Off-Road Expeditions

Overland Expo West: A Gathering of the Traveling Tribe

Former New York Times photojournalist and Avion C-10 truck camper restorer, D.Gorton, has photographed Fleetwood Mac, Brad Pitt, and Ronald Reagan.  This past May he captured the 6th annual Overland Expo. ... ... ...

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Ninety nine percent of Americans - and I’m sure this is even a low estimate - don’t know what it's like to wake up in the morning having slept in the basin of a dried mountain lake at 7,100 feet elevation.  Further, I think it is fair to say that they don’t know what it's like to step outside their shelter under a dome of blue sky surrounded by wanderers, explorers, dreamers and travelers who gathered at the 6th annual Overland Expo near Flagstaff, Arizona.

A collection of the 1% of the 1% who travel on Unimogs, Rovers, Pinzgauers, KTMs, BMWs, Suzuki DR650s, Fatbikes, truck campers, GXVs, Earthroamers, Man 8x8s, and Unicats, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, from South Africa to Dakar, from Berlin to Vladivostok were camped in Mormon Lake, Arizona.

Our journey had started a month before at Tall Pines Campground, Virginia, the site of the Mid-Atlantic Truck Camper Rally.  Jane and I had traveled there from our home in Illinois.  We were walking innocently around the camp when we spotted Gordon and Angela White of Truck Camper Magazine.  They were working hard cleaning their truck.

I thought there was a problem so I offered to help: “Gordon is there anything I can do?”

“Yes”, Gordon replied. “Could you go to the Overland Expo and report it for us?  We can’t make it”.

Gordon is nothing if not direct.  And strangely persuasive.

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Above: The south end of Mormon Lake still holds the snow melt waters.  The rest of the lake has become dry over the past several decades.  It is surrounded by the Ponderosa Pines of the Coconino National Forest.

Jane and I arrived in Mormon Lake, Arizona, early on the first day, rumbling our way across the cow pasture that the dried lakebed had become.  We spotted Bryan Appleby’s Lance 1191 pulled up next to a barbed wire fence.  Bryan, an extreme boondocker who has only spent thirty-eight nights in five years in campgrounds, served as the genial Mayor of the truck camper encampment at the Overland Expo.  He directed us to park our 1967 Avion truck camper.  Meanwhile, more truck campers lurched towards us like catboats in rough weather on Nantucket Sound.

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Above: As dusk settles over Mormon Lake, early truck camper arrivals prepare for the evening.

The Overland Expo originated with Jonathan and Roseann Hanson of Tucson, Arizona.  Roseann said that the idea behind the Expo “was to create a community of like-minded people who share a passion for exploring.  People who love to discover new places 100 miles from home or a 1,000 miles away”.  She pointed out that the event had a professional-level trade show with the finest overland equipment and accessories in the world.  And there was an emphasis on education with over 300 session hours devoted to expert information on “adventure overlanding”.  Even movies were being shown.

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Above: Jonathan and Roseann Hanson, creators of the Overland Expo.

As Roseann explained, “What our tribe of people didn’t have before was a gathering”.

Indeed, almost 7,000 people and their machines were expected, by far the largest group of its kind.

Everywhere we looked on the dusty lakebed, there were expedition vehicles with knots of people gathered about.  We wanted to understand who these people were and what they had in common with truck campers.  What we would find out over the next few days would both surprise us as well as confirm some long held views about truck campers.

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Above Left: A German traveler brought his Unimog loaded with every device possible. To the right of it are relatively unexotic Toyotas and Fords.  Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Above Middle: Two Unimogs belonging to the Wildlife Trust are examined by (L to R) Lynn Blackburn of Phoenix and Chris Hanrahan.

Above Right: Barry McRary of the Phoenix, Arizona Adventure Riders inspects his F800 G5 BMW Expedition rider.  He traveled with members of his club to the Overland Expo.
 
Our truck camper rally site was at the very edge of the encampment.  We secured our camper, said hello to the incoming truck campers and immediately went to explore.

We caught up with Tom Hanagan, President of Four Wheel Campers in Woodland, California. Tom was slated to speak along with Roseann Hanson on “Preparing your truck to carry a truck camper”.  Tom and Overland Expo founder Roseann have had a long professional relationship so I was interested in finding out their ideas.

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Above: Holding aloft a model of the frame of a Four Wheel Camper are (L to R) Stan Kennedy, Denny Saunders, Jason Kroman, Michael Olds, Terry Budd, and Tom Hanagan

Tom’s background, like many of the people I met, had been quite varied.  A Vietnam Vet, he had moved from food manufacturing, to high-end carpet care, to creating a highly specialized truck camper.

“We’re in a niche of a niche”, Tom explained.  “We build smaller, compact, highly durable truck campers that are meant for off-road use.  Our objective is to build a machine to go anywhere you want to go with respect for the environment and other people”.

Four Wheel Campers had a production of 500 units in 2013 and is on track to build 650 units in 2014.  “The concept of overland travel is not for everyone - but our buyers like the product because they enjoy the freedom of the truck camper”.

As Jane and I walked about the various parts of the Expo, from the vendors’ area, to the big machine displays, to the ten acre skills driving track created by Land Rover, we marveled at the depth and extent of the gathering.  It became increasingly clear that something approaching a tribal gathering was underway.  Over there were the Unimogs, over there were the expedition bikers, and over there were the Land Rovers.  Unaffiliated campers arrayed themselves along the impromptu alleyways that made up the camp - a jumble of truck campers, vans, large and small vehicles sporting sometimes rambling tent-tops, and conventional tents.  We were the truck campers.

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Above: A totally tricked out Land Rover Defender 90 circa 1994-1997, fitted with snorkel, winches, Hi-Lift jacks, roof rack and lights is the center of discussion at one of the classes on overland travel.

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Above: (L to R) A vintage Unimog outfitted with a truck camper shell, a tent top, sand ladders and a portable solar collector, sits with two Jeeps.

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Above: The Land Rover Defender on the left is fitted with snorkel and other expedition gear along with a tent top.  There is an Outback Porta-Privy shower/toilet tent.  The Land Rover on the right has “sand ladders” fitted to the sides as both a convenient placement as well as anti-burglary device.

I was gratefully sitting in a tent with Roseann Hanson and Andy Woodward of the Overland Expo.  The sharp actinic rays of the sun beating down, along with the altitude had left me longing for shade and in need of water.  

I dated myself, describing the vast assemblage at Expo as resembling Woodstock of 45 years ago.

“Nope”, Andy said. “Its an imaginative event… an experience similar to Burning Man.  Here, fine old world handcraft is okay.  Bleeding edge technology is okay.  It all works together”.

I thought of Hunter S. Thompson, the Gonzo journalist whom I knew many years ago.  I was sure he would feel at home in this gathering… actually fit in, and feel inspired.  Hunter shared the itchiness to travel the road like this rough rambling community.
    
As we spoke, we could see what Land Rover called the most extensive driver’s skills course ever constructed.  It was teeming with overland vehicles, especially Land Rovers, that were free to any member of the public to drive the course.  Jane said, “I want to do that in our Ford F350 and Avion camper”.  Long wheelbase trucks like our were slated for Saturday afternoon.

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Above: Scott Zeitler of Durango, Colorado, takes on the Skills Course with his 2013 Dodge Power Wagon and new Hallmark Camper.

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Above: On the left is a vintage Defender 110 Rover fitted with an Airtop tent. This rig was in an expedition from Cornwall, England to South Africa.  In the foreground is a 2000 Land Rover Discovery Series ll, with a tent top.

Bob Rogers, Director of Marketing for Lance Campers, was looking tan and chipper as he greeted potential customers.  It was the first year for Lance to be at the event.  He was showing the 1052 Lance with a brand new floor plan, 10’ 11” long, two slides, and a dry bath.

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Above: Bob Rogers, Director Of Marketing for Lance Campers, inside a 2015 Lance 1052.  The 1052 is 10’11” long with two slides and a dry bath.

“We’re here for brand awareness, which is what moves people to our dealerships.  And we’re seeking out customers among the anti-RV park crowd, people who want to get away from urban areas and be self contained”.

“Our Lance owners are a lot like the Harley crowd.  It doesn’t matter what you do Monday through Friday.  Let’s enjoy our time away from our jobs”, Bob said.

Next door to the Lance exhibit were Brian Towell and his wife, LaDawn, who have a 2006 Lance 1191.  “It's time to get out there and explore the world” said Brian, who plans to live full-time in his Lance Camper, with his wife, in July.  Brian’s work in geological services takes him to out of the way places.  LaDawn added, “I need to know as much as Brian about this rig.  I’m here to cross-train on all systems”.

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Above: LaDawn and Brian Towell gave their endorsement to Lance Campers while greeting visitors to OX5.  Brian is a geologist who frequently travels to out of the way places for his work.  LaDawn and Brian have decided to live full-time in their truck camper.  The previous owner of the Lance drove to Argentina.

We walked past the “featured display” of Unimogs, Freightliner conversions, GXV, Land Rovers and other overland machines.  GXV (Global Expedition Vehicles) is located in the unlikely town of Nixa, Missouri.  They built the orange Pangea lifting roof vehicle.  It’s literally two stories inside with access to the roof.  Someone joked that they are missing their rooftop helicopter.  That may not be a joke for long.

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Above: A line up of “feature vehicles” at the Overland Expo.  Right to Left - A new white GXV, A 2003 Defender 110 Land Rover with tent top.  The Defender was driven to Central America by Clarence Harrison and Isabel Salinas of Boulder, Colorado.  It features a stainless steel washer on the roof and carries a kayak.  A canary yellow 1999 Freighliner conversion owned by Bevin and Clare Walsh.  A bright orange Unimog with a hard-sided pop-top that opens into a two story interior called “Perky Mog”.  And a yellow Unimog from Perkins, Oklahoma, owned by Sana and Brad.

I learned that many of the custom built machines are used for purposes other than adventure travel, such as mobile medical units, geologic research vehicles, command centers, and search and rescue.

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Above: The class for truck campers was called, "Preparing Your Truck to Carry a Truck Camper" was widely attended.

But what about overland exploration with these vehicles?  We visited the presentation led by Roseann Hanson and Tom Hanagan on “preparing your truck camper”.

