TCM visits the Four Wheel Camper factory in Woodland, California and checks out the AEV Jeep Brute Sparrow, or at least half an AEV Jeep Brute Sparrow. Okay, we only saw the Sparrow. Jeepers!
Since 1972, Four Wheel Campers has been focused on building extremely durable and ultra-lightweight aluminum framed pop-up truck campers for almost any truck you can imagine. While the company continues to refine this basic concept, their target never wavers from this simple and very popular formula.
So what could we expect to see when we visited Four Wheel Campers three years after our last visit? Well, not too much has changed. They are still focused on building their simple and popular pop-up campers. The campers and manufacturing processes have been refined, but essentially nothing was different. After thirty-seven years, why mess with success?
But wait! Is that the Brute Sparrow sitting over there? Let’s check out what might be the most exciting concept to hit the pop-up market for 2010 and see what’s old and new on the Four Wheel Camper production line.
Left photograph courtesy of American Expedition Vehicles.
At the 2010 Overland Expo last April, Four Wheel Campers debuted the Sparrow. Based on a Jeep TJ Wrangler with a Brute truck bed conversion from American Expedition Vehicles, the Sparrow was a major hit at the Expo and has received plenty of buzz from the overland community ever since.
So you can imagine our disappointment when we saw the Sparrow sitting inside the Four Wheel Campers production building without the Jeep Brute conversion. After the Expo, the Jeep Brute had returned to American Expedition Vehicles in Missoula, Montana. Bummer.
Once we recovered from our emotional trauma, we decided to take a close look at the Sparrow and see exactly what was possible on a Jeep. The 660 pound camper has a healthy list of features for a camper this size including a 22-gallon fresh water tank, twenty pound propane tank, propane heater, two-burner gas range top, steel sink with Whale faucet, electric water pump, two twelve-volt outlets, power inverter, two 120-volt outlets, pull-out overcab bed, sofa, radius rear door, front window, side window, rear door window, four pop-up canvas windows, and at least ten drawers and other interior storage compartments.
All that’s on a Jeep for goodness sake! This camper is very exciting and I hope to personally take it out for an adventure some day. Of course we’ll need the Jeep Brute, hint, hint.
LEFT: Four Wheel Campers consists of a main office building and a production building behind it. If you look close, you can see the rear end of our camper between the office building and the factory building.
CENTER: During a production break, we assembled the entire Four Wheel Campers team in between the office and production buildings for a group shot. This is the exact same place where we took the group photo when we visited in 2007. It was immediately clear that there are quite a few more Four Wheel Campers employees now.
RIGHT: While Four Wheel Campers models may look similar at first glance, the differences in floor plans, length, width, and other features become much more apparent when you experience the campers in person. If you visit the factory, plan on spending some time in their outdoor showroom to get acquainted with these sometimes subtle, but always important model distinctions.
When we’re photographing a camper factory, we always look for a high vantage point to capture the entire production line at once. When we couldn’t find one at Four Wheel Campers, Chicali, Four Wheel Camper’s Foreman, offered to take us up on their man lift. A what?
It turns out that a man lift is an open top steel cage designed to be lifted about ten to fifteen feet into the air by a fork lift. Since our health insurance is current, we thought, “Sure, why not?” and climbed in.
Chicali then took the wheel and raised us up and away. Once he had us at altitude, we took a few birds eye photographs of the camper production and asked Chicali to take us further down the line. With everyone on the production line looking at us like we were a parade float from planet weird, we slowly cruised down the production line until we signaled that we were where we needed to be. A few more photographs later, Chicali returned us to terra firma. Thanks Chicali!
LEFT: On his table saw at the back of the production building, Rick Cosgrove cuts every piece wood in every Four Wheel Camper. Here he’s cutting 3/4” formica finished plywood. Sweet mohawk Rick! That might be my next dew.
CENTER: Victor Barrera is in charge of the Four Wheel Campers wood shop. Here he’s sanding part of the front lift mechanism.
RIGHT: Gonzalo Delgado is building the side cabinets for a Four Wheel Camper. Gonzalo explained that he likes to assemble as many side cabinets as possible at a time for efficiency.
LEFT: Gabriel Blanco is one of two welders at Four Wheel Campers. Here he’s welding an aluminum front camper wall frame in a jig.