“What if the truck camper was an inflatable? You could drive around with it and not worry about hurting the camper, or anything else. Would you try that?”
She looked at me with a funny look for a second and said, “Yeah, I would do that. An inflatable practice camper. I’d drive that around.”
That was it. By 6:30am the next morning I was designing an inflatable practice camper on my laptop. I measured our truck camper and duplicated its dimensions. With years of CAD design experience, and decades of inflatable manufacturing, the initial model was completed later that afternoon. Then I called my son at AirWalken.
TCM: What was his reaction?
Steve: We are a custom inflatable shop that’s done all kinds of work, so he just saw it as another custom order. We once built a custom 100-foot inflatable banana for ChiquitaCon. Chiquita ordered it for the event, and later tried to return it as defective. We eventually got paid, but Chiquita never took their banana back. I sometimes inflate it on our lawn for Halloween.
Above: AirWalken exterior leg stitching on the Practice Camper
TCM: That would be impressive. How did things proceed from there?
Steve: With my CAD drawings, the sewing department had the first inflatable Practice Camper done in about a week. It’s a very simple product to build. The only real challenge was reinforcing the tie-down points to accept real turnbuckles.
TCM: You’re using real truck camper turnbuckles with an inflatable camper?
Steve: Of course. That’s another benefit of the Practice Camper. It allows owners to learn and experience installing and using real truck camper turnbuckles. You could also attach the camper with ratchet straps.
Above: The Practice Camper sidewall structure is reinforced to withstand potential impacts from driving and parking practice
TCM: How does the person who is using the Practice Camper know if they’ve hit something? With the product being an inflatable, you might not feel the collision in the truck.
Steve: Good question. I had initially wanted to install a set of wireless sensors on the Practice Camper that would indicate that a collision or near collision had occurred. Unfortunately, the cost of the sensors was prohibitive.
To accomplish a similar function, I installed a series of rubber flaps around the Practice Camper’s exterior that essentially act like whoopee cushions. If the Practice Camper comes into contact with an object, it literally toots as some of the air escapes through the flaps.
When I pulled into my barn with the Practice Camper, I was too far to the driver’s side and heard a real pants flapper when I hit a barn beam. My wife, sitting in the passenger’s seat, didn’t yet know about the whoopee system and nearly ran out of the truck thinking I was about to blow. I laughed so hard I cried. She’s still mad at me for that.
TCM: That’s a very clever low-tech solution, but can you hear the wind break from inside the truck?
Steve: Unless you have the stereo turned way up, or have a 12-valve Cummins diesel, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t hear this. Remember, the flaps on the Practice Camper are containing a lot more air and air pressure than a whoopee cushion. We’re talking the difference between a blow whistle and a semi horn. When you hit something with the Practice Camper, folks two blocks away will blame the dog.
I’ve actually had a lot of fun with this feature. Since my truck has a sunroof, I rigged a rope that drops into the truck’s cab from the Practice Camper. With a quick tug, I can cut a little cheese at a stoplight and send anyone nearby into stitches. With a grab and pull, I could probably evacuate a small town.