The Hanson’s truck is a Toyota Tacoma, V6, four-wheel drive, with a locking differential.  There are no lifts.  A toolkit and shelves are in the back seat of the cabin.  The camper is a special-built Four Wheel Camper.  The suspension is not heavily modified, but does have custom springs and airbags.

The Tacoma bumper is boxed aluminum with a newly designed winch recovery system.  On the roof of the camper is a flexible mount solar panel with 200W of power.  The cost to ship the rig on a container ship to Africa is $3,000.

“In Africa, I leave one seat for riders” Roaseann said.  “Vehicles are very rare and rides are deeply appreciated.  I remember at one time we had eighteen Masai tribesmen clinging to our camper.  It’s really rude not to give people rides”.

Roseann pointedly remarked that it is best not to attract attention in the regions where they travel.  One wonders what the Unimog tribe would say?

They are shipping their rig to South Africa this fall.  It was ironic to be in the midst of the trekking community with all their expedition vehicles and learn that the truck camper is the best vehicle of all.  Surprising, really.

We met Mike Hoskins of Aluminess who builds a complete line of lightweight aluminum accessories including bumpers and roof racks for expedition vehicles.  Mike held a demonstration bumper aloft to give sense of the light weight of their product.

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Above: Mike Hoskins of Aluminess in San Diego holds an aluminum bumper model aloft in a demonstration of its lightness.  The company makes a full range of tire racks, roof racks, and other off road accessories.

Back at the truck camper rally we visited with folks that we have known through RV.net truck campers forum.  There was Dave Rogers, the “Great Whazoo” and his wife Lynn, Eric “Seldomseen” Smith, Doug “Sheepcamp” Ramsey, Brian “BK” Appleby, Rex “Rexsname” Thompson, and Dave and Kim Siebert - “69avion”.

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Above: A gathering in the truck camper encampment.  Left to Right - Brian Appleby, full-time truck camper, Dave Rogers, Phoenix, Steve Sanderfer, Bay Area, Lynn Rogers, Phoenix, Eric Smith, Flagstaff

Truck camper Henrik “Machoff” Hofvander is the President and CEO of UFYT Systems that designed and manufactured a line of modular storage systems.  Henrik showed us how his storage boxes are bolted to the rear wall of the extended or crew cab.  As he explained it, he had traveled through Latin America and had designed it for fellow truck campers.

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Above: Henrik manufactures a line of modular storage systems that are fitted onto the rear wall of an extended or crew cab pick-up.  The modules are designed for safe, secure, and organized storage.

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Above: Eric Smith (aka Seldomseen Smith) visits the truck camper encampment at dusk.  In the background are the rest of the truck camper tribe.

A fiery sunset faded and a skein of stars shone above this community of dreamers and achievers.  One could hear the quiet voices and scattered laughter spread across the pasture.  Among the tents and campers are people who crave intensity and long for solitude; who met one another just hours before and are now old friends and comrades.  They tell the stories of the open road, the windows of the vehicles lit by the mellow glow of internal lights.

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Above: Dawn Roberts of Prescott, Arizona, Martin Siebell of Nicosia, Cyrprus, Vic Valenti of Prescott, Arizona, and Jane Adams

In the morning, the glazing dawn lit the spiked tents, flying flags, and banners of the encampment.  Geese flew low overhead.  We had coffee and looked for showers and bathrooms.  Turns out the toilet facilities are a bit of a challenge for the Expo.  Too many people and the system was almost breaking.  I had the opportunity to try out a small field tent with a tankless hot water system powered by a genset.

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Above: A vintage Land Rover, circa 1948-1954, “four-wheel drive station wagon” is parked at the OX5.  Jerry cans of gasoline are attached to the front fenders and a portable open top shower/latrine is on the side. Sitting on the ground is a top of the line Engel freezer.  Inexplicably, this Rover was sited in the full hook-up area of the campground.

“What luck”, I said. “There are no lines”.

There was a very nervous guy in charge of the place.  I went inside the tent and began dancing around on one foot trying to remove my trousers.  The tent doesn’t have any handholds.  In fact it’s put together with the equivalent of fishing poles.  My hand flew out to steady myself, the tent started coming down, the nervous man started yelling.  I started yelling.  A crowd gathered to watch the wildly pulsating blue tent.  The water was spewing.  The genset was roaring.

When I finally got back to our camper Jane asked how my shower had been. “Well”, I said, “it was one to remember”.

We trekked back into the action of the Expo past the humming encampment that was now filled with affinity groups of bikers, campers and expedition vehicles.

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Above: A Unimog Expedition Vehicle (left) communes quietly with a Pinzgauer High-Mobility All-Terrain Vehicle. The Pinzgauer was originally produced in Austria as a military troop carrier.

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Above: A Mini Cooper fitted with a Tepui Roof Top Tent. Photo by Doug Ramsey

I met Bill Ward and his sons Andy and Matt at the Hallmark RV site.  They are from Fort Lupton, Colorado, where the family business of truck campers goes back almost sixty years.

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Above: Andy, Bill, and Matt Ward from Hallmark RV in Fort Lupton, Colorado stand in the midst of their display of high end, custom built, pop-up truck campers.

Surrounding the Wards were Hallmark owners like Kevin Holt, “Kowboy”, who uses his camper while working as a dredge operator on ship channels.  Paula Vlaming and John Denning of San Francisco were soon to embark on a trip to Tierra del Fuego in a 2014 Toyota Tundra.  They had their Hallmark especially designed to include sand ladders affixed to their windows to prevent damage or theft.  All of the owners – Kowboy, Paula and John – had done extensive research before putting together their truck camper combination.

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Above: Kevin Holt lives full-time in a built to order Hallmark Camper

Not far away was a shiny XP Camper V2 fitted onto a Toyota Tacoma.  At 900 pounds in weight the camper is constructed using advanced technologies found in marine products.  Marc Wassman, the colorful founder of the company, said the camper features all diesel appliances, no propane, AGM batteries, and dual-pane windows.
 
Jane and I took in a few of the 300 plus classes that were going on at Expo, including a class on social media and how to access the web while overlanding.  Little did I dream that global trekkers have had some serious issues with their reports from the road.  But they had stories of blogs that demanded too much time and Facebook pages were invaded by people who objected to their travels or descriptions.  Most of the people at the seminar said they had quit posting anything other than photos on Twitter.  Jessica Mans of Life Remotely had many hints and techniques for accessing WIFI in South America developed during a trip from Seattle to Tierra del Fuego.

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Above Left: Christian Pelletier of the Overland Training Team, secrets of connecting with other travelers and local communities.  Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Above Middle: Expert Panel, regional travel in Mexico and Central America, share a laugh

Above Right: Dave Rees (right) of the Overland Training Team watches through a smoked glass as a participant in Overland Expo develops welding skills for the bush.

The Overland Training Team set up next to the Land Rover Driving Skills course.  David Reese of Land Rover conducted hands-on classes in boondock welding and Andy Dacey taught rope splicing and knots.  The rope skills class was a particular hit with children.

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Above: Rope splicing instructor Andy Dacey (center with hat) of the Overland Training Team

On the way back from the skills area we finally spotted Cari and Robby Rowe of Phoenix Campers.  We learned that while Cari and Robby were traveling to the Expo, just outside Albuquerque, their exhibition vehicle’s engine failed.  They quickly scrambled to gather up a Rubicon Jeep fitted with a Phoenix pop-up in order to exhibit.

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Above: Cari Rowe and her husband Robby steady themselves after a tough trip to OX5. Their truck failed them on the road. Undaunted, they made it to Mormon Lake with a customer’s Phoenix Camper.

Phoenix Campers of Denver, Colorado, builds light-weight customized off-road campers.  They range from fitting a Jeep to fitting a Unimog.  In fact, they’re currently working on a chassis mount camper bolted to a Freightliner… with double slide outs, a 42” HDTV, and a roof patio.

Nearby, Ashley Grimes of Springville, Utah, was showing his Moby 1 Expedition Trailer.  It’s a teardrop on steroids.  It’s up to 60” wide x 108” long with a Queen size bed.  It has over 5” suspension travel with 17” wheels.  The model I saw, the XTR, was fitted with a tent top, awnings, kitchen, and many other creature comforts.  I fantasized about pulling the XTR behind my truck camper as an extra bedroom for friends or family.

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Above Left: Ashley Grimes (center with tan clothing) demonstrates the Moby1 XTR Expedition trailer at OX5. “The XTR was built with the ability to travel the globe, spend days even weeks unplugged from expectations and chaos of every day life”.

Above Middle: Melanie Gibson demonstrates the Truma Level Check. The handheld device uses ultrasound technology to determine the level of LP gas in the measured area.

Above Right: Mike Dixon of Engel AC/DC Fridge/Freezers USA, demonstrates the capacity of the 14 quart freezer known as the MD14.

We got waylaid in the middle of the vendor area by Melanie Gibson with Truma Corporation.  Truma is Europe’s leading supplier for the RV industry and had recently entered the US market, locating in Elkhart, Indiana.  Melanie demonstrated a product that sensed the amount of propane left in a tank.  I thought I had solved the problem by buying a propane tank where you can actually see the levels.  Unfortunately you can’t just turn that in to the convenient propane cabinets outside of grocery stores.  With their Levelcheck, an untrasound technology, you can determine exactly the amount of propane remaining.  The device signals through an LED light and an audible signal.

Engel refrigeration was demonstrating their compressor freezers/fridges. Mike Dixon was kind enough to explain the advantages of their product. We also learned that Engel sells all their demos at a deep discount after the Expo. You have to sign up – first come first served.

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Above: The tribe at OX5 - click thumbnails to enlarge

The Expo campgrounds at times resembled a scene from the 1980s post apocalyptic film, the Road Warrior.  One looked about for “Mad” Max Rockatansky and his rival, Humungus.  Truth be told, some of the people did resemble Mad Max, though Humungus was nowhere to be seen.  Elaborate hats, scarfs, leathers and shades were in abundance.

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Above: Saturday afternoon Jane checked into the driving skills area and parked until the long wheelbase vehicles were called.  She was joined by a E350 converted four-wheel drive ambulance driven by Tony Krauss of Phoenix; a 2008 Earthroamer XVLT driven by Alan Pitcairn of San Diego; and a 2013 Dodge Power Wagon fitted with a new Hallmark pop-up camper.

