After September 11th, Angela and Ralph sold their Maryland horse farm and hit the road full-time. Now they shoot across the country in a 2018 RAM 5500, Douglass Truck Body, and 2017 Arctic Fox 1140. Don’t miss Ralph’s cowboy action – with SASS!
One of the universal experiences of truck camping is a wonderful feeling of freedom. There you are on the road, out in the world, and able to determine where you go and when you get there – in real time.
“That looks interesting.” You park and look.
“Let’s stay here a while longer.” You stay a while longer.
“I think it’s time to move on.” You point the truck and hit the accelerator.
Then you return home. The mail has a few surprises. The kitchen disposal isn’t working. The water heater has a leak and needs to be replaced. And a rather large groundhog has evidently chewed its way under your enclosed porch (it happens).
“Wait a minute! This isn’t the life we want! Let’s sell everything and hit the road!”
For Angela Klinger, this thought was loud and clear on September 11th, 2001. For years, Angela and Ralph had set out on adventures in their Lance truck camper. They had endured the usual welcome home surprises, but were nowhere near selling the farm and hitting the road – until that fateful day.
As the unforgettable images on television seared into Angela’s mind, the urge to radically change course and was overwhelming. Three years later, the horses, the farm, and the stuff – nearly everything she dreamed of as a young girl – were sold.
Fast forward 17 years. Today Angela and Ralph live a full and wonderful life in their 2018 RAM 5500, Douglass Truck Body, and 2017 Arctic Fox 1140. They go where they want to go. They do what they want to do. Something looks interesting? They park and look.
Then Ralph draws two single-action revolvers, one pistol-caliber lever-action rifle, and one side-by-side shotgun. Ladies and gentlemen, this story is cocked, loaded, and just getting started.
Above: Ralph And Angela with their Arctic Fox 1140 and Ram 5500
Tell us the story of how you were first introduced to truck campers.
Angela: My loving parents and my sister, Florence, got me into tent camping. We eventually graduated to a Skamper tent trailer and then to a Holiday Rambler bumper-pull trailer.
I was always a horse crazy child and never outgrew my dream of one day having my own horse farm. I landed a good job soon after graduating high school. I found 30-acres of land in Frederick County, Maryland and started working on my dream.
Years later I met my sweetheart, a wonderful farm boy named Ralph. We both had a common interest in horses and country life. We bought a 1992 Lance truck camper. Our 1992 Dodge 3500 diesel dually carried our Lance camper while pulling our bumper-pull horse trailer. In the 14-years we owned this set-up, we took 132 horse camping trips.
Above: Dry camping at Lake Holmes in Turtle Lake, North Dakota
How did you decide to be on the road full-time?
Angela: September 11th, 2001 was a life-changing experience for me. As I sat glued to the television from 9:00am to the following morning at 3:00am, I made a life-altering decision.
I loved my farm life with our horses. For me, that life couldn’t have been better. But the events of that day made me rethink things. I wanted to take a new trail in my life.
I turned to Ralph and said, “How about we sell everything and travel full-time in an RV?” Ralph did not hesitate in the slightest and said, “That sounds good to me”.
We kept the farm for three years, just in case I woke up one morning and said, “What am I doing? I can’t live without horses”. However that day never came.
The three years gave us time to investigate what type of RV would work best for us. We attended RV shows, attended seminars, visited dealers, read books on the full-timing lifestyle, searched RV forums, and traveled each winter in our truck camper.
After that third year our plans went into motion at full speed. We purchased a 2004 RAM 3500 dually and a 2005 Holiday Rambler fifth wheel. Then we sold our farm.
Above: Staying on a ranch with a herd of longhorns in Moriarity, New Mexico
How did you come back to owning a truck camper?
Angela: We left for our new life on February 16, 2006. Three years later, I told Ralph that I really missed our truck camper. We were able to go off the beaten path to camp and it was never an issue to park in towns and cities.
By that time we were planning a Canada and Alaska trip. We realized that the best way to go was a truck camper. I read everything about truck campers, visiting dealerships, hashing over floor plans and making notes on what truck camper would work the best for us. I talked to every truck camper person I saw and bended their ear. Several told me about Truck Camper Magazine and it was a big help.
