campsite with water, sewer, and electric. It was great.
We worked the whole time we were there, but we had plenty of time to do what we wanted to do. When we were in Oregon, we went whale watching, to the beach, to festivals, and to the Oregon State Fair. We also went to several fisheries, watched them tag salmon, and built a fish ladder. We got to see how things work that we normally wouldn’t get to see.
Above: Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
TCM: Tell us about your rear porch.
George: I added the porch for stability. The Ford F-450 sits high. When we got the rig we needed a tall set of scissor steps to get into the camper. I put a porch and fold up steps on the back. Now we have somewhere to stand as we enter and exit the camper.
Above: Look under the truck to see the four point leveling system
TCM: Your truck features a four point leveling system. How does that work?
George: It works just like a fifth wheel leveling system. I push a button, and the leveling jacks come out from the bottom of the truck, and automatically level our rig. When we go to a campsite our four jacks come down and level everything.
The system was installed on the truck when I bought it. George and Paula, the previous owners, had it installed to make it easier to level. It’s made by Quadra Bigfoot Hydraulic Systems. They had the factory install it in Michigan. Another good thing is if I have a flat tire on the road, I just put one jack down and I can change the tire.
Above: The window coverings keep the rain from coming in during storms
TCM: That is really neat. We have seen our fair share of Class A motorhomes with that feature, but never a truck camper. We use our corner jacks to level, which works well in most situations. What are the plastic window coverings in your photos?
George: They keep the rain from coming in our slider windows. If we’re sitting still and it’s raining, the coverings keep the rain from coming in the side windows. They were on the windows when we bought the camper, and they’re really nice. We just turn on the Fan-Tastic Vent and it pulls a breeze.
Above: Their Ford F450 flatbed and Arctic Fox 990
TCM: Tell us about the storage boxes on your flatbed truck.
George: It really is advantageous to have that extra storage space. I’m a retired mechanic, so I carry tools. We also carry things like our family size griddle and our grill and bottles of propane. We like to cook outside and fix pancakes for breakfast. We have one compartment for dirty laundry and soap, and bird feeders and plants in another.
Above: Sarah making blackberry jam in Oregon
In Oregon last year there were fresh blackberries, apples, and cherries. Sarah made 100 jars of jam. She also canned pickles. We stored the jars and cans in a flatbed storage area for the drive home.
We could have done the canning in the camper, but the shop at Oregon Fish and Wildlife has a big kitchen. Since we gave everyone some, they didn’t mind that we used the kitchen. Sarah made blackberry wine, too.
Above: Sandi Lou loves truck camping
TCM: Sounds delicious. You guys can camp next to us anytime. Tell us about traveling with your dog, Sandi Lou.
George: We had a poodle, but pancreatic cancer took him last summer. Sandi Lou, our Yorkie, loves camping. As long as she’s with Sarah, Sandi Lou is happy. She loves to ride in the truck and travel.
Above: Texas Bluebonnets
TCM: Our cat, Harley, loves riding in the truck as well. He gets upset when we pull off a highway and slow down. He wants to go 62 miles per hour, and nap. Is there anything else you would like to share?
George: Truck camping is so free. We can go anywhere and have our home with us. If we want to stop at a Walmart or pull off on the side of road, we do. Anywhere a pick up truck can go, we go. It’s so easy to get around and about.
We stop along streams and rivers, and watch people fish and boat ride. Even though the size of the camper is small compared to our fifth wheel, we have no problem spending the whole summer in our truck camper. We really enjoy the lifestyle and plan on continuing as long as possible.
Truck: 2003 Ford F450, crew cab, long bed, dual rear wheel, 4×2, diesel
Camper: 2008 Arctic Fox 990
Tie-Downs and Turnbuckles: Torklift
Gear: Porch on back, Four point big foot leveling system, custom aluminum flatbed with aluminum boxes