Jane’s instructor delivered some sobering news: our old school belly bar that anchored our tie downs would not clear many of the obstacles on the course.  He would guide her around the course in appropriate areas.  “Remember”, he said to Jane, “I’m driving the car… you’re turning the wheel”.  Meanwhile, the other vehicles started onto the course.  The Dodge/Hallmark scampered around like a mountain goat.  The E450 sort of lumbered, but the Earthroamer seemed like a fish out of water.  It lumbered and heaved.  Of course, our F350 didn’t even accomplish that.

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Above: Our Ford F350 and restored 1967 Avion camper, driven by Jane, goes through the off road course at OX5.  In the distance is an Earthroamer passing over a high obstacle.

“But”, Jane remarked, “I learned how to understand hand signals in a way I had never done before.  The instructor did interesting things, like standing as though he were a tree in a tight space, while I turned as close as possible around him.  Overall it was an important driving lesson that I have put into practice.”

We returned to the truck camper rally area.  Earlier we had managed to extricate ourselves after being blocked in by a couple of fellows in truck campers pulling toy haulers.  They had arrived at an off time when no one was around and had parked tail to nose, cutting off 2/3 of the rally area. No one knew them and they were hard to find.  Finally I got one to back up four feet and pulled the Avion out.

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Above: Mystery truck campers who arrived unannounced and divided our encampment pinning my rig against a fence.

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Above: Gathering of the truck campers with a red arrow indicating where our 1967 Avion was blocked in against the fence.  Photo by Doug Ramsey.

We said good-bye to our fellow truck campers.  I joked to Whazoo that we were going to the rich people’s area with the full hook-ups.  Sure enough, we got between a monster Class A and an Airstream Mercedes.  Nice people as it turned out.

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Above: My 1967 Avion is sandwiched between a Class A Country Coach with multiple slides and an Airstream Interstate EXT built on a Mercedes Benz chassis and engine.

I had learned, in a surprise, that the truck camper is a premiere vehicle for overland travel.  It’s agile, easy to repair, does not cause unwanted attention, and is amazingly tough.

I had expected to run across preppers and end-of-worlders.  Instead I found a genial assemblage of Roseann Hanson’s “like minded people” who were fascinated by discovery.  People who were inclusive in terms of age and class - octagenarians rubbing elbows with tattooed twenty-somethings, million dollar rigs next to tent top Mini’s.  Down to Earth travelers who were intent on preparing themselves for anything they might encounter.

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Above Left: The nightly happy hour and socializing at the Mormon Lake Lodge.

Above Middle: L to R Chevelle 6, Caitlynn 8, Jennifer 36, Shane 6, and Reese 6.

Above Right: Future Campers of America tour the pop up campers at Four Wheel Campers during OX5

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Above Left to Right: Scott Morgan and Terri with their dog, Pogo sitting on Scott’s lap.  The Morgans are from Tuscon.  Tripp Hammond from Boulder warms his foot around the Four Wheel Camper campfire.

The last night there were gatherings all over the Expo with loud music and many drinks.  Then the next morning dawned cool and quiet.  The traveling tribe was packing up.

Terry Budd of Four Wheel Campers had observed that “these campers only go to places where the general public does not go.  They don’t want hook-ups.  They don’t want supervision.  They’ll socialize for three days… and then they’re gone”.

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Above: A man sits atop a Pinzgauer troop carrier with his coffee as a neighbor stops by to talk. A vintage Honda CT90, painted in military drab, sits nearby.

And sure enough, by 7:00AM half the grounds were emptying.  We were on the road again.

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Above: Jane Adams sits atop Muley Point, Utah, looking out towards a storm in Monument Valley after the Overland Expo

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Above: D. Gorton in the mountains of Colorado

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Above: Jane Adams near Mexican Hat, Utah, after visiting a friend whose land was filled with flowers after the desert rains.

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Above: D. Gorton in his Ford F350 and restored 1967 Avion camper

© D. Gorton, June 2014, Carbondale, Illinois

D. Gorton is a photojournalist who was the White House photographer for the New York Times during the Carter and Reagan administrations.  D went on to a freelance career shooting for magazines, corporations, musicians, and movies including National Geographic, Proctor and Gamble, Fleetwood Mac, and A River Runs Through It.  He resides in Carbondale, Illinois with anthropologist and SIU Professor Emeritus, Jane Adams, who is a member of the City Council, Mayer Pro Tem of the City, and the author of five books.  Jane and D are currently writing and photographing a history of Downstate Illinois and enjoy traveling in a 1967 Avion C-10 truck camper.  D writes under the handle "67avion" on the RV.Net truck camper forum.


The Overland Fuso Truck Camper

What happens when you put together a 2005 Mitsubishi Fuso FG140 four-wheel drive, four-cylinder diesel and a loaded 2007 Hallmark Ute XS?  Pure off-road madness and expedition beauty. ... ... ...

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“Why not?” can be a dangerous and thrilling question.

“Why not?” can lead to exciting new breakthroughs, and spectacular failures.

“Why not?” can take us where we’ve never been before, and maybe should have never gone in the first place.

We’re talking about risk here folks.  The stuff that makes big things happen for a daring few, and often leaves the rest of humanity on the sidelines scratching their heads in wonder.  

Dick Burnham saw a Mitsubishi Fuso and thought, “Why not put that together with a truck camper?”  The “not” part of that question is easy.  They were not designed for each other.  The Fuso’s cab is too high.  The Fuso’s bed is not a standard pickup length or width.  In many ways, putting a Fuso and a truck camper together is like taking an apple and an orange and trying to make a banana.

None of that deterred Dick.  He had a vision to take the extraordinary off-road capabilities of a Mitsubishi Fuso and marry it to a Hallmark pop-up.  He also had the determination, resources, and technical abilities to master the details, take the measurements, and make it happen.  

Call it guts, call it audacity, call it insanity or brilliance.  Call it whatever you want, this is how new and exciting truck and camper combinations are developed.  You won’t find this rig in our Newbie Corner.  Pick up your notebook and number two pencil.  This is Truck and Camper Combinations 401.  Class is in session.

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Above: Dick Burnham's 2005 Mitsubishi Fuso FG140 and 2007 Hallmark Ute XS

TCM:
How did you decide to build a Mitsubishi Fuso truck camper?

Dick: Before putting this rig together, I had a 2001 Ford F350 short bed with a 7.3 liter diesel engine.  I loved that truck.  We had a Fleetwood Elkhorn truck camper on it that was built for a short bed.  

The size of the Ford was a challenge for us because it was crew cab.  It was just too long for us.  When we go camping, we’ll stop at wineries, get out, and explore.  I wanted to be able to carry bikes, and I wanted to be able to park it in a normal spot.  For what we like to do, that truck and camper rig was too wide and too long.

I wanted a shorter, narrower truck to replace my Ford.  I stumbled onto Expedition Portal and saw what some guys in Australia were doing and had a eureka moment.

Why couldn’t I put a truck camper on a Mitsubishi Fuso?  And why isn’t anybody else doing it?  The answer is most truck campers built in the United States are too long and too wide.  I came across a couple of builds where they extended the frame of the truck.  I’ve got an engineering background, and didn’t want to mess with what Mitsubishi’s engineers have done.  I wanted to keep the truck as stock as possible.

In late 2009, when the economy was in the tank, I started looking for a truck.  I didn’t want to buy an RV.  I wanted something I could stick with if the economy completely tanked.  I always thought there was a market for a used commercial truck and a truck camper.

I started checking nationally on Craigslist.org and trucktrader.com.  After some searching, I found a Fuso in Montana that had been used as an oiler truck for an excavator company.  It was used hard, but had been taken good care of from a maintenance point of view.  In the bed it had a 110 gallon tank, toolboxes, and lots of stuff bolted on it.  The existing bed was a mess.

I called around and found a good mechanic in Montana to look at the Fuso.  When I called him he said, “Is that truck red?  If it is, that’s so-and-so’s truck.  That’s a good truck.”  He gave it a clean bill of health.

Fuso-beginning

Above: The Mitsubishi Fuso with the old steel flatbed and tool boxes

I bought the truck and drove it back to Oregon.  Let me tell you that an empty Fuso is not fun to drive.  It’s built for 14,000 pounds (GVWR), so it really lets you know if it doesn’t have any weight on it.

Once I got home, I stripped the Fuso down to the frame.  I cleaned buckets of rocks, dirt, and grime out of it but no rust.  Then, I started looking for new bed for it.  

TCM: Last year you told us you had spent more time building the truck than you had camped in it.  Tell us how the build up went from that point.

Dick: My wife, Robin, said that the project really began when I finished building my shop and it continues to be an endless project.  I now have a separate building I can work in.  My dad was a shop teacher, so I’ve been around construction and building things my whole life.  I have a degree in Construction Engineering Management from Oregon State.  I have also worked for thirty years in commercial construction working on schools, libraries, hotels, and high rises.  I can weld, do metal work, carpentry, and whatever.  That’s the good news.  I’ve got the tools, equipment, and background to do it so I have been able to do most of it myself – it just takes awhile.

fuso-truck-no-camper

Above: The aluminum bed and storage boxes installed.  The camper still comes off and Dick still uses the truck as a flatbed.  He moved his daughter back from school in the pouring rain and hoped that this chair would fall off the truck.  It didn’t.  He was towing a U-Haul trailer as well.

I found an aluminum bed on sale at a local trailer sales company.  It was sitting on the corner of their lot.  Actually, that’s a funny story.  

I talked to the sales guy about buying the aluminum bed.  It was the end of the month and he wanted to sell it.  I told him that if he could help me take off the steel bed, then I’d buy the aluminum bed.  He said to wait a minute.  Then his boss left and he said, “Yeah, we’ll help you take it off.”  

As soon as the boss left, he took the forklift and took the steel flatbed off.  I kept some of the subframe because it was hard bolted on to the chassis.

It took four to five hours to get the steel bed off and the aluminum bed on.  I got home and took it off again and took it apart.  Then I started building the subframe from there.

Fuso-subframe-construction

Above: Dick built a subframe that is isolated from the chassis by six springs.  It is fixed at the rear of the chassis using the old bumper assembly from the old steel bed.  Note the oak cushion between the chassis and subframe. The load is evenly distributed to full length of the lower portion of the truck frame.