Finally we decided on an Arctic Fox 1140. We affectionately call it “Our Fox’s Den”. We liked the large 59-gallon fresh water holding tank, the 8-cubic foot refrigerator, and the unbelievable amount of exterior and interior storage. I love to cook and I have a place for my crockpot, stovetop pressure cooker, blender, mixer, and an assortment of pots, pans and mixing bowls.
When the slide is closed, we still can squeeze past it easily. If we pull in somewhere and cannot put the slide out, we can still access everything if we want to take a break or fix lunch. Also, if the slide fails and we can’t put it out, at least we have access to everything and we can still use the camper. That’s important to us.
“I talk to RVers with license plates from states and provinces we want to visit. I ask them what we should see in their home town.”
Are you always on the road in your truck camper rig?
Angela: We travel eight to nine months out of the year in our Arctic Fox truck camper. The other three to four months we winter in our old Dodge 3500 and fifth wheel in Tombstone, Arizona.
When we’re in Tombstone, we decide what part of the country we want to explore with our truck camper for the rest of the year. That’s when I start looking on internet and getting the maps out.
When we do stay at campgrounds, I talk to RVers with license plates from states and provinces we want to visit. I ask them what we should see in their home town. I always have a pad of paper to take down ideas. They are RVing folks, so they often know the good places to go.
Has living in an RV full-time been challenging?
Angela: We are very self-sufficient, so our challenges with full-timing have been minimal. As full-timers, we are South Dakota residents. We work with America’s Mailbox, a mail-forwarding service in South Dakota. They do South Dakota truck registration and tag renewal. Every five years we have to go to South Dakota in person to get our driver’s licenses renewed.
Our bills are all on auto-pay, so we get very little physical mail. We don’t get junk mail because we opted out. Organizations like America’s Mailbox and Escapees RV Club have made it easy for full-time RVers.
Last year you upgraded to a 2018 RAM 5500 with a custom Douglass Truck Body. What led you upgrade your truck and decide on a custom bed?
Ralph: Our 2004 RAM dually diesel had plenty of power, but we could tell that the suspension was not heavy enough for our camper and the potholes we sometimes encountered. For more payload capacity and a much heavier suspension, we bought a 2018 RAM 5500 cab and chassis. It’s a diesel, four door, two-wheel drive truck.
Angela: After reading articles in Truck Camper Magazine, we decided to go with a custom utility bed made by Douglass Truck Bodies in Bakersfield, California.
Even though they were 13-hours away from our winter camping site in Tombstone, Arizona, we wanted to work with Douglass as they had built many camper bodies and knew how to outfit one correctly.
Tell us about the process of designing and ordering the Douglass Truck Body.
Ralph: In early December 2017, we brought our Arctic Fox 1140 to them on our old RAM 3500 and left the camper with them. They needed to take very careful measurements of the camper to ensure the custom bed fit properly.
For the design, we wanted a spray-in bed liner and an enclosed compartment for a spare 19.5-inch spare tire. We discussed our design with Tyler Bassett at Douglass. After going back and forth a few times with some ideas and changes, our truck body order was placed.
Angela: For our design, we started with a basic truck camper body and then added the features we wanted. Tyler kept us informed during the process and, in early March, he called us to bring our new RAM 5500 out to them. When we arrived, he showed us our utility bed still in its rough stages.
About a month later we received the call we had been waiting for. Our Fox’s Den was ready! We arrived on Friday, April 6 and saw our camper on our new truck. We were very excited.
Above: Angela and Ralph with Rick Douglass, President of Douglass Truck Bodies
We were greeted by Tyler’s associate, Tom, and Rick Douglass, President of Douglass Truck Bodies. Rick is the grandson of Clint Douglass Jr., the founder of Douglass Truck Bodies. Tyler had called us earlier that week to say he couldn’t be there as he was taking a vacation with his wife before their twins were born.
We signed some papers and gave them a check for the remainder balance. All in all, the custom truck body cost us $17,400.
On the way home the truck carried the camper beautifully. We had talked about getting airbags put on our truck, but we wanted to see if we actually needed them first.
We realized when our black and grey tanks are full, this added more weight to the overhang of the camper causing the front end to have a light feel. When we were in South Dakota we stopped by a garage and had airbags installed. That alleviated the problem.
In the pictures, the Torklift Fastgun turnbuckles are hooked into custom tie-down points on the bed. How did that design element come about?
Ralph: With the design of the Douglass bed, we couldn’t use Torklift’s standard frame-mounted tie-downs.
