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.