The subframe is the secret sauce.  I have read everything I could find on chassis mounting and frames.  I ended up with a spring mount.  The design is out of Australia.  The spring mount system was developed for Australian tanker trucks.  Just like we don’t want to twist a camper, they don’t want to twist a tank, so they spring isolate them.  The concept is right out of the regulation book from Australia.

fuso-spring

Above: Springs installed and partially flexed.  Load is resting full length on the other side of the frame.  The frame rail on the high side drops out from under the subframe.  Bolts and springs as well as the rear attachment keep it all lined up.

The subframe is isolated from the chassis by six springs and fixed at the rear of the chassis using the old bumper assembly from the old steel bed.  In the photographs, note the oak cushion between the chassis and subframe.  This provides a cushion between the subframe and the chassis.

I installed the sub-frame and bolted on the flatbed then mounted the camper.  Then I jacked the truck at opposite corners to fully flex the chassis and measured the deflection at the spring locations so I could size the springs.  I also measured the height under the overhang of the camper so I could size the cross bed aluminum box.  When the truck was going through the mogul field at the Overland Expo the overhang looked like it was hitting but it never did.

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Above: Measuring spring length

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Above: Measuring frame clearences

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Above: Measuring box height

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Above: Full flex on the rear axle

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Above: Opposite corner stuffed to the bump stop.  The end result is that it works.

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Above: The Fuso and Hallmark on the Overland Expo course in 2014.  Click to enlarge.

TCM: How did your spring mount design perform on the Land Rover course at the Overland Expo?

Dick: It performed very well.  At the Overland Expo you can see how vehicles allow for flex.  That only happens at places like the Overland Expo where they have built these extreme off-road courses.  Even on extreme courses, the spring mount system allows the chassis to flex without bending the subframe so the camper isn’t twisted.  The chassis is under the bed. 

Fuso-articulation

Above: Note the camper overhang versus cross box.  They didn’t touch.  The aluminum cross box is spring isolated from the frame just like the flatbed. 

As the bed stays relatively constant and level, the truck rotates underneath it.  One side of the subframe is in full contact with the frame rail below it and the other side drops away.   On the highway, the weight is evenly distributed across the full length and both sides of truck frame.

The Jeeps and Land Rovers have relatively stiff frames and bodies, but very flexible suspensions.  Their springs are taking the flex, which is why you’ll see the wheel stuffed way up in the wheel well as they tackle the course.

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Above: Dick on the off-road course at the Overland Expo

The difference between their set-up and the Fuso is that there is only a couple inches of travel in the Fuso springs.  You can’t have big payload capacities and flexible suspension, so the Fuso makes up for that with the flexible chassis.

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Above: Dick's Mitshubishi Fuso has a 112.6” wheel base

TCM: Was your Mitsubishi Fuso originally a standard build?

Dick: It’s stock but it’s actually quite rare in the United States because it’s a short wheel base model.  Almost all of the Fusos sold here have the longer wheel base, which is two feet longer.  My truck has a 112.6” wheel base, which is a little over nine feet.  A Jeep Wrangler Unlimited four door has a 116” wheel base.  In other words, the Fuso is a truck with 14,000 pound GVWR and a similar turning radius than the larger Jeeps.  It’s very maneuverable.

I can actually do a U-turn in my driveway. I have surprised a few people when they see how maneuverable it is.

Unfortunately, I have never seen another short wheel base Fuso.  I’ve seen quite a few of the longer ones.  Having it be a short wheel base is pretty rare.  There are also only a handful of the four-wheel drive Fusos on the West Coast.  On the East Coast sometimes folks use them for landscape and plows, and the salt used on the snowy roads is hard on the truck frames.

The engine and drive train are stock.

Fuso-camping

Above: The Fuso and Hallmark together weigh 11,140 pounds

TCM: Have you weighed the rig when fully loaded?

Dick: Yes, I have.  With the tanks fully loaded, it’s 11,140 pounds, ready to camp.  When I weighed it, the front axle was 4,580 pounds, and the rear was 6,440 pounds.  

TCM: Do you need a commercial drivers license to drive a Fuso?

Dick: Even though it’s a commercial truck, in Oregon you don’t need a CDL drivers license until you’re at 26,000 pounds GVWR.  I believe that is true across the country.  Because the camper is bolted down and permanently attached, the rig could also be classified as an RV.

Fuso-side

Above: With the Fuso, there is a tremendous amount of weight low and in the front

TCM: What about the center of gravity?  The camper appears to sit very far back in the pictures.

Dick: That’s a good question.  The center of gravity with the cabover and configuration of the big diesel block, which weighs about a ton with the transmission, pushes the center of gravity forward.  That engine is right over the front axle and low.  When I’m in the truck, I’m literally sitting on top of it so the full weight of the cab is over the front axle as well.

In the Fuso design, there is a tremendous amount of weight low and in the front.  With a standard truck and camper, with a lighter engine, you want the center of gravity forward to put weight on front axle.  In my Fuso rig, there’s already a lot of weight on front axle.  The guys in Australia actually put more weight in back because there is so much weight on the front.

fuso-new-old-tires

Above: The Toyo 285/70R 19.5, a commercial traction tread sixteen-ply tire on the left and the duallies that were about to be replaced on the right

TCM: That’s amazing.  Have you made any suspension modifications?

Dick: Right now, the suspension is completely stock.  I do have the super single wheel conversion.  I bought those from All Terrain Warriors USA.  ATW USA is starting to import the Alpha Camper from ATW Australia, putting them on long bed Fusos in California.

For tires, I chose Toyo 285/70R 19.5.  That’s a commercial traction tread sixteen-ply tire.  The wheels are also DOT certified for 13,227 pounds and with each tire rated at 6,400 pounds apiece.  In terms of capacity, that’s way over what I need.

What the super single conversion got me was height.  The stock tires were 31.5” tall.  The new wheels and tire are 35.5” tall.  Now I have about ten-inches of clearance under my differential.  It also improved the offset between my front and rear tires.  When you have dual rear wheels, your rear wheels are twice as wide.  With the super singles, they line up, improving off-road performance and giving the truck a better ride.  Now it rolls over bumps instead of going through the bumps.

The super singles also improved my fuel mileage by raising my gear ratio.  If I’m going down the highway at 60 miles per hour, I’m hitting 2,200 RPMs.  Before I was hitting 2,600 RPMs.  With the engine turning at lower RPMs, the engine is able to better utilize its diesel torque, and it’s quieter and not working as hard.

Right now I’m working with All Terrain Warriors, USA to get a new suspension shipped from Australia.  This will give it a slight lift and allow the suspension to flex more than stock.  This should further improve the ride.

TCM: What kind of fuel economy do you get with the Fuso?

Dick: I was getting between 12 and 15 miles per gallon with the duallies.  Now I’m getting closer to 15 miles per gallon.  Overall, I think I’m getting two to three miles per gallon better, but I haven’t been through enough tanks of fuel to say for sure.  In comparison I was getting eight to ten miles per gallon with the F350 hauling my old hard side camper.

Fuso-popped-up

Above: Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington

TCM: You commented earlier that maintenance is not a big deal on the Fuso.  Can you explain?

Dick: The required maintenance is almost exactly the same as it was on my Ford diesel.  Diesels use more oil.  I use three gallons of oil versus five to seven quarts on a gas engine, but I change oil and filters every 5,000 miles.  It’s all the same stuff as regular diesel engines.  

The Fuso is built for commercial use, so it’s heavy duty.  Any truck stop will have a diesel mechanic who can work on it.  There is a Fuso dealer in Portland who is good.

fuso-cab-camper

Above: The Fuso cab is nearly five feet tall

TCM: Was it a challenge getting the Hallmark to work with the Fuso?

Dick: The real mystery was how to put the camper on it.

A conventional truck camper is designed for a truck with a cab between 42” and 46” high.  The Fuso cab is nearly five feet tall, so you’d have to raise the camper high in the air to put it over the top of the cab and you need to tip the cab to get to the engine.  My wife and I didn’t want a ladder to get in the camper.  That’s how I knew I couldn’t put the camper over the cab.

That’s when I started looking for a camper that had an east-west bed to make it shorter in length.  We wanted a queen size bed, full bathroom with a toilet and shower, and a kitchen with a refrigerator.  We are getting to the point where we like comfort and I wanted a fully self-contained camper.

In my research, I narrowed our choices down to a couple of campers, specifically Hallmark.  I needed their Ute floor plan for a short bed pick up.  The overall dimensions of that camper worked well for the Fuso.

Fuso-camper-at-Hallmark

Above: The rig coming together at Hallmark RV in Fort Lupton, Colorado

I found a few older campers, and then finally found the Ute I have now on Craigslist.  The owner was a pilot for Southwest based in Denver.  I asked him if he could drop it off at Hallmark, and he did.  I called Matt Ward of Hallmark and asked him if he could take a thorough look over the camper.  I bought the Ute sight unseen based on Matt’s opinion.  

Then I drove the Fuso to Denver to pick it up.  I really didn’t know if it would fit.  I was trusting my measurements, and hoped it would work.  I took my tools just in case.  Luckily, it worked.  I strapped it down on the bed, and drove it back to Oregon.  It was definitely a Beverly Hillbilly look driving home.

TCM: Why did you choose a pop-up truck camper?

Dick: I like the idea of a pop-up because it keeps the height of the entire rig to the height of the truck.  Hallmark campers are narrower than the hard sides.  The Fuso / Hallmark rig is seven feet wide.

One exceptionally good thing about the overall dimensions of my rig is that it will fit into a shipping container to be shipped anywhere in the world.  It’s twenty-two feet long, seven feet wide, and 8’8” tall to the roof rack.  I can get down to 8’4” by removing the racks.  A high cube shipping container door opening is 8’5” tall.  

TCM: What’s it like to drive a Fuso?

Dick: The view is different.  I can see over the top of traffic.  I like driving it.  You are sitting above the crowd, riding high with the big trucks.

The landscape view from that perspective is also different.  I’ve been driving some roads my whole life and this is a while new view.  You can see over hedges and fences to see farmland and tulips in a valley.  It’s really cool.  It’s also exciting to go down a mountain road with a deep drop off or bridge.  You can see right over guardrails or the edge of the Columbia River Gorge.  It doesn’t bother me, but it is a bit of a thrill.

