On July 11th, 2018, Truck Camper Magazine’s truck and camper rig was T-boned at speed in La Grande, Oregon. Here is the story of what happened, and why you should never, ever go truck camping with a full jar of spaghetti sauce.
Be sure to read our Lessons from a Camper Accident article. It might just save your bacon if you are in a similar situation. In this article we share insurance tips and how to deal with the before, during, and after experience.
If life was a movie, we might have noticed the ominous music building in intensity, or maybe picked up on the oddly framed shot and suspicious silence. Look out! Something is about to happen!
Of course real life is not a movie. In real life, things just happen – out of the blue – during an otherwise normal day. One minute it’s Wednesday and you’re driving to a truck camper rally. The next your world is upside down, or at least leaning heavily to the driver’s side.
This is the story of what happened to us on July 11th, 2018. The day started at Thunder RV in La Grande, Oregon. Angela and I were visiting the dealership to catch up with the team and photograph a 2019 Arctic Fox 865 for future review. After that we were excited to go to the 2018 NATCOA Rally just a few miles away.
Fate, and a Toyota Camry, would soon intervene.
You Better Wash It, Mister
I have no idea why, but I really enjoy coin-operated pressure washes. For a few bucks you can soak and destroy miles of accumulated dirt, encrusted bugs, and greasy road grime with relative ease. Angela just feeds quarters into the box, points out spots I’ve missed, and watches the carnage. Love it.
We’re also a bit funny about showing up to a rally with a dirty truck camper rig. For these reasons, we drove around the corner from Thunder RV to the local coin-wash. In the pictures that follow, take note of our clean truck and camper. You know how mom always told you to wear clean underpants, just in case you were in an accident?
With our shiny clean camper, we set off to the rally. Our rig was loaded up with groceries. Angela had plans for a new potluck dish. I was looking forward to meeting some fellow truck campers and…
A vehicle suddenly approached us at speed from a sharp angle. I saw it for split second and instinctively hit the brakes and turned away – but it was too late. As the car impacted our rig, we both said the same thing at the same time:
“Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!”
After the impact, the truck fought me for control. The awkward momentum from getting T-boned on the driver’s side pushed us into heavy gravel before we stopped short of a mild drop off. Thankfully there were no vehicles or pedestrians in front of us.
“A brief glance at the driver’s side of our truck confirmed that we had indeed been in a serious accident.”
When everything came to a stop, Angela was extremely upset. Our cat, Harley, was still sound asleep. Seeing that Angela and Harley appeared to be physically unharmed, I jumped out to check on the other driver. Given how hard they had hit us, I was very worried they were hurt.
A brief glance at the driver’s side of our truck confirmed that we had indeed been in a serious accident. The dually area was crushed and the rear axle appeared to be dislocated.
Then I saw a Toyota Camry with the front third completely obliterated. Debris from our truck, camper, and their car was strewn across the two-lane roadway. Holy cow.
When I reached the driver seconds later, he was alone, already out of his car and on his cell phone. He was visibly shaken, but upright and coherent. He said he was okay, and I told him that we were okay. I don’t think he believed me as I had to repeat it to him several times.
By this time police and emergency response sirens could be heard in the distance and other cars were attempting to drive through the twisted and broken glass, plastics, and metals that littered the scene.
Our front camper jack was in the middle of the road. Our truck’s rear spring pack had splayed across the asphalt. The rear camper compartment had opened and ejected my tool bag, tools, and water hoses.
As the emergency response teams arrived, I moved the camper jack and springs to the side of the roadway. Firefighters jumped out with push brooms for the glass and plastic shards. Then the police started directing traffic, including a number of truck camper rigs headed to the rally.
“With the rear truck axle dislocated, how would they tow our truck and camper?”
Angela had now exited the truck and was understandably horrified at the damage to our truck and camper. Realizing we would need help, she called Thunder RV.
Angela then put Harley in his cat carrier and put him down where he would be out of harm’s way. By this point Harley was awake, and seemingly oblivious to the chaos going on around him. To be a cat.
Oregon State Trooper, Travis Moody, approached me and stated that the other driver had immediately admitted fault and would be cited for the accident. Then he requested my driver’s license and the truck registration to complete the required paperwork.
Above: Angela talks with Oregon State Trooper, Travis Moody, about the accident
When Captain Hook’s Towing arrived, it dawned on me that the truck and camper were likely inseparable. With the front camper jack sheered off and rear truck axle dislocated, how would they tow our truck and camper?
I put these questions to Lance, the even keeled driver from Captain Hook’s. He said something like, “I’m working on that now.” When I asked if he’d towed anything like this before he said, “No” and then nicely asked me to get out of the way. I complied, and he proceeded to pull our truck out of the gravel and ditch inside of two minutes.
Then a Captain Hook’s flatbed arrived. The flatbed itself appeared barely long enough to accommodate our rig. Lance assured me that this was our best bet, and hooked our truck up to the flatbed’s winch.
