Adventure Stories

Third Time Charming: Hallmark, Hallmark, Hallmark

Randy and Jeanne Grepling share an important story about the irreplaceable qualities of a truck and camper rig, and what brought them back to Hallmark again, and again, and again. Sometimes a good thing keeps popping up.

Third Time Charming Hallmark Campers

We all know folks who have bought one, two, three, and even more truck campers. Heck, the Runaway Roses on YouTube seem to change campers for each episode. But how many people do you know who have bought the same brand of truck camper three times? Yes, there are a few in our mental rolodex, but it’s a very short list.

That list is even shorter when you exclusively look at pop-up camper owners. For some reason, some hard side folks trade in and trade up campers like socks, but pop-up owners tend to be longer-term owners. Once they pick a pop-up, they don’t tend to pop out of it a year or two later.

Randy and Jeanne Grepling tilted our heads when we learned about their truck camper history. These two lifelong hikers and campers have not only owned three Hallmark pop-up campers, but have also owned a rather alluring truck-based motorhome along the way. It’s exceedingly rare to transition from a pop-up truck camper to a hard side motorhome and back to a truck camper. In fact, we can’t think of another couple who’s made such a radical switch; pop-up camper to motorhome to pop-up camper.

Curiosity finally got the best of us and we called them for an interview. Their story and their earned wisdom, make this an important read for all truck camper owners. After their interview, we certainly discussed how even we’ve been tempted to look beyond our beloved truck camper rig to another RV category, and how we need to remember what qualities brought us to truck camping in the first place. It starts with ‘Go Anywhere. Camp Anywhere. Tow Anything’ but there’s so much more. I for one would not want to have an RV I could not demount.

Get ready for a lesson in what makes truck camping awesome.

Randy And Jeanne

How did you get into truck camping?

I started camping around twelve years old when I was in the Boy Scouts. We had an active troop that went camping once a month. In the summer, we took week-long trips.
My wife’s parents had a VW Vanagon. When she was a kid, they camped all around the Northeast. On our first date, she challenged me to a hike. I said, “Yeah, let’s try it”. She beat me, and we’ve been hiking and camping together ever since; forty-three years now.

Our first true truck camper was a 1989 Toyota Tacoma and a Wildernest flip-top camper with a queen-size bed. It was bare bones and we had it for twelve years. We’d unlatch it, flip it over, put up the tent, and sleep on the mattress suspended off the right side of the truck.

Many times during the dozen years we owned the Wildernest, we camped at trailheads. At the time, we lived in Colorado and were climbing the fourteeners. On Fridays around ten or eleven at night, we’d pull into a parking spot. We’d flip our sleeping area over top another person’s car and, at two to three in the morning, we’d start hiking with our headlamps.

We eventually sold the Wilderness. It wouldn’t stay dry and the company didn’t make it anymore. That’s when we started researching different pop-up camper brands.

Hallmark Ute XL Camper From 2004

Above: Hallmark Rig #1 was a 2004 Chevy 2500 and Hallmark Ute

Is that when you discovered Hallmark Campers?

Yes. During our visit to Hallmark we immediately fell in love with the Ward family. We liked the shop and the quality of Hallmark campers.

In 2004, we bought a Hallmark Ute XL. It had a bathroom with a shower inside, a black tank, a sink, a three-burner cooktop, and an east-west bed. We bought a three-quarter ton truck and started using our new Hallmark. It was fantastic.

We loved that we could stand on the roof. We installed roof racks for our two full-size sea kayaks and, at the time, our bicycles.

While we were camping in our Hallmark, someone told us about Truck Camper Magazine and we started reading it. From your magazine, I started learning about different campers and the possibilities of what truck campers could be.

With our first Hallmark, we learned that we hate black tanks and dump stations. Waiting in line was not fun. I read about cassette toilets in your magazine. I was an HVAC repair person, so I look at things from a maintenance point of view. The cassette toilet system made more sense and skipped the dump station and line.

“I was an HVAC repair person, so I look at things from a maintenance point of view.”

Because of your magazine, we decided to sell our camper. We took it back to Hallmark and Bill Ward had it sold in a week for $1,000 less than we bought it. That happened in 2012. Hallmark was building campers with molded fiberglass sides and their new one-piece fiberglass roof. We loved our Hallmark, so we decided to buy another one.