Fuso-outside-bling-box-storage

Above: Aluminum storage compartments were added to the Fuso

TCM: Tell us about the storage you have on the truck.

Dick: I bought the storage boxes all from ProTech, in Vancouver, Washington.  They call what I have behind the cab an all-aluminum cross box.  It’s two feet wide, by forty-four inches tall, by seven feet deep.  It’s huge.

The two boxes on the flatbed where the wheel wells would be are also from ProTech.  Those are six feet long, sixteen inches tall and twelve inches deep.  The doors pull down on those.  The doors make a great table for tools or cooking.  That’s handy.

There are two steel boxes behind the rear wheels that are eighteen inches long, one bigger box that is thirty inches long on the driver’s side, and the passenger’s side has a fuel tank.

Fuso-outside-storage-1 Fuso-outside-storage-2 Fuso-outside-storage-3

Above: The many storage compartments on the Fuso.  Click to englarge thumbnails above.

On the driver’s side I have tools, rescue equipment, survival stuff for off-roading, straps, and jacks.  The truck has a winch on the front.  The toolbox probably has more in it than it should.  I’m trying to take things out if I’m not using them.

The passenger’s side is the fun side with a grill, a one-gallon propane tank, and toys.  The cross box has a generator for when we need to run my wife’s hair dryer.  There’s also a solar panel on the roof that keeps the batteries charged.

Fuso-outside-storage-bikes

Above: The bike racks by ReRack

There’s a company in Portland called ReRack who will buy old racks at garage sales and Goodwill, etc., refurbish them, and sell them.  I had a collection of old Yakima and Thule racks and took it to ReRack.  I told them what I needed for a bike rack.  I also wanted a rack on top of my camper for a kayak.  They looked at what I had and set me up with the mounts I needed for two bikes and a kayak.  Then they wrote me a check for everything I brought in.  I like that type of purchase.

Fuso-Nehalem-Bay-State-Park

Above: Camping at Nehalem Bay State Park, Oregon

TCM: What adventures have you planned now that the rig is all together?

Dick: We haven’t taken an epic adventure yet.  With both of us working, and the weather being unpredictable, we keep the rig fueled up and ready to go.  If the weather is nice and our schedules are free, we take off on Friday night and go to the coast or the mountains for the weekend.

Fuso-camping-2

Above: Robin at Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Mount Adams, Washington

Portland is nicely located about 1.5 hours from the coast and 1.5 hours from skiing in another direction.  And we’re in the middle of a huge winery area.  We can throw rocks from our house and hit grapes.  There are hundreds of local craft brewers as well.  We’ll take the camper, do some wine tasting, get a bottle of wine, and go camping.  That’s what we did Memorial Day weekend.  The smaller wineries have open doors during the holidays.  We also take it skiing.  With the relatively compact size, and heat, it’s perfect for skiing.

I have a couple epic adventures planned.  I worked in Alaska in the Aleutian Islands and Anchorage.  My wife has never been there.  We have been around the world, but she has never been to Alaska.  I would like to go up and spend a long time up there.  From Seattle we would take the Alaska Marine Highway.  We would travel one way on the ferry, and drive back, or vice-versa.  

We have two kids, a daughter in Portland and a son who lives in Los Angeles.  We go back and forth from southern California to see him.  I’d like to take the rig down the coast to see him, and then turn left into the deserts of the Southwest.  I’d also like to go to Moab with the rig.  

A lot of people want to see the world.  I’d like to see the United States.  The truck can go anywhere and has the capability to go across the globe, but the reality is that it will probably stay in North America.

Fuso-Death-Valley

Above: Death Valley National Park, California

TCM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?


Dick: Everywhere I go, people ask what the truck is.  If I go to get fuel, groceries, or when we’re out camping, we have to plan on explaining what it is.  Now everyone will read about it and know what it is.  People have asked if it’s a fire truck.  People will ask if I work out of it.  I’ve had all sorts of crazy questions.  Sometimes I’ll get a thumbs up driving down the road.  

Someone actually almost ran me off the road looking at the truck.  That was crazy!  If you want to build a unique truck, be forewarned about gawkers.


Truck: 2005 Mitsubishi Fuso FG140, 4x4, diesel, 4 cylinder
Camper: 2007 Hallmark Ute XS
Tie-downs/Turnbuckles: I’ve bolted it to the bed in the front and there’s 2x2 aluminum angle bolted to flat bed.  It’s held in place side-to-side and front by the aluminum angle and bolts are holding it down.  The angles also guide it into place when loading.  I still have camper tie-downs in the back because it’s hard to get to the floor of truck because of the bathroom being there.
Suspension and Gear: Take a look at the details in the article on suspension and gear.




The Road of Risk and Reward

In 2011, Foster Huntington was working 70 hours a week in Manhattan, longing to be outside, surfing, and free.  Then he took the risk of a lifetime. ... ... ... ... ...

road-risk-reward-huntington

There's a hysterical scene in one of my favorite '80s films "Real Genius" where an over stressed college student, who has spent untold hours researching in the school library, gets out of his chair, freaks out, and runs frantically from the building.  His friends quietly glance at each other, and someone takes his seat.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNFMPhKIZXg

Everyone knows the feeling of wanting to stop everything, freak out, and run away.  I'm not saying that's a healthy reaction, nor am I condoning quitting one's job in such fashion, but surely you understand the repressed desire to eject yourself from an overstressed situation, and set yourself free.

When I learned about Foster Huntington's story, I pictured him working away the daylight hours in a windowless Manhattan cubicle, dreaming of the road, yearning for the West, desperately eager to dip his surfboard into salt water, and escape.  He probably had a few close calls where he too almost freaked out, and hit the exit doors.

But then something wonderful happened, followed by more wonderful things.  Today, Foster's escape story is legendary, as is his lifestyle.  Now it's Foster who has thousands poised to snap and run from corporate cubicles everywhere.  Making the leap even more tempting, Foster recently released his second book, "Home Is Where You Park It".

Gone Tomorrow video filmed by Foster's friend, Ian Durkin.


TCM: How did you decide to live full-time in pop-up truck camper?

Foster: In August of 2011, I was living in New York and working as concept designer at Ralph Lauren.  It was a cool job, but I was working seventy hours a week and never going outside.

I grew up in Portland, Oregon and went to a small college in Maine. Up to that point, the outdoors were a big part of my life.  Working in Manhattan, inside a building, for seventy hours a week was a major shock to my system.  Eventually I decided to quit my job and hit the road as a photographer and pursuing my own projects.

When I first got on the road, I lived in a 1987 VW Syncro.  The Syncro was built in the same factory as Unimog and featured full-time four-wheel drive, a locking differential, refrigerator, sink, and stove.  I made build out cabinets for it.  Unfortunately, it was also twenty-seven years old, unreliable, and a drag to maintain.

During my travels in the Syncro, I spent time in Baja, Mexico and other remote areas in the West.  I kept seeing more and more truck campers in these areas.  As the Syncro had issue after issue, I started researching a reliable truck and camper rig.

risk-reward-Alabama-Hills-2

Above: Dry camping in Alabama Hills, eastern California

TCM: Why did you decide on a flatbed truck?

Foster: I bought a Toyota Tacoma flatbed truck because I wanted something relatively small with as much usable space as possible.  I went with a flatbed at the advice of Mario Donovan, Chief Designer for Adventure Trailers.  I had read about flatbed tray campers in Australia and they made sense.

risk-reward-four-wheel-fleet

Above: Foster's 2013 Four Wheel Camper Fleet flatbed and 2013 Toyota Tacoma

TCM: What led you to Four Wheel Campers?

Foster: I read a ton about Four Wheel Campers on the overland forums including Wander the West.  I also talked to people who owned Four Wheel Campers.  Across the board, people people told me they were great.

I figured if that many really well informed people think Four Wheel Campers is the best solution for them, Four Wheel Campers had to be pretty good.  Seven months later, I had my rig.

risk-reward-big-sur-California

Above: Camping in Big Sur, California

TCM: So you bought it sight unseen?

Foster: Yes, I did.  Before picking up my rig, I had never seen the inside of a Four Wheel Camper in person.  I'm totally thrilled with my rig.  It's great!  I've even had the opportunity to visit the Four Wheel Camper factory near Sacramento.  It's a neat place, and a cool company.

risk-reward-Los-Padres

Above: Los Padres National Forest, California

TCM: Just about everyone reading your interview is wondering how you are able to afford this lifestyle.

Foster: I did a photo book in 2011 through Harper Collins titled, “The Burning House”.  The advance from that book was more than I was making in a year for my day job.  That kept me going for awhile.

I am focused on photography and consulting projects now.  I also work with brands and ad agencies.  That work gives me the freedom of location, and pays for my lifestyle.

I originally thought I would travel until my book advance ran out and then get a day job.  That was the worst case scenario.  The best case scenario was to make money and continue traveling.

I was lucky.  People got in touch with me from ad agencies based on my previous projects.  I just finished my second book called, "Home Is Where You Park It".  It's a photo book with photos of campers and vans.  It was funded through Kickstarter, a crowd funding website for creative projects.  I sold the book to Urban Outfitters.

I also worked for Patagonia for a year and a half while I was one the road.  While working on a project for Urban Outfitters, I met their creative director and head of online.  A year later he moved to Patagonia and brought me onboard to help with social media.

At first I didn't know if I could change it up, but I did.  I’m willing to take risks.  That's how I can afford my lifestyle and my truck and camper.

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Above: A road in the Los Padres National Forest, California

TCM: Do you have any regrets now that you've started down this life path?

Foster: This has been been the most amazing time of my life.  Too often people buy big houses, get bored, and fill it up with stuff to have something to do.  

risk-reward-alabama-hills-california

Above: Relaxing in Alabama Hills, California

Living in my truck camper, I just go somewhere new if I get bored.  That's what I do instead of buying stuff.  I don't think I could stay in one place.  That's not what humans are meant to do.

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Above: Staying warm on a chilly winter night in central California

TCM: How do you handle things like postal mail, taxes, bills, and medical insurance?

Foster: I have my postal mail sent to my Dad's house in Washington State.  Washington is where I grew up, so I'm there often.  I just swung through Washington to get my driver's license renewed.  I'm in the northwest a quarter of the time.

