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Adventure Stories

Earthquake Truck Camper Escape

In 1989, Larry Bluhm was getting ready to watch the World Series when disaster struck.  Lucky for Larry, his truck camper was ready to go.

Earthquake Truck Camper Escape

Soon after we published, “The Truck Camper as a Family Emergency Vehicle” and, “Truck Camper Hurricane Preparedness” in Truck Camper Magazine last August, Larry Bluhm contacted us with an amazing story.

Larry wrote, “I was living in San Francisco next to Golden Gate Park during the Loma Prieta earthquake.  My truck camper was parked right in front of my building.  My apartment was thrashed and later yellow tagged, with red tagged buildings on the same block.  Through several days of aftershocks, I stayed on the park side of the street in my truck camper with all utilities functional.”

Now that’s a story!  We immediately emailed Larry back and asked for an interview and some pictures.  It turns out Larry was a very interesting truck camper long before the earthquake struck in 1989.  Get ready for a real shake, a big rattle, and one more reason why we roll with truck campers.

Northstar at Bodega Bay, California

Above: Larry’s Northstar Laredo in Bodega Bay, California

TCM: Most of us have never experienced a major earthquake.  What’s it like?

Larry: Living in California, earthquakes happen on a regular basis.  I’m not terribly concerned about them, but the Loma Prieta in 1989 was a gnarly one.  It happened in the afternoon while the World Series was on with Oakland and San Francisco.  At the time, I was working two jobs but happened to be home that day.  I remember it being warm out.  As the game was about to begin, the earthquake struck.

My apartment started to go in harmonic vibration.  At that point, I got seriously worried that the building was going to come down on me.  My loft bed was sturdy, so I got under it and the shaking stopped shorty thereafter.  Our apartment building was yellow tagged, which meant it was habitable but the building needed structural work.  If the building had been red tagged, everyone would have to get out.

During the earthquake, stuff came out of my cabinets and the bookshelf launched across the living room.  The apartment was in bad shape, with plaster down and stuff on the floor.

My truck camper was out front and food was in the refrigerator.  At the time I lived on Fulton street with a building on one side and Golden Gate Park on the other.  I spent three nights in the camper because it was safer and the stuff in my apartment was all over the place.  There were aftershocks and the truck’s suspension made it better.

Like I said, I spent three to four days in my camper as things were getting cleaned up in my apartment.  With the camper, I had a civilized space to stay at night.  I had utilities and a functioning refrigerator in the camper.  Some neighbors had food in my camper refrigerator, so I was a popular guy on the block.

TCM: That’s an amazing story.  You truly used your camper as an FEV, twenty years before long before the Family Emergency Vehicle article was published.  How did you get into truck camping?

Larry: My camping experience began in the Boy Scouts.  Today I enjoy activities including climbing, mountaineering, backpacking, on and off-road cycling, skiing, kayaking with a folding boat, and rollerblading.

I’ve traveled and camped on foot, at the end of a rope, on bicycles, skis, kayaks, and motorcycles and slept more or less successfully in bivy bags or less, tents, hammocks, snow caves, and the occasional portaledge.  I’ve only had a handful of “epics”.

Siesta sleeper camper

TCM: You’re a brave man to sleep in a portaledge.  Those things are insane!  So how did all of this lead to a truck camper?

Larry: In 1973, I was living in college town in Michigan.  This was before I moved here to California.  A guy down the street had made a custom camper.  It was a nice gypsy wagon.  I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.

Some years later, I found an old Siesta sleeper for a song and a dance.  I did a complete remodel and used it for work and for recreation.  That was the beginning.  Now I’ve upgraded the wheels and I have the Northstar Laredo that will take me into retirement.

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