Hallmark Ute-Everest On The Beach

Above: Hallmark Rig #2 was a 2012 Chevy 2500 and Hallmark Ute/Everest

Our second Hallmark was a Ute/Everest combo that had no black tank. There was a grey tank for when we went to events where wanted to be self-contained. We didn’t get a microwave, oven, or air conditioner. It had the outside rear boxes. It had an east-west bed. Space in truck campers is measured in square inches and not square feet, so we did not want extra things we didn’t need. There were two solar panels so that we could stay off the grid and camp.

Tiger MotorhomeAbove: Their Tiger Motorhome

But then you bought a Class B motorhome. What happened?

We saw a Tiger Motorhome at an RV show. All I can say is that we had a senior moment and thought we had to have one. Tiger Motorhomes are expedition vehicles and they’re cool. We went to the factory in South Carolina and decided to buy one. We put money down and sold our second Hallmark.

Our Tiger Motorhome was on a Chevy one-ton diesel. They’re nice and the floor plan was great, even though the bed was small.

When we got it, we decided to go full-time on the road. We sold our house and put everything in storage. Everything we owned was in a 10×10 with our bikes hanging from the ceiling.

We lived on the road for a year in the Tiger Motorhome, but ultimately decided that we liked having a home base. The Tiger Motorhome was fun and we went all over the place. Then we found out that it is hard to boondock back east. I hated making campground reservations and having things laid out. It also got hot with no air conditioning.

My wife loves to have a kitchen and I wanted a garage. We realized that we like coming home and taking off again. Our home is the center of our wheel. For a year we traveled around and had a great time.

Then, we were in Gros Ventre Campground in Grand Teton National Park walking around the sites. We saw a one-ton Ford with a brand new Hallmark. We started talking to the owner and listened to his story. He started with a diesel Sportsmobile and went to an Earthroamer and then decided that he was done with diesel and monster-type vehicles. That’s when he decided to get a Plain Jane Ford and a Hallmark.

Hallmark Everest Ute 3 Under Snow

Above: Randy and Jeanne’s third Hallmark

Sounds like the universe was talking to you. Is that when you went back for your third Hallmark?

Yes. That’s when we looked at each other and realized that we missed our Hallmark, especially its big flat roof where the kayaks were stored. On our way back to the Tiger Motorhome factory, the owner had it sold sight unseen. We had it for two years and sold it for $1000 more than we paid for it.

The big ah-ha with our Tiger Motorhome rig was that we couldn’t put anything on the roof. We tried inflatable kayaks and didn’t like them. We also missed having a separate vehicle to pick up lumber or bricks. I’d have to rent a truck.

Hallmark 3 Ute Everest In The Desert

Above: Hallmark Rig #3 was a 2019 Chevy 3500 and Hallmark Ute/Everest

Tell us about Hallmark number three.

We came back from that trip and ordered Hallmark number three. It’s our best one yet. We decided to go with a Ford that was certified by the factory for a truck camper. We now have a 2019 Ford F-350 6.2L gas, crew cab, short bed truck. It was only a $2,000 difference to get the camper package.

Then we went to Hallmark, sat with Matt, and talked about what we were going to get in our camper. It’s a blend of the Ute and Everest.

The biggest game changer with Hallmark number three has been the north-south bed. There’s storage on each side, and storage under the bed. We did not choose to have a built-in cassette. We have a portable cassette. We take bucket baths. My wife made a shower curtain for us on the back passenger’s side.

Hallmark Ute Everest 3 With Kayak

You mentioned that you have kayaks on the roof. How do you secure them?

We added Yakama roof racks to carry two sea kayaks or a canoe. The racks are removable.

Kayaks On Camper with Yakama Roof Racks And Roof Tracks

When installing our roof racks, we incorporated wood supports and Yakima roof tracks. We screwed them in with sealant on the right and left side. Yakima towers and extra-long poles with kayak cradles were spaced on the roof. That’s how we load and secure them to the roof. I like that I can get the Yakima parts at REI. It’s a heavy-duty rack with straps to hold our kayaks down.

Last October we were driving seventy miles per hour on the highway and we didn’t know they were up there. They’re secure.

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Getting Kayaks On The Roof Of Camper
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Kayak On Hallmark Camper Roof

One question we get a lot is how people get kayaks and canoes into their camper roofs. Could you share any tips?

