John Bull shares his truck camping stories from visiting grandchildren to exploring Big Bend to using his camper as a Family Emergency Vehicle.
Last December, we published, “The Truck Camper as a Family Emergency Vehicle (FEV)”. The article strongly resonated with many of our readers who wrote in with their FEV stories for weeks. In fact, “The Truck Camper as a Family Emergency Vehicle” continues to be one of our most popular articles.
Many months after running the FEV story, we received an email from long time reader John Bull telling us about his FEV experience caring for his sister in the hospital. Then we learned more about John and realized that he would make a great story for Truck Camper Magazine. It turns out he’s quite the active and adventurous truck camper and has a few more stories to share with us.
TCM: How did you use your truck camper as a Family Emergency Vehicle?
John: Last summer, my sister went into the hospital with a serious infection in her foot, which was a complication of diabetes. She was in pretty bad shape. I drove 200 miles to the hospital and arrived at 1:30 in the morning. I found a level spot in the hospital parking lot and hit the sack.
At the hospital, I parked in a regular parking spot in an area where not many people parked. I talked to the guards and they had no problem with it. They’d even drive by to make sure that everything was okay.
I was there for the next two weeks making sure that she had help communicating with the doctors and nurses. I don’t think I could have been as effective in dealing with all the things that came up in my sister’s care if I had not had been staying in the camper in the parking lot. I have spent so much time in the camper previously that I almost felt that I was at home.
In my camper I was so comfortable. I didn’t need to bother my brother and his family. I was able to go on walks and had my cell phone handy if my sister needed me. I was in my own space and I had everything I needed while I was helping my sister out.
The solar kept the twelve-volt systems things going. I took my laptop with me and used the hospital’s wireless internet to keep in touch. I even was able to get connected from the parking lot a few times, but mostly got connected in a waiting room on my sister’s floor. And I went to the city campground five miles east to dump my tanks. I feel the truck camper has paid me dividends that cannot be measured.
TCM: You’ve also enjoyed having your camper when you visit your family. Tell us about that.
John: When I go up to my sister’s place in Nebraska, I usually stay in the truck camper because their house is full. We just stay in the truck camper. I stayed at my brother’s place in Omaha and he has a tight driveway. Not a problem with the camper. At my brother’s, I was plugged into shore power in his driveway. I’d have tea in the morning, listen to the radio, read a magazine, take a walk, and do what I want to do. Since I’m an early riser, I wasn’t stirring around their house and bothering them. Having our truck camper works out really well when visiting family members.
TCM: Have you been out camping with your grandchildren?
John: We’ve only been out a few times with the grandkids and we hope to take them out more. I took one grandson to a Scout event in Louisburg, Kansas overnight. Instead of sleeping in a tent like the other Scouts, he got to sleep in the camper. We made hot dogs and S’mores. The next morning, most of the other Scouts packed up and left, but we stayed and went down with fishing poles to the lake. He caught three fish and then was bragging with friends that he got to sleep in the camper.
When the grandchildren are here, they like to eat their lunch in the camper. We took a couple of them out to an area lake overnight once and found out one of them was a real good storyteller around the campfire.
TCM: Tell us about your trip down to Big Bend National Park in Texas.
John: In the winter, we took a trip to Texas and visited Big Bend National Park. It was a five-week adventure. It was actually pretty crowded down in Big Bend that time of year. We also went to Houston, Dallas, Padre Island, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Fredericksburg, and the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. While we were in the Aransas, we were on a catamaran tour boat and saw a whooping crane pulling a blue crab out of the water. I just happened to snap the picture right when that happened.
Camping in the Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park was a real hoot. The rangers don’t recommend anything bigger than a truck camper going into the basin because of the switchbacks and the lack of large camping sites.
Our campsite was the perfect spot because we were surrounded by the mountains. We made that our home base and took off to the Rio Grande area and also drove the grapevine road, which was really rough. We went about five miles per hour because of the big rocks in the road. We’d really like to go back there again.
We also went to the Palo Duro Canyon, which is near Lubbock and Amarillo. We found this place called the Blessed Mary Restaurant just east of Amarillo. There’s a giant cross on the side of the road, so you can’t miss it. We walked in and found twelve tables and each one had a name of a disciple. We opened the menu and there weren’t any prices, but there was a glass jar by the door where you put in as much money as you wanted to pay for the meal.
TCM: That’s interesting. Are you boondocking during your truck camping adventures?
John: The longest time boondocking for us was at a Bluegrass festival where we felt like sardines. There was no way for us to get out. We couldn’t even start up the truck because of all the people there. We relied on our solar and we used the Johnny on the Spots as much as we could so we didn’t use up our thirteen-gallon black tank. We were boondocking there for five days.
TCM: Tell us about the time you saw a baby elephant seal being born.
John: We went to Hearst Castle and then went over to see the elephant seals near the ocean. There’s a boardwalk along the beach so you can look right down. My wife was looking at one of the females without a pup basking in the sun. The mother seal would throw sand on top of herself and was squirming around. My wife said, “I think she’s about to have a pup.” I said, “What do you know about it?” She said, “That’s the way I was when I was about to give birth. I couldn’t get comfortable no matter what I did.” I went and took pictures and my wife was calling me to come and look. The elephant seal was having her baby.
Before that I had never seen that area near the coast. I could sure live there. I love that coast.
TCM: What’s the most extreme weather you have ever camped in?
John: On the way to our daughter’s place in Scottsdale, we stopped for the night. I didn’t realize what the altitude was. We were in New Mexico and it was the middle of winter. That night, we got about seven-inches of snow. I talked to a guy the next morning and found out that it had dipped to sixteen below. We were boondocking, so I didn’t plug in the truck. As a result of the cold weather, the bathroom faucet froze up and we couldn’t flush the toilet. The truck even took three cycles of the grid heaters to start. As we were driving, I left the furnace on to heat the camper. We got sixty to eighty miles out and the pipes thawed out.
TCM: How does your truck camper help you as you attend, “Star Parties”?
John: I attended a “Star Party” at Merritt Reservoir just south of Valentine, Nebraska, which was put on by the astronomy clubs of Lincoln and Omaha. I was camped right next to where the telescopes were located. After 9:00 PM, I’d go around to people’s telescopes and they would invite me to look at celestial objects.
TCM: That sounds really cool. Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like to share about your truck camping?
John: We are basically travelers out to see the country and meet people. We tend not to use commercial campgrounds. I think there is more adventure if you don’t have everything all planned out and tidied up. Sometimes the unexpected can cause us some frustration. Looking back, those are also the challenges that make life interesting, just like the challenges we face as we go through life.
I just wish I had gotten a truck camper when I was a lot younger. I like the adventure the truck camper allows and the ability to visit and park in the big cities or get as far away as I can from the crowds. What more could you ask for?
TCM: What more indeed. Thank you, John.
John: You’re welcome.
Truck Camper Rig
Truck: 2004 Dodge 3500 SLT, quad cab, dually, long bed, 4×2, diesel
Camper: 2004 Lance 920
Tie-downs and Turnbuckles: Happijac
Suspension Enhancements: N/A
Gear: Lance cabover struts, 50 Watt solar, Trojan SCS225 battery, Garmin 1300T GPS