If I want something sent to me on the road, I have it mailed to a friend's house where I can pick it up.  I have a bunch of friends who do the South Dakota thing, and have a mailbox there because mail forwarding is easy.

I get internet through my cell phone and spend a lot of time in coffee shops using their free wireless internet.

For health insurance, I'm self-insured because I'm self-employed.  I have health insurance through a company that has hospitals all over the United States.

With taxes, I have an accountant and I keep track of everything.  Banking in this day in age is easy.  I get paid through direct deposit, so there are no worries about checks.

TCM: Do you have everything you own in your camper?

Foster: I have a couple boxes in my Dad's garage, and a hand full of stuff at my friend’s house in southern California, but everything else is with me in my rig.

It was pretty easy to purge, easier than I thought it would be.  I sold my stuff on Craigslist and eBay.  Purging was great!  Shopping is not an option when I'm in my camper.  I don't have the space.  I have everything I need with me.

risk-reward-spare-gas-can-holder

Above: Spare gas can holder and a sticker from Foster's favorite tacos in the world

TCM: Have you made any modifications to your camper to make it work better for your full-time lifestyle?

Foster: Mainly I just added some storage stuff.  The boxes on the flatbed are huge and free up space inside the camper.  The flatbed boxes are great for my surf gear.

I strap by surfboards to the Yakima bars on the roof.  I lived in a van that just had a folding bed.  This camper is super fancy in comparison.  It has good use of space.

risk-reward-Oregon-Coast

Above: Parked on the beach for a day of surfing on the Oregon coast

TCM: What do you do day-to-day?

Foster: I work every day of the week.  I go to bed early and get up early.  I work in the morning, and then I'll go do something fun like surfing or snowboarding depending on my location.  It's important to me that I stay active.

Then I'll have an early lunch, work, have an early dinner, maybe change my campsite, and call it a night.  My work doesn't really stop.  I am always doing something.

risk-reward-Mono-Lake

Above: Mono Lake on the east side of the Sierras, California

TCM: Your parents are in Washington State, and you mentioned traveling to Baja.  Do you have a route you follow?

Foster: I stick to Oregon, Nevada, Washington, and California.  I have not gone east of Colorado.  I have traveled from British Columbia, Canada down to Baja, Mexico.

TCM: How long do you stay in any one place?

Foster: I'll stay a couple weeks in a spot.  It really depends on what the waves are like.  The best thing about living the way I do is that I don't have to have plans.  I go where I want to go.

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Above: Parked in the Los Padres National Forest on the central coast of California

TCM: That's freedom.  Do you typically go to campgrounds, or boondock off-the-grid?

Foster: I spend a bunch of time on BLM land and national forests.  When I'm surfing, I often stay in my friends' driveways, or stealth camp with the camper roof down.  It's a game finding a place to sleep.  I like it.

I rarely stay in campgrounds.  Sometimes campgrounds are $50 a night.  That's ludicrous.  I'm a tightwad, plus I favor national forests and BLM land.  There are so many state and national forests.  You can stay in a pull-off areas there.

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Above: Foster camping with his friend, Tim Eddy, and his Four Wheel Camper at the Mt. Bachelor parking lot in Oregon

TCM: Have you ever had an issue stealth camping?

Foster: I have only been hassled once in two and a half years.  The cop even let me stay.  He just checked to see that things were okay.

TCM: Looking forward, what's your vision for where this experience is going?

Foster: All I know is that I don't want to stop.  In the back of my mind I know it's going to be a challenge to re-acclimate to society.  Knowing how much fun I've had is going to make it even harder.

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Above: Camping near Lake Tahoe, California

TCM: Do you have any idea what you might do this year?

Foster: In the Spring and Summer, I'll travel through the Northwest and then down into California.  My plans are to surf and snowboard as long as I can. 

I want to explore more of the mountain states like Montana.  Montana is calling me.  I'll probably go there in September.

One thing about Summer is that everything is so crowded.  I try to visit the national parks in the Fall or early Spring.  Then, starting in October and November, I shift my focus to surfing.  November and December I'll go to Baja.

I like wandering.  When I make plans I wind up breaking them.  I think it's about manifesting the life you want to live and taking the risk.


Truck: 2013 Toyota Tacoma flatbed, access cab, gas, 4x4
Camper: 2013 Four Wheel Camper Fleet flatbed
Tie-downs/Turnbuckles: Bolted down - you can take the rig apart, just
take bolts off
Suspension: ARB 2" heavy lift, Beaver springs in the back, Firestone airbags
Gear: Auxiliary jerry can holders, ARB bumper, Warn winch, Baja design LEDs, Dunlap NTR Kevlar tires, Custom boxes for under flatbed by Adventure Trailers, 160 watt solar panel, bigger batteries


Truck Camper On A Gooseneck

Rick Spigelmyer tells us how he decided to load a 2012 Travel Lite 890RX onto a gooseneck trailer to go rock crawling.  Jeepers creepers, this is one insane rig.

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Over the past decade or so, creative members of the off-road community have been developing Frankenstein combinations of truck campers and flat bed gooseneck trailers.  These “geese campers” are formed when a truck camper is mounted all-the-way forward on a flatbed gooseneck trailer.  Together, this combination presents a camp-ready tow solution for rock crawling Jeeps and other large off-road vehicles that would otherwise overload, or over-stuff a conventional toy hauler.

Is this madness?  Of course it is.  But it’s also a clever and cost-effective solution that works.  In the passionate rock crawling community, clever and cost-effective solutions are the name of the game.  Well, that and not rolling over.

Rick Spigelmyer is the first “goose camper” to grace the colorful electrons of Truck Camper Magazine.  We are very excited to learn more about these rigs, and what draws the rock crawler community to do such a thing.  From what Rick tells us, we might be seeing more of these Franken-rigs as time, and rocks, go by.

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Above: Rick's Travel Lite 890RX and modded out Jeep Wrangler

TCM: How did you dream up this rig?

Rick: My parents took me out camping all the time and I’ve enjoyed tent camping my whole life.  Now that I’m in my mid-50s, I finally decided that I was getting too old to sleep on the ground.

I needed something along the lines of a toy hauler, but I didn't want to buy a travel trailer.  I travel to all kinds of off-road parks to wheel and camp.  I also couldn’t find a toy hauler wide enough for my rock crawler.  Plus, the weight of my rock crawler would likely overload a toy hauler.  

A truck camper and trailer wasn’t my original idea.  I had seen several truck camper and trailer set ups online, but I wanted to improve upon the idea.  It’s a cool set-up.  I keep the camper and trailer together all the time.  It’s ready to go when I am.

I either go out by myself or with my girlfriend, Brenda.  The truck camper works well for one because it’s small and self-contained.  It’s also big enough for the weekend for two to four people.

The camper and trailer rig rides better with rock crawler trailer in tow.  The weight is equaled out on the trailer.  Whenever I drive with just camper, I can get bucking down the highway.  I keep the truck around 65 miles per hour, and I have no problems at all with the truck and trailer.  With the gooseneck, the weight is over the rear axle, so it handles well.

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Above: The 24 foot flatbed gooseneck allows Rick to tow his truck camper and Jeep

TCM: How did your rig go from idea to reality?

Rick: I already had the truck when I had this idea.  I know how long the rock crawler is, and I knew the trailer would be a twenty-four foot flat bed gooseneck.  I special ordered it because I wanted it the same color as my truck. 

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Above: 235/75-R16 Gladiator 14 ply rated tires and custom aluminum wheels

I also upgraded to 14 ply tires and aluminum wheels because it has to look good going down the road.

After a lot of planning and measuring, I knew I could get a truck camper no bigger than nine feet in length.  With a thirteen foot Jeep, a nine foot camper would still give me room to open the door.  

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Above: The truck camper overcab lays directly over the gooseneck

The overcab bed length didn’t matter because that part goes over the gooseneck.  I wanted it flat on the trailer and fully self-contained.

Then, I found what I was looking for. 

TCM: And what was that?

Rick: It actually took me two years to find the camper.  The Travel Lite 890RX fit the bill perfectly.  It has all the comforts of home.  After a hard day of wheeling, it's great to have a place to shower, eat, watch a little television, and relax.  Not only that, but it has a bed to sleep in, rather than tent camping on the ground. 

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Above: The flatbed becomes a large back porch when the Jeep is off the trailer

If I unload the Jeep I have a big porch or even a dance floor.  It makes all my friends jealous and there will probably be more rigs like mine showing up.

Down here in Texas, there are only a few truck camper dealers.  Most people who own pick-ups get fifth wheels.  I went to Princess Craft Campers in Round Rock, Texas and bought it there.

TCM: So, how did Princess Craft react when you asked them to put a truck camper on a trailer?

Rick: I stopped in to Princess Craft and talked to salesman, Steve Johnson, looked at the Travel Lite, and decided that I wanted it.  Then I told PJ Buerger, the owner, what I wanted to do.  She said that she had never put a truck camper on a gooseneck trailer before, but didn’t see why we couldn’t do it.

I asked if her if they had a forklift and she said yes.  So, I came home and got the trailer and went back to Princess Craft the next week.  PJ told the guys in shop what we were going to do, since they had never done a set-up like mine before.

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Above: The above photos show the gooseneck turnbuckle solution - click to enlarge

They got the forklift and put the camper up on the trailer. It sticks out five inches beyond the side rails because the Travel Lite is a 93” wide camper.  For the rear tie-downs, they installed D rings.  Where the D rings were on the trailer, it has the backward slope for the Torklift Fastguns.  They had to drill holes for the front.  

Once we set camper on the trailer, they just tied it down.  I keep the camper on the trailer all the time.  I would need a forklift to pull it off.

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Above: 2x6 boards help the camper to not shift side-to-side

TCM: How did the trailer handle once you got your rig set up?

Rick: There were some adjustments.  Whenever a truck camper is in a regular pick up truck, you have the wheel wells to keep it from going side-to-side.  After I got the camper, I took some 2x6 boards and cut them the length of the camper floor.  I screwed them to the floor of the trailer.  Now the camper can’t move side to side.  I’ve been driving it all over Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas and it works great and doesn’t move.  