I stand up on the rear of the truck camper when the camper top is down. I throw a rope down and Jeanne hooks it into the kayak or canoe. I lift the kayak or canoe as she holds it. Then I put the bow on the PVC pipe that’s on the Yakima pole.

The PVC acts like a roller that the kayak is cradled into. I walk the boat up to the front of the camper and put the kayak in the cradles. Once it’s up there, I put a roller cam over the boat and secure it down with one-inch-wide white water rafting straps.

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Bikes In The Back Seat 1
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Bike In Back Seat
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Bike Tires Secured Down
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Bikes Not Seen And Covered

You also bring your bikes along. Where do they go?

With our first Hallmark, we put our bikes on the roof because we had an extra cab and not a crew cab. There was no inside room for bicycles. Sometimes we hit trees at night going to a trailhead. Trees and expensive road bicycles don’t mix. We also didn’t want to attach them to the back of our rig because it would tear our bikes apart.

Our current truck is a crew cab. I removed the entire rear seat and built a platform out of 3/4-inch plywood. I installed fork mounts on each side. I take the front wheels off and bungee cord them to the back wall of the cab. Then I stagger the bikes.

One rear wheel goes first on one side and then on the other side, the other rear wheel goes first. The handlebars are on the opposite sides. I chain them around the seat so they’re secure. My wife made a black custom cloth cover. Our windows are tinted dark, so unless someone is super close to our truck, they have no clue the bikes are in there. We like to take our bikes to events and rails-to-trail rides.

Rails To Trails Katy Trail Missouri

We’ve seen a few rails-to-trail routes. What are they like?

We love rails-to-trails and have done a few. We took our gravel bikes up to South Dakota in the Black Hills to ride the Mickelson Trail. A shuttle met us at 6:00 a.m. the morning we started. We only took our backpacks and our bikes. The shuttle took us to the beginning of the trail and we rode 100 miles through the Black Hills. We stopped at motels for the three days we were on the trail, but then our camper was there when we finished.

The rails-to-trails across Missouri is called the Katy trail and it’s 237 miles going from south of Kansas City to St Louis. We drove to Saint Charles with our truck camper and our bikes and parked at a campground. Then, we took a four-hour ride to Kansas City and started the trail. Along the way, we stayed at AirBnBs for the five days it took us to ride our bikes across the state. On the rails-to-trails, we never hit a real road. It was magical. When we got back, our truck camper was there waiting for us.

Rails To Trails Fun

Other than biking and kayaking, how have you used your camper?

We got a 911 reverse call because ash was falling from the sky. My wife was home and called me, “What do I do?” I said, “Grab our emergency list, put those things in the camper, and aim the truck out of the driveway”.

While she was doing that, I drove home. There was a forest fire one valley over to the west and our house was full of smoke. When I got back, I grabbed the car, she drove the truck camper and we took off to the area of rendezvous. Fortunately, we didn’t have to stay the night. If we did, we had our camper. That is a serious advantage to having our camper. We put the plan into action.

Kayaking Greplings

That’s a story many fellow truck campers have shared with us over the years. We escaped a hurricane in our camper in 2022. What makes your story unique is that you’ve bought the same brand of camper now three times. You guys obviously love truck camping!

Yes, we do. Our Hallmark allows us to take off on a moment’s notice to explore any areas we find interesting. We like getting the better camp spots because we’re smaller than the big rigs. We like going down that rough and narrow road that other RVs just can’t drive. And we like being able to get into a normal parking spot and go with the normal traffic flow.

“Our Hallmark allows us to take off on a moment’s notice to explore any areas we find interesting.”

Our camper also gives us freedom from motels and bad restaurant food. We’re particular about what we eat. We haven’t gone to a restaurant in a long time. It’s gotten expensive and we just don’t like to eat out. When we’re camping, we tailor our food the way we like it. We have a food dehydrator and a small refrigerator. That’s a major plus. We enjoy taking the time to cook.

We love that there’s spontaneity when we go truck camping. We don’t have any animals–only cactus–so all we need to do is turn the furnace down and turn off the water. We see people with pull-alongs and fifth wheels, and they have so much prep to put them together. Then, they get back and have to unpack it all.

We love that life is so simple with our truck camper.

 

 

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