Everyone has a story about finding a diamond in the rough. Maybe it was a car. Maybe it was an antique. Maybe it was your spouse. For Dave, it was his 1976 Amerigo Camper.
There’s an old folk tale that goes something like this… A guy pulls into an old timer’s driveway to deliver some firewood and catches the glint of something in the barn. Upon closer inspection, the something turns out to be a 1958 Corvette that’s been sitting untouched for over forty years. An offer is made and the Corvette is gently rolled out into the light of day. She’s dirty. She’s beautiful. And in a few months, she’ll be fully restored and a very lucky guy will be grinning ear to ear as he roars down the highway.
One can dream.
Today we’re going to share a slightly different folk tale. It goes a little something like this… A guy pulls up his local Craigslist and catches the electron glint of something in the RV section. A click or two later, the something turns out to be a 1976 Amerigo truck camper that’s been sitting untouched for many years. She’s dirty. She’s beautiful. And after seven months, she’ll be fully restored and the very lucky guy will be grinning ear to ear as he camps with his family at the Mid-Atlantic Truck Camper Rally.
Only this is no dream. Meet Dave MacQuaid.
TCM: How did you get into truck camping?
Dave: Before I was born, my father had a truck camper. Unfortunately, he sold it shortly thereafter for money reasons. Seven years later, dad bought a Ford F150 and an eight-foot truck camper. He would often work on it when I was a kid and take us surf fishing. My family went surf fishing quite a bit in the late 1960s.
I am the youngest of four children. My oldest brother is twelve years older than me. He bought his first Amerigo when I was in high school and I would help him work on it. I would tinker with things that were broken or not working right. For me that was like, “Wow, he actually let me work on it”.
Later my middle brother bought an Amerigo as well. The three of us would go to the Pocono Raceway and sit on the roofs to watch the race. The Amerigos were like twins. Unfortunately, my brother’s camper was in an accident. During the accident, the camper fell off and the propane burned up the camper. No one was hurt, but that was the end of that Amerigo. My oldest brother then bought a fifth wheel because he had a family, thinking he needed more space.
TCM: How did you find your Amerigo camper?
Dave: We kept looking and found an 1976 Amerigo camper on Craigslist. We figured that if it didn’t pan out it was okay because the price was only $600 dollars. We live in Pennsylvania and we picked it up in Delaware. When we got there, my wife didn’t want to go inside it. It was moldy on the outside and not any better inside. I didn’t worry too much about the rot because I knew I could replace it. I made the deal and brought the Amerigo camper home.
TCM: When you finally got into the camper, what was it’s condition?
Dave: When I got it home, I could see how deep the rot went. I knew I would have to totally gut it. My neighbor had a shop in town where I could rip it apart. My other neighbor and my brother gave lending hands. My goal was to get the frame strong enough so I could get it back on the truck and work on it at home.
I bought the Amerigo camper in August of 2009 and started ripping it apart in September. In October I was able to start putting things back together. I starting making lists, a procedure, and laid the camper out. It was overwhelming, but I did a little at a time. I felt like even if I just cleaned up a mess or straightened things out, I was moving forward.
I started by working with one piece at a time. First, I replaced both wings and all the walls attaching to them by ripping them out with my hands. I used basic wood from Home Depot or Lowes. I used deck braces to strengthen all the joints.
Once the structure was done, I put the camper on my truck and brought it home. I replaced all the running lights with LED versions, sealed up all the seams and made sure there were no leaks. I installed new vinyl flooring, then started working on the electrical and figuring out where the outlets would go. I was either replacing or adding, but not changing, where the outlets went. I installed a thirty amp receptacle on the outside, ran all the 120 VAC electric and added a new converter for all the twelve-volt components.
It was neat because I could see it coming together. I had a template and put in speakers and cable outlets, like a modern camper would have. Then I worked on the water system and water tank. I added an outside shower and new water heater. Whatever was there and usable, I kept. Even the refrigerator still worked.
TCM: That’s amazing that the refrigerator still worked. Did you continue to have help from others with your build?
Dave: Yes. Where I work, there’s a friend who does upholstery, so I gave him drawings of the dinette and the cushions. We picked out the fabric and ordered new foam for the dinette area. We saved the foam from the original bed, and he sprayed and steamed the foam to freshen them up.
My neighbor who has the shop made me a counter out of granite. It was kind of a, “Here you go! Good job” kind of thing. Everyone in the neighborhood knew what I was doing, so I got a lot of extra help.
We put the finishing touches of putting in the blinds, curtains, the fire extinguisher, and smoke alarms right before we got ready for the Mid-Atlantic show in April.
TCM: And that’s where we saw your Amerigo and your brother’s. They’re quite the pair. The camper looked finished at the Mid-Atlantic. What have you done to the camper since?
Dave: A month after the rally we did the exterior paint, sanded everything down, took name plates off, and sprayed everything with paint. I used to paint cars when I was younger, so this was not new to me.
The final thing I bought was air conditioner. I had it pre-wired, so it was a quick installation. Whatever I do now is an extra item that I want to do. Now, I can enjoy it.