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Above: Two four-foot aluminum toolboxes were added to the fender wells

I also added toolboxes to the fender wells.  They are two 4 foot aluminum diamond plate boxes.  I keep my camper electrical cords and water lines in one box.  In the other box I have my rock crawler supplies like U joints, shafts, extra oil, and antifreeze.

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Above: Storage under the front of the camper for extra wood blocks and a spare tire

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Above: The total length from the front truck bumper to the back of the trailer is 48 feet

TCM: Is it hard to maneuver?

Rick: The total length is forty-eight feet long from the front bumper to the end of the trailer.  I’ve been pulling trailers all my life.  I have ten years of experience driving trucks, so the length of my rig doesn’t bother me.  You do have to watch it like you do with a travel trailer.  It’s not hard to get around.  A gooseneck pulls easier than a travel trailer, and it’s easier to turn.

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Above: Rick's Redneck Mansion camper tag

TCM: You’ve named your rig the Redneck Mansion.  Why?

Rick: I thought my rig looked redneck going down the road so I came up with the name.

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Above: When camping with the Travel Lite 890RX and Jeep on the trailer, Rick can still open the camper back door

TCM: What’s your on-the-road lifestyle like?

Rick: I work Monday through Friday.  If it’s a weekend run, we’ll leave Friday afternoon and go out just for Saturday and Sunday.  For longer drives, we have taken off Thursday and Friday or Wednesday through Friday.  It’s mainly long weekend trips.  

Just last year, we went out ten to twelve weekends just camping.  We go out rock crawling or wheeling at least once a month, sometimes twice a month.  We don’t stay home on the weekends.  We go somewhere just about every weekend.

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Above: Rick rock crawling with his modded 1993 Jeep Wrangler

TCM: Tell us about your rock crawling interest.

Rick: I have been into Jeeps and rock crawling since I was in my early twenties.  I have bought, built-up, and sold different Jeeps.  It’s kind of a hobby for me.  My friends and I go to different places like Hot Springs, Arkansas, Clayton, Oklahoma, and Gilmer, Texas, just to name a few.

We've wheeled Palo Duro Canyon in Texas, Moab in Utah, and the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico.  When we go, we like to camp as much as possible and wheel our Jeeps off-road. There’s nothing better than sitting around a campfire and talking about that day’s experience, and the next day’s plans.

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Above: Rick tackling the most severe off-road trails

TCM:
Your rock crawling looks pretty extreme.  How did you learn how to do that?

Rick: Back in high school my shop teacher was into off-roading.  He had a Toyota that we helped build in the shop.  As I got older, I always had four-wheel drive vehicles.  I went from a Toyota to Jeeps in my early 30s.  

For the last twelve years, I have been a part of the Lone Star Jeep Club.  I’m actually one of the longest running members.  From the club I get ideas for modifications.  I have always had vehicles capable of going off-road and street legal.  Whenever I get off-road, I find biggest obstacle and climb it.

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Above: The engine and body are the only original parts of Rick's Jeep

TCM: Tell us about your rock crawler.

Rick: It’s a 1993 Jeep Wrangler that’s modded out.  The only thing that’s original Jeep is the engine and body.  Everything else is swapped out.  It’s been turned into an off-road buggy that’s not street legal.  It’s not inspected and doesn’t have registration.

I use a shop to make some of the upgrades, but most of it I’ve done myself or when my buddies and I get together for a Wrench-a-Thon.  We’ll just hang out and work on our vehicles.  I’m not a welder, so I have to have that stuff done at a shop.

gooseneck-trailer-jeep-wheel-up

TCM: Have you ever flipped your Jeep?

Rick: Flipping vehicles does happen, and luckily it has never happened to me.  They can roll if you can get them sideways.  If you go steep and it gets too light in the front, it goes backwards.  It is possible and does happen quite often.  That’s why it’s never good to wheel by yourself.  With our club, if we have a big run we’ll break into easy, medium, and hard groups.  

The easy group is street Jeeps with little to no modifications from the factory.  The medium group is street legal Jeeps that are beefed up a little and want to minimize damage.  I’m in the hard group.  People like me don’t care if we break parts and have body damage.  Here we are, a bunch of old guys investing money in our vehicles to beat the snot out of them.

TCM: No worries about dents and scratches?

Rick: No.  Every time I get home I grease it, tighten it up, and look for broken parts.  If I break a part, I upgrade it to something better.

TCM: Since your rock crawler is an off-road buggy, how do you get it from the campground to where you drive it?

Rick: The places we camp are for Off Highway Vehicles (OHV), which are places that we are allowed to run off road vehicles.  The parks have an RV section where we can hook-up to electric and camp.  We never have to leave the park.

If you Google “off road parks” you can find places.  Like I said, I’m a member of the Lone Star Jeep club.  We have more than 450 members who live anywhere from Texas to Colorado to Louisiana.  People will post where they camp and rock crawl on the web.  We’ll also post group get togethers, decide to get together, and go.  I’ve been doing this a long time, so I am familiar with the off-road parks.

One thing I like about the community is that we sit around in the evenings after a day of wheelin and drink a couple beers.  We’ll start a fire, cook, enjoy our evening and talk about the day.  I love the camaraderie and just hanging out.

TCM: What else do you like to do while you’re on the road?

Rick: The state parks in Texas are usually on a river or lake.  We’ll take my girlfriend’s granddaughter to go playing and swimming.  We’ll just hang out for the weekend and camp.  We’d much rather do that than stay at the house.  Here in Texas, we’ve got everything from pine trees to desert.

TCM: What’s on your schedule this summer?

Rick: There are a lot of different places that we’re planning on going this year.  We’re planning a trip to Galveston Island at Galveston State Park, which is on the beach.  We’re going down to Dinosaur State Park near Glen Rose.  There are actual dinosaur footprints embedded in the rock of the rivers there.  We’re going back to Amarillo to Palo Duro canyon.  

In short, we’re going to get all the wheeling trips in we can.  We’ll also go to state parks in the Dallas / Fort Worth area like Tyler State Park.  I am also looking forward to the Texas Truck Camper Rally in April of 2015.

TCM: Is there anything else you’d like to add to your interview?

Rick: I want to keep camping and rock crawling many more years until I can’t do it anymore.  As long as my health holds up, I’ll always do it.  I can’t see giving it up.

Truck: 2011 Dodge Ram 2500, crew cab, long bed, single rear wheel, 4x4, gas
Camper: 2012 Travel Lite 890RX
Tie-downs/Turnbuckles: Torklift on the back, Happijac on front
Suspension: Airlift system
Gear: Toolboxes were added to the fender wells


Extreme Boondocking and the TP Factor

Bryan Appleby takes us through the design, build, and trials of a unique truck and camper rig developed, from the ground up, for full-time living off-road, and off-the-grid. ... ... ...

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This article is continued from "Full-Time Truck Campers Must Be Crazy".


Extreme Boondocking and the TP Factor
by Byran Appleby

After much consideration, I ended up ordering a large hard-side 2009 Lance 1191 truck camper.  There were a lot of options to consider, but I ended up deleting more than optioning.  I did option the factory installed Onan Generator, two-speed high B.T.U. furnace, and roof-mounted air conditioner.

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Above: Bryan's 2009 Lance 1191; a single-slide, dry bath truck camper

I opted out of the factory microwave choosing instead to install my own $30 unit.  With my plans to be in remote locations, I knew that Burger King would not be an easy take-out, so I opted for the oven and stove option.  

I supplement my indoor cooking with an auxiliary propane grill and separate Weber charcoal grill.  This is an example in how users of truck campers vary.  Some will prepare meals and bring these for their trip.  Others simply eat out for every meal.  My routine is more like a backpacker; I need to plan and bring bulk items to prepare and cook.

Picking the right camper is important.  For me, I zeroed in on a hard side truck camper with a slide.  I love the extra room of a slide-out and can’t wait until I’m in a location I can put out the slide.  But, with stealth camping, cold weather, and dust/sand storms, I have learned how important it is to choose a truck camper that can be used with the slide-out(s) in.  

While I will always dream of full-time RVing in a short-bed pop-up truck camper and a lifted four-wheel drive truck, the reality is that I made the right choice.  As a four season truck camper, I needed a hard-side.

Also, I wanted my truck camper to last for fifteen to twenty years.  The abuse of four-wheeling up logging roads and literally scrambling eggs in the fridge was not something I wanted to do.  But, getting down dirt and forest roads was a priority.  Planning the next part was important, if not critical for my future as a full-time extreme boondocking truck camper.


2008 Ford F-550

My first choice was to purchase a new 2008 Ford F-550, 6.4L diesel, 4.30 LSA, 17,950 pound GVWR, crew cab, extended frame truck.  I opted for skid plates, a block heater, spare tire and wheel, heavy duty front suspension, the low deflection package, heated seats, and auxiliary fuel reserves.  The truck has been impressively problem free, since delivery.

I installed Firestone air bags to level out my truck camper when camping.  The Ford F-550 does not come with a hitch from the factory. 

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Above: The rear platform for spare tires.  The two trailer tires (not pictured) are stacked right on top of the truck spare.  The trailer tires fit into the void of the Lance overhang.

The same group that installed my service body, installed my Class VII hitch and rear platform to extend the stinger beyond the rear overhang of my Lance 1191.  On this platform are three spare tires for my F-550 and trailer.  

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Above: Ranch Hand bumper with winch and front hitch

A Ranch Hand bumper with winch and front hitch option was installed, including a Warn 16.5 winch.  I also installed two KC Daylighter II auxiliary lights.

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Above: The bike rack on the front bumper receiver hitch

For bikes, I used one of my old Yakima bike hitches and modified it so it would work with the front bumper receiver hitch.  The installation lowered the hitch as well, minimizing the height the bikes would ride.


Knapheide Service Body

I always felt that a pickup bed was a lot of wasted space, so I chose a Knapheide service body to mount on my cab and chassis 2008 Ford F-550.

There were not a lot of references for full-time RVing with a service bed at the time I began researching in 2004, but I did find someone who part-timed with a custom service bed.  Contacting their custom service body manufacturer, I was met with roadblocks.  Put simply, they did not want to do another service body for a truck camper.  Custom service bodies are very expensive, but turn out really nice.  

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Above: The passenger's side of the Knapheide service body on Bryan's Ford F550

During my research, I discovered a service body right out of the Knapheide catalog.  It has worked perfectly.  I went this direction, saving $8,000 by not going the custom route.