To create tie-down points, Douglass Truck Bodies built mounting brackets into their bed. With this solution, I can use Torklift Fastguns.
Do you have any advice for folks who will be working with Douglass Truck Bodies on a custom bed of their own?
Ralph: Since Douglass Truck Bodies are 100-percent custom, there are things you can change. For example, the overall width of the truck body.
The typical build at Douglass Truck Bodies is 94-inches wide. That’s fine, but the rear of a truck camper won’t fit on a 94-inch wide bed. To address this, Douglass narrows the bed at the end to 90-inches at a cost of $1,200.
I didn’t need the extra 4-inches of width, so I asked Douglass to make the entire bed 90-inches wide to fit between the skirting of the camper – and avoid the $1,200 charge.
Douglass also wanted to add a step bumper, but we didn’t need that because the camper is going to be on the truck 90-percent of its life. I also didn’t get shelving inside all the storage compartments. The large front compartments feature shelving, but I use plastic storage boxes in the middle compartments.
Angela: You can also get drawers, cubby holes and electric door locks, but we didn’t need all that. By making the bed 90-inches wide, eliminating the step bumper, and forgoing shelves on some compartments, we kept the costs down.
Is there anything that you didn’t get on your custom bed that you wish you had?
Angela: Yes. Douglass offers extra storage that goes clear across the back under the truck camper. It would be like a big bumper storage compartment. That would be nice for fishing poles or long-handled wash brushes.
“The first thing we decided when we went full-timing was that it wasn’t a vacation. We can’t go sightseeing every day.”
What’s your day-to-day life like as full-timers?
Angela: When we’re on the road, Ralph and I usually have relaxing mornings. If we are in a nice scenic spot on the water, I love to have my coffee, relax, and meditate. It’s soothing.
If we have a day of sightseeing planned, then that’s what we do. If it’s a free day with nothing planned, I usually catch up on my travel journal and write cards and postcards. I still do that. I rarely text or email.
Above: San Juan Mountains, Mineral Creek near Silverton, Colorado
Ralph: The first thing we decided when we went full-timing was that it wasn’t a vacation. We can’t go sightseeing every day. We will burn out.
If we are in an area we like, we’ll stay for a period of time and do everyday things. We have laundry days, shopping days, and errands. Normal stuff still needs to get done.
Angela: We do plan a route, but it’s never etched in stone. We change like the wind. If we’re going to be a place for a week and there are several things we want to do, we try to space them out. We also plan for quiet days in the camper.
We never know what to expect on the road. We are living in the moment. For example, we were in the Black Hills for almost a month. There was so much to see, so we moved slowly. We saw Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Sturgis, and Deadwood.
Then we found out about a five day rodeo in Belle Fourche. For all five days we stayed at rodeo grounds for free. They had so much parking there. We parked far away in the parking lot under some shade trees. We weren’t bothered.
We went three nights to the show. In the morning they had eliminations, which were free to watch. The rodeo had steer wrestling, calf roping, bull riding, and barrel racing. The cowboys and girls who won during the eliminations competed in the evening program.
I never thought I would be this busy. Sometimes I say that we should buy a farm again so that we can relax.
Above: Lake Audubon in Coleharbor, North Dakota
Finding the rodeo and free camping was definitely road magic. Do you guys typically pay for campgrounds, or boondock?
Angela: Since we left Tombstone, Arizona on May 1st, we have only paid for four campgrounds – and that was because we were meeting friends.
Mostly we stay in national forests, wildlife recreation areas, and BLM land. Between these three resources we often find beautiful places to camp. It’s not unusual for us to be right on the water.
It takes several hours to find the best free camping opportunities I usually do the route and campground planning in the evenings. We also stop at the local Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center and ask for suggestions.
I also use apps on my phone to find free places to camp. My favorite apps for finding free camping are Allstays , Campendium, Free Camping, Boondocking, USFS & BLM CG, Passport America (1/2 price camping), RV Parky, Park Advisor, and Park Finder.
We have never phoned for campground reservations. We purposely do not go to tourist areas in the height of tourist season, especially the popular National Parks. We don’t do well in crowds.
We did go through Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota right after the 4th of July. We got there on July 8th. At Theodore Roosevelt there’s the north and south unit that are not connected. Go to both if you have time. The south road has a 36-mile loop and the north unit has a road that’s 15-miles up and 15-miles back.