TCM: Were there any challenges along the way?
Dave: I did get frustrated when things didn’t go my way. It wasn’t fun the entire time, but it was worth it. When I started, I didn’t know too much about the twelve-volt systems, but once I read about it, I could figure it out. It’s just like a house, but it’s twelve-volts. You have to have that passion, drive, and a goal.
TCM: Were there any parts that were hard to find?
Dave: Everything Amerigo specific was usable or repairable, so there was nothing catastrophic that was missing. If I needed something, like the outside door, I ordered a new door and had that shipped in. The new door has a screen, it seals nice, and doesn’t squeak. Most of the stuff is common to campers today. There are a lot of standard lights and vents. We wanted the old and the new mixed together.
The hardest thing for me was finding the paneling. I wound up using eighth inch luan plywood from Lowes and putting wallpaper on it. We looked at new camper pictures to see what modern camper interiors were like and ordered discount faux finish wall paper. I refinished the cabinet frames and doors with paint and fixed the wood rot.
TCM: How did you know how to do all of this?
Dave: I’m kind of handyman type of guy who knows a little bit of everything. My brother works for the electric company, so he taught me some basics. Plumbing isn’t my favorite, but I can do it. Right now I’m in my second house. In my first house I remodeled the kitchen. There’s just a lot of learning along the way. I do a lot of reading on systems I’m not familiar with and also watching home improvement programs doesn’t hurt.
TCM: What do you do professionally?
Dave: I’m a mechanical design engineer. I work for Sikorsky Helicopters and work on systems and interiors. I’ve worked with the electrical engineers and shop guys on the floor, so I’ve been around this stuff for sixteen years, seven of which were with helicopters. That helped me with the drive to do my own projects. You do need knowledge on these systems to keep them safe.
TCM: So you’re a little bit more than your typical handy man. You’re a helicopter design engineer! This is starting to make more sense. How long did the Amerigo project take from start to finish?
Dave: It took me seven months until I could go camping in it. I worked on it after dinner until ten or eleven at night most nights. Again, I had lots of people help me out. My brother was here. My dad is seventy-five years old and was helping out. In fact, my camper was the neighborhood hang out. They’d come in and see what I was working on. It was fun!
TCM: And what did your rebuild end up costing?
Dave: Overall, I spent about $5,000 dollars putting it back together. Shipping fees were a big part of the cost on some of the items.
TCM: Did your finished Amerigo camper turn out to be like you envisioned it to be?
Dave: My vision is what the camper turned out to be. I knew what I wanted from the beginning and that’s what steered me.
TCM: What are some things you’ve learned that you have for others who would like to restore an older camper?
Dave: You need to have a plan because once you start spending money you better follow through. Once you have that, you can go look for what you want. I was interested in an Amerigo. That’s what I was focused on because of my childhood and what I knew about. Most people who want to do something like this grew up being exposed to it, so they have a little bit of knowledge of what’s going on. There’s got to be a drive or passion. My Amerigo was a cool camper to make, but I had to put a lot of work and money into it.
As you know, my family has a history with Amerigo campers. I wanted to give my family the same experiences. This is our thing.
TCM: What are your plans in the future with your Amerigo Camper?
Dave: We are going on another trip at the end of the month. Now that it’s complete, we can use it whenever we want. I’d like to go to Niagara Falls and more of the big spots. We can do some more traveling within a day range, like Myrtle beach. I want to show my kids the country.
TCM: Is there anything else that you’d like to add to your interview that we didn’t ask you?
Dave: I have a folder full of sketches I made during the build. I think I’m going to make a scrapbook of everything that went into the camper to show how I thought about it.
Also, I’m here to help if anyone else out there is working on an Amerigo camper. I enjoy talking about it.
TCM: If you’re able to make the 2011 Mid-Atlantic Truck Camper Rally, please bring the scrapbook. We would love to see it and I bet others would too. Does your wife like your camper now that it’s done?
Dave: I think so….Yes she likes it! All it took were some trips out and having the family enjoy it. When I would go work on the camper she would say, “He’s going out to work on the white box again.” Now my family is proud of it. Even my eight year old daughter is telling people what we did with the camper. My kids were a part of the project as well. My son used an air stapler for the first time. Sometimes they would just watch what I was doing, even in mid-December when it was freezing out. Our Amerigo camper became a family project. I could have never finished it without their help and support.
TCM: Thank you for sharing your Amerigo restoration with us Dave. We can’t wait to see it all done next time we see you. Congratulations on your successful project!
Dave: Thank you. We hope to see you next April at the rally.
Truck: 2001 Ford F-350 XLT, crew cab, single rear wheel, long bed, 4×4, diesel
Camper: 1976 Amerigo Camper, side entrance, Snap-N-Nap rear bed
Tie-Downs and Turnbuckles: Front Torklift, Rear “Homemade”/ Standard Chain with turnbuckles
Suspension Enhancements: Rear, Firestone Ride Rite Air Bags
Gear: Custom generator rack for rear hitch, front hitch for cooler rack