For the first time in over eight years, TCM has purchased their own truck camper. We reveal exactly what we got, and why this camper will be a project.
There’s a bad joke that I’ve told, probably a few dozen times too many, when folks ask me why we bought the truck camper we have. I explain that we don’t own the campers we use, that we borrow them from the industry, and that we usually just return them when the black tanks are full. I know, the joke isn’t that funny, and one day I realized just how not funny it really was.
I was talking to a long-time reader at a truck camper rally who was showing me some things that concerned him about the exterior seals of his camper, asking for my advice. I explained to him about how important it is to maintain your seals, and pointed him to an article in the magazine we did years ago with Palomino on the subject.
At some point during the conversation, it occurred to me how obnoxious, and insensitive, my joke had been. Not only had I never actually fixed a seal on a truck camper but, worse, I had never had to worry about the potentially catastrophic and expensive damage the resulting water intrusion could create. My experience with repairing seals was entirely academic.
The Northern Lite Fire Sparks Change
For the 2014/2015 camping season, we had arranged to borrow a Northern Lite Special Edition truck camper. As folks who prefer hard-side non-slide truck campers, we were very excited about borrowing a Northern Lite, but I kept thinking about how we needed to get more hands-on, more technical, and deeper into the real-world experience of owning a truck camper.
When news broke about the Northern Lite factory fire, and their subsequent announcement to rebuild, I decided to take us on a very different course. We would find, and purchase, our own truck camper.
To avoid any potential perception of bias, our camper would be manufactured by a company that was no longer in business. Even the brand name would be abandoned with no current RV manufacturer owning the brand rights.
In essence, we would buy a used and orphaned truck camper, and walk the walk of our readers in truck camper ownership. We would experience regular camper maintenance. We would experience problems and repairs. No more worry-free new camper loans. It was finally time to get a camper of our own.
From a magazine perspective, the benefits are many. We will be able to fix and maintain our new-to-us camper, and write about it. We will never again miss a story, rally, or trip opportunity because we’re waiting for a camper to be shipped. In fact, we can experience and review more campers because we will always have our own, and we’ll be ready to go where the new campers are located; a Truck Camper Magazine mobile.
Lastly, I didn’t write, “The Truck Camper as a Family Emergency Vehicle (FEV)” three years ago just for fun. I strongly believe that having a truck and camper rig at the ready is an indispensable family safety tool. If we need to get out of Dodge (no pun intended), or take care of a sick friend or family member at their home or the hospital, we can do it with our truck camper rig. There have been too many times when we’ve been in-between campers, for one reason or another, for an extended time. No more.
My first thought was vintage. In my Camper Coachman magazine collection from the late 1960s and early 1970s, I had read about Ford’s forward-thinking fiberglass American Road, Avion and Silver Streak’s aluminum framed beauties, and Born Free’s tag-axle equipped monsters. I even talked to Dave MacQuaid about acquiring his restored 1976 Amerigo with the Snap-N-Nap rear pop-out room. I could add a periscope and be Captain Nemo.
Once again, Angela was a bit more rational than her excitable husband. She explained that we needed a modern camper, with modern amenities, if we were going to experience what most of our readers experience. She also wanted electric remote jacks, real holding tanks, and the ability to get replacement appliances and parts without resorting to junk yards, Craigslist, and eBay. She was right, of course.
“But how about a Chinook, El Dorado, or a Barth? Maybe a Mitchell? Red Dale? We could get a Wolverine like John Steinbeck!”
“No, no, and no.”
I had to try.
With vintage campers off the table, it was time to figure out what manufacturers and brands were possible. The manufacturer and brand both needed to be out of business, and completely extinct.
Once I had done my homework, one company stood out as the right candidate, Western Recreational Vehicles. Western Rec, as they were often referred, has been out of business for over six years. Their truck camper brand, Alpenlite, does not, to the best of our knowledge, belong to a current RV manufacturer. It would be possible to buy a relatively modern, and completely orphaned, Western Rec truck camper.