With the rig leaning heavily to the driver’s side, it didn’t take long for the rear driver’s side jack to be dangerously close to ground. If that jack had reached the pavement, it would have likely ripped a large section from the camper’s rear. On a 14-year old unit like ours, that would be the end of the camper.
Lucky for us, Dan Woollard and Caleb Sampson from Thunder RV had arrived. They found the required tools in my tool bag and quickly removed the rear jack.
With the jack removed, Lance completed pulling our rig onto the flatbed. It fit perfectly, but was now leaning even harder to the driver’s side.
“With a glance, Angela said exactly what I was thinking – holy crap!”
When the flatbed pulled away and started down the road, the camper seriously looked like it might fall off. I remember thinking, “At least we’re getting great fuel mileage right now.”
By this point Angela had handled the necessary paperwork with the police and all of our loose belongings were in the back of Dan’s Ford F150. The police said we could leave, so we hopped into Dan’s truck and returned to Thunder RV. With a glance, Angela said exactly what I was thinking – holy crap!
An Im-Pastable Crime Scene
Per our request, Lance from Captain Hook’s Towing brought our rig back to Thunder RV. When Lance arrived, the rig was leaning so hard it looked like it was going to fall off the tow truck.
The plan was to carefully separate the truck and camper and evaluate the damage. Thunder RV would repair our camper, and our insurance company would process our truck.
Backing the truck and camper off the flatbed and onto the ground was painstaking. Lance was very patient and make sure no additional damage occurred.
At one point he asked me to get into our truck and steer – per his specific instructions. It was so strange to be sitting in the cab of our truck. Inside it looked perfect, as if nothing had happened. This whole experience was nothing less than surreal, like living in a dream. Maybe everything was fine…
“You can get out now,” stated Lance.
With the truck and camper off the tow truck, it was time to open the camper and see if the inside of the camper was damaged. Nothing could quite prepare us for what we discovered.
The force of the impact had opened every driver’s side cabinet and thrown the contents clear across the unit. It looked like an earthquake had hit.
Drawers were completely out. Food containers, plates, and dishes had been tossed on the floor. Some things were broken while others miraculously survived.
The worst and most comical were the uncooked spaghetti and jarred pasta sauce. Somehow spaghetti strands had flown from one side of the camper to the other and were now interwoven into everything we owned. And that was nothing compared to what happened with the sauce.
Inside the lower compartment where we normally keep shoes was nothing less than a murder scene. A full glass jar of pasta sauce had exploded creating a scene only Charlie Manson might have appreciated. Making the situation actually precarious, the glass jar had shattered everywhere. Oh the horror!
By this point we just started laughing. I mean you have two choices in situations like this and laughter was the better of the two. Nobody was hurt. We could get another truck. And the camper appeared repairable. The rest of it was just stuff – and evidently a lot of pasta and sauce. Yes, Angela lost a few of her cooking bowls and her beloved “Cat-ffeine” coffee mug, but we were going to get through this.
For the next hour or so, Angela and I cleaned up the center aisle and dinette area so we could better survey the situation. A lot of things, including groceries we had just bought for the rally, were beyond saving and tossed into the trash. Thankfully, not everything was lost. Shaken and stirred – but salvageable.
Familiar Fox For The Rally
As the afternoon unraveled, we started to discuss where we were going to stay that night. We were several thousand miles from home. Our camper was damaged and in need of repair. Our truck was likely totaled. And there’s a truck camper rally a few miles down the road where we have reservations. Okay, now what?
Fortunately, the awesome team at Thunder RV had also been asking the same question. Before we could say, “Thank you!” they had put their RAM 3500 shop truck and a 2019 Arctic Fox 865 together for us to use. This was exactly the same camper I had photographed for a review the day before. I never imagined I’d be living in it 24 hours later.
With the 865 loaded up for the rally, and our camper locked up, we fetched Harley from the Thunder RV office. He had enjoyed a nice nap in the air conditioning and instantly adapted to the shop truck. As we pulled out of the Thunder RV parking lot seconds later, he was nesting in the back seat, rubbing his ears, and licking his paws. To this day we think he has no idea anything happened.
The path to the rally took us on exactly the same roads we had driven hours earlier. We drove through the accident intersection very, very carefully. Exactly 4.1-miles later, we pulled into Grande Hot Springs Resort.
The rally itself was a wonderful respite. We saw some familiar faces, and met a lot of new truck camping friends. Everyone was incredibly supportive as we did our best to just hang out and relax. We want everyone at the rally to know that we truly appreciate them being there for us and that we will be way more fun next time they see us.
At night Angela and I took stock of everything that needed to happen to get us back on track. There were magazine appointments to keep. There was magazine work to maintain. We most likely needed a new truck. And the camper – who knew what was going on there.
So many variables. So many questions. So we got to work.
Next: Read about how we deal with insurance, buy a new truck, and get the camper fixed. Before this story is done, there will be two more car accidents – Three Strikes To Recovery.