Ralph and I would start out in the morning when it was still dark. We fixed coffee in our mugs, got in the truck, drove the wildlife road, and watched the sunrise. While the sun was coming up, we pulled off at the nice view areas. We saw a couple hundred buffalo, wild horses, and mule deer. It was so nice early in the morning because that’s when the wildlife is out.
Above: Spearfish Scenic Byway in Lead, South Dakota
We don’t hear much about Theodore Roosevelt National Park. That’s one national park we haven’t visited yet. As folks who prefer free campsites without hookups, how do you handle the summer heat?
Angela: We watch the weather and decide where we’re going to go through the spring, summer and fall. In the summer we stay in the northern part of the country. Even then, sometimes it gets hot. When we were in Rapid City, South Dakota, it got to 104 degrees.
When it gets that hot we go inside somewhere. For example, we might go to a truck stop and do laundry. Many of the truck stops have a truckers’ lounge with a big screen television. Sometimes we’ll sit there all afternoon drinking coffee, doing laundry, and watching a movie.
Ralph had a shooting competition in Minot, North Dakota. We stayed the night at really nice truck stop with a wonderful restaurant. It was 90-degrees outside, but that truck stop had a theater and they were showing continuous movies.
Ralph: We try to find shade and run our built-in generator or Honda EU2000i, depending on the location. We can run our air conditioner with the built-in generator. Our portable Honda 2000 only allows us to run the air conditioner on fan mode. Our portable 12-volt fan has also come in handy.
Tell us about the competitive shooting competitions.
Angela: Both Ralph and I are competitive shooters. We compete as we travel. We both shoot IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association). IDPA is a sport based on defensive pistol shooting.
Ralph also shoots SASS (Single Action Shooting Society). SASS promotes cowboy action shooting from the Old West. When we had our farm in Maryland, we had a horse riding buddy who competed. He invited Ralph to go watch and he got hooked.
Ralph: Each stage of SASS tournaments require four fire arms. First, I use a pair of single action shooting revolvers that are pre-1900 replicas. I also use a lever action pistol caliber rifle and double barrel shot gun, or a Winchester Model 97. So, in total I have two single action revolvers, a shotgun and a rifle.
The SASS cowboy action shooting tournaments must be fun. How would someone learn about their events?
Angela: SASS has a website (sassnet.com) with their events listed by state and town. There’s also a quarterly Cowboy Chronicle magazine. It has articles and all the clubs are listed.
When we decide where we going to visit, I’ll make notes about the cowboy shoots and dates. Then we look for sightseeing opportunities in that area.
Above: Sunset on BLM Land in Elephant Butte, New Mexico
Is there anything else you would want fellow truck campers to know about the full-time lifestyle?
Ralph: People come up to us on the road and ask questions. We tell them we’ve been full-timers for 13-years. They assume we’ve been through all 50 states. We’ve been through most states, but we’ve only stayed and explored 35 of them. There are a lot of southern states we’ve passed through and never stayed or explored.
Angela: I actually pause a moment each week to thank God for my wonderful life. Let’s just say I don’t miss paying taxes or making hay. I hated making hay. The full-time RV lifestyle truly suits us.
I read your, “Never Before Told Story” and remember Gordon saying that he married the right girl. We have met so many people who say that they’d love to go full-time, but one person doesn’t want to do it, and the other person misses out. Lucky for us, we both love being on the road together.
Ralph: You can’t make your full-time expectations too high. Living on the road isn’t like living at home. We’ve had breakdowns with the truck and stuff go wrong with refrigerator and other components. When stuff happens, you have to deal with it as you go.
Above: Kluane National Park in the Yukon
Angela: Earlier I mentioned a trip to Canada and Alaska. That’s what prompted us to get back into truck camping. Well, we went to through Canada and Alaska in the summer of 2017. It was an experience that I will never forget; everything I thought it would be and more.
We captured our 2018 Truck Camper Magazine winning photograph (above) in Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia during our adventure. For the record, the mountain goat was part of the provincial park sign.
People often ask us to describe our life and I describe it this way; Our life is a cross between Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving with a whirlwind of adventure!
Angela and Ralph’s Rig
Truck: 2018 Dodge 5500, four door, 4×2, dually, diesel
Custom truck bed by Douglass Truck Body
Camper: 2017 Arctic Fox 1140
Tie-Downs: Torklift International Fastguns