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Above: The rear of the Knapheide service body on Bryan's Ford F550

With my service body, I opted for the full-height (40”) and full-depth (20”) cabinets.  With the full-height cabinets, I needed to lift the Lance 1191 nine-inches off the floor of the service body, with a purpose built platform.  

Due to an option that I will share later, I opted for a separate cabinet in front of my service body.  If I were to do it over again, or recommend a service bed to someone, I would do a complete service body cabinet; back bumper to back wall of the crew cab.

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Above left: The Unistruts were welded to the top of the cabinets to allow attachment of the camper to the service body, utilizing the tie-down locations on the camper.  An additional Unistrut was welded, even though not needed for the camper application.
 
Above Middle: This photograph shows the inside the service body, depicting the portion that was cut out, flipped over, and welded back in place.  Even though it is not seen, Bryan Rhino lined the inside of his service body to protect the surface from damage and friction.  This acts as a rubber mat to help keep the camper in place.

Above Right: The notched cabinet allows the camper to fit lower into the service body.  The upfitter did all of this work, at no additional cost.  The 6”x9” piece was just turned over and welded back into place.


191 Gallons of Water, 100 Gallons of Propane

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Above: Two seventy gallon potable water belly tanks fit in the platform the camper rests on

To assist my extended boondocking stays in remote locations, two seventy gallon potable water belly tanks were made and installed in the spaces available in the platform the Lance 1191 truck camper rests on.

There are lines connecting these tanks to the Lance factory installed forty-five gallon potable tank.  This is in addition to the six-gallon hot water tank in the camper for a combined 191 gallons of fresh water.  When full that’s about 1,600 pounds of water.

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Above: Bryan's 100 gallon propane tank and valves.  The propane tank and installation meets DOT requirements

A DOT Certified 100 gallon propane tank was mounted in the service bed.  With this option, I am able to minimize my propane refills to one to two times a year.  I am also able to drive right up to the propane filling stations and fill.  This avoids me needing to climb a ladder, unbolt the propane tanks in the Lance, and haul thirty-pound propane tanks every couple of weeks.  The 100 gallons of propane also allows me unlimited stays in remote locations for boondocking.

Knowing what I now know, I would have installed this tank in a full-length service body, rather than its own separate cabinet, as I now have.


Evolution of Power

I began full-time RVing in June of 2009.  At that point, I used the Onan generator built into the Lance exclusively to supplement charging my battery bank.  This required running my Onan two to three hours every day to maintain the batteries.

In August of 2011 I added a Honda inverter generator as my main generator, relegating my Onan generator to back-up status. 

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Above: Before and after pictures of the rooftops of Bryan's Lance Camper and Haulmark enclosed trailer

Then in November of 2011 I installed my first phase of solar panels; a 300 watt system.  Since then I have added more panels and now have a 900 watt system.  An additional group of solar panels will be added before December of 2014 to make up the sun shortfall found in the winter months.  At that time I will have a combined, 1,220 watts of solar.

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Above: Bryan installed two sealed AGM batteries in a cabinet including a charge controller and battery monitor shunt

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Above: Bryan installed a remote charge controller and battery monitors


Get-Around Vehicle

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Above: Bryan's 2012 BMW GS1200R Adventure motorcycle in Coyote Buttes, Vermillion National Monument

For exploring and getting groceries, having a motorcycle was an important part of my adventure from the beginning.  There were only two motorcycles I considered.  One was a KTM.  The other, a BMW.  I chose a 2008 BMW GS1200R Adventure.  The BMW has performed above and beyond my wildest expectations.  It’s the perfect get-around vehicle, except maybe when the roads are icy and the temperatures drop below 0⁰F.

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Above: Bryan on his 2008 BMW GS1200R Adventure motorcycle just outside of Yellowstone National Park

My original thoughts were to be able to travel easily down highways, with the motorcycle, in the advent the truck and camper were not viable.  I wanted to travel the logging and backroads with ease.  Carrying necessary camera equipment, gear and supplies was also important.

Motorcycles might not be a workable solution for all full-time RVers and other means should be considered.  Some might choose a Prius or a Jeep.  The nice thing to having a four wheel automobile is weather.  Unlike a motorcycle, low or high temperatures and after-dark hours will not enter into the planning of excursions with an automobile.

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Above: Bryan's 2012 BMW GS1200R Adventure motorcycle while exploring Teakettle Junction in Death Valley National Park

The really nice thing about having a get-around vehicle is you can stage your truck camper as a base camp and go out and explore.  It certainly opens up a new possibilities, as in Death Valley.

Originally, I had planned on fitting a motorcycle platform on the back of my truck and truck camper.  After reviewing measurements, I soon found it to be an unworkable solution due to the platform height off the ground.  The height would create difficulty when loading and unloading.  Furthermore, using a vertical winch or hydraulic lift was not a workable solution due to mechanics and costs.  Only a motorcycle trailer met all my requirements.

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Above: Bryan's 2008 BMW GS1200R Adventure stored in his cargo trailer.  This motorcycle was later destroyed in an accident.

The original plans were not to tow anything behind the truck and camper.  Everything becomes a compromise with pulling a trailer and, in turn, not pulling a trailer.

I was originally concerned that having a trailer would limit my accessibility in and out of places.  Well, having a trailer has been a great addition and not as much of a limiting factor, as I once thought.  The trailer has enabled me to bring additional toys to play with, on the road, including motorcycles, bicycles, kayaks, hockey, and ski gear.  I also use the trailer to store grocery items, fuel, and supplies.  Finally, the trailer acts as a platform for my second solar panel system.


TP Factor

Yes, “TP Factor” is exactly what you think it means; toilet paper.  Toilet paper provides a good word picture for so many important factors in being successful in an extreme boondocking experience.  

As many of us know, traveling, exploring and living a wanderer’s life in a truck camper is a wonderful experience.  But, because of the innate size and storage capacity of a truck camper, you are met with the “TP Factor.”  

How many rolls of toilet paper can you bring before running out and another trip to a town is needed?  Then you have the issue of being in remote areas.  Does the nearby town have a grocery store?  This is the TP Factor; the amount of time you can boondock before your limited supply of water, propane, seasonal clothes,food, and toilet paper runs out.

For me, my challenge was to organize my capabilities to be able to boondock in remote locations for up to two months, or more.  I am often out for two month stretches without stopping at a town. Sure, I could hop on the bike and make a supply run, and often do, but wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to be in a unique location of Utah, Montana, or northwest Texas and stay for a month, or two?  Welcome to my world!  

It’s all about the TP Factor.  How many rolls of toilet paper, paper towels, and cartons of chocolate milk can I take with me?  If you are looking at doing some extreme boondocking, look at what your storage capabilities are and what is important for you to bring.  Using the backpacker’s rule; “Everything brought in your backpack must have at least two uses, or it is not included.”  

With this information you will quickly determine how long you can actually be in remote areas, avoiding supply runs into town.   


Full-Time RVing by the Numbers

I thought it might help to share some of the numbers from my last few years of full-time RVing:

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Above: Click to enlarge Bryan's boondocking expense chart


Downsides to Full-Timing

As with everything, there are some things that do not transfer well, when you live full-time in a truck camper.  Some of the things I miss include mail deliveries right to my door, my morning newspaper, long hot showers, my perennial flower beds, and a dishwasher.

Sure, I could stay in a campground, for their hot showers, pick up my mail and newspapers, but that is not something that works for me.  You can have your magazines delivered to your mail service, but some will not deliver to a PMB (Private Mail Box center).  Even then you will need to pay for the mailing, again, to get them to your eventual location.  Luckily electronic versions of many magazines, and newspapers, are now available, as they are at full price at various retail centers.


Extreme Boondocking

From mid-February, of 2012, I left Carlsbad, New Mexico for wintering in the Chihuahuan Desert.  I left with full stores of groceries and a tank full of diesel.  

Two and a half months later, at the end of April, I arrived in El Paso, Texas to fill up my diesel tanks, and resupply with water and food.  This was an adventure I have done many times; months of boondocking in the mountains of the Sierras, Rockies, and the deserts of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and Mojave.  To full-time for not only for weeks, but months, one must have a plan and the right equipment.  

extreme-boondocking-Laundry-tools extreme-boondocking-Laundry-bucket-12 extreme-boondocking-laundry-Potable-Water-Tank-5
extreme-boondocking-laundry-Potable-Water-Tank-3 extreme-boondocking-Laundry-Death-Valley-Nationial-Park extreme-boondocking-Laundry-18

Above: With soap, buckets, a plunger, water pump, and clothes lines, Bryan gets his laundry done darn near anywhere

Having a bag to throw dirty clothes into for when you get back home is certainly a great solution, but one can miss out on some wonderful things and places by cashing in and going home.  In my opinion, too soon.

Imagine heading across southern Utah and taking two months to cross the desert landscape.  Imagine not needing to pack up at the end of the week and head home.  That is what I plan for and accomplish. In fact, that is what I am doing right now.  While extreme boondocking may not be possible for most truck camping enthusiasts, it might be worth a try.  

Recently I was parked in a State Park with a water spigot just out my door.  I was taking a brief shower and suddenly realized, “I can take as long of a hot shower as my hot water tank will allow!  I have water right out my door and, if I were to hook up a hose, I could actually have it plumbed right into my city water connection.”  

Sometimes I get so caught up into conserving everything that I forget I could just live like most RVers and go from campground to campground.  Or maybe just stop in one, on occasion, to catch up on laundry, take a hot shower, and go to a movie.  Ahhh, to live the life of a regular person…


Wake up!  It’s not going to happen.

Maybe I was just born in the wrong century.  Queue the painted horse, saddle well worn, bedroll secured, and saddle bags brimming with food stores.  Swinging back around in my saddle, looking back toward the small western Kansas town, gloved hand on the pommel, as the town slowly disappears over the hill crest.  

Swinging back around and settling into the worn saddle, only the sound of the hooves plod below me, moving through the dusty prairie.  Pulling the reins tighter, into my gloved hands, squinting into the remaining light from the now setting sun, I pull the brim of my dirty sweat stained hat down lower, I look over the head and ears of my horse; the horizon beckons and I know, deep inside, there is a new life just over the horizon.

Fade to black…