Rick Spigelmyer tells us how he decided to load a 2012 Travel Lite 890RX truck camper onto a gooseneck trailer to go rock crawling. Jeepers creepers, this is one insane rig.
Over the past decade or so, creative members of the off-road community have been developing Frankenstein combinations of truck campers and flat bed gooseneck trailers. These “geese campers” are formed when a truck camper is mounted all-the-way forward on a flatbed gooseneck trailer. Together, this combination presents a camp-ready tow solution for rock crawling Jeeps and other large off-road vehicles that would otherwise overload, or over-stuff a conventional toy hauler.
Is this madness? Of course it is. But it’s also a clever and cost-effective solution that works. In the passionate rock crawling community, clever and cost-effective solutions are the name of the game. Well, that and not rolling over.
Rick Spigelmyer is the first “goose camper” to grace the colorful electrons of Truck Camper Magazine. We are very excited to learn more about these rigs, and what draws the rock crawler community to do such a thing. From what Rick tells us, we might be seeing more of these Franken-rigs as time, and rocks, go by.
Above: Rick’s Travel Lite 890RX and modded out Jeep Wrangler
TCM: How did you dream up this rig?
Rick: My parents took me out camping all the time and I’ve enjoyed tent camping my whole life. Now that I’m in my mid-50s, I finally decided that I was getting too old to sleep on the ground.
I needed something along the lines of a toy hauler, but I didn’t want to buy a travel trailer. I travel to all kinds of off-road parks to wheel and camp. I also couldn’t find a toy hauler wide enough for my rock crawler. Plus, the weight of my rock crawler would likely overload a toy hauler.
A truck camper and trailer wasn’t my original idea. I had seen several truck camper and trailer set ups online, but I wanted to improve upon the idea. It’s a cool set-up. I keep the camper and trailer together all the time. It’s ready to go when I am.
I either go out by myself or with my girlfriend, Brenda. The truck camper works well for one because it’s small and self-contained. It’s also big enough for the weekend for two to four people.
The camper and trailer rig rides better with rock crawler trailer in tow. The weight is equaled out on the trailer. Whenever I drive with just camper, I can get bucking down the highway. I keep the truck around 65 miles per hour, and I have no problems at all with the truck and trailer. With the gooseneck, the weight is over the rear axle, so it handles well.
Above: The 24 foot flatbed gooseneck allows Rick to tow his truck camper and Jeep
TCM: How did your rig go from idea to reality?
Rick: I already had the truck when I had this idea. I know how long the rock crawler is, and I knew the trailer would be a twenty-four foot flat bed gooseneck. I special ordered it because I wanted it the same color as my truck.
Above: 235/75-R16 Gladiator 14 ply rated tires and custom aluminum wheels
I also upgraded to 14 ply tires and aluminum wheels because it has to look good going down the road.
After a lot of planning and measuring, I knew I could get a truck camper no bigger than nine feet in length. With a thirteen foot Jeep, a nine foot camper would still give me room to open the door.
Above: The truck camper overcab lays directly over the gooseneck
The overcab bed length didn’t matter because that part goes over the gooseneck. I wanted it flat on the trailer and fully self-contained.
Then, I found what I was looking for.
TCM: And what was that?
Rick: It actually took me two years to find the camper. The Travel Lite 890RX fit the bill perfectly. It has all the comforts of home. After a hard day of wheeling, it’s great to have a place to shower, eat, watch a little television, and relax. Not only that, but it has a bed to sleep in, rather than tent camping on the ground.
Above: The flatbed becomes a large back porch when the Jeep is off the trailer
If I unload the Jeep I have a big porch or even a dance floor. It makes all my friends jealous and there will probably be more rigs like mine showing up.
Down here in Texas, there are only a few truck camper dealers. Most people who own pick-ups get fifth wheels. I went to Princess Craft Campers in Round Rock, Texas and bought it there.
TCM: So, how did Princess Craft react when you asked them to put a truck camper on a trailer?
Rick: I stopped in to Princess Craft and talked to salesman, Steve Johnson, looked at the Travel Lite, and decided that I wanted it. Then I told PJ Buerger, the owner, what I wanted to do. She said that she had never put a truck camper on a gooseneck trailer before, but didn’t see why we couldn’t do it.
I asked if her if they had a forklift and she said yes. So, I came home and got the trailer and went back to Princess Craft the next week. PJ told the guys in shop what we were going to do, since they had never done a set-up like mine before.
Above: The above photos show the gooseneck turnbuckle solution – click to enlarge
They got the forklift and put the camper up on the trailer. It sticks out five inches beyond the side rails because the Travel Lite is a 93” wide camper. For the rear tie-downs, they installed D rings. Where the D rings were on the trailer, it has the backward slope for the Torklift Fastguns. They had to drill holes for the front.
Once we set camper on the trailer, they just tied it down. I keep the camper on the trailer all the time. I would need a forklift to pull it off.
Above: 2×6 boards help the camper to not shift side-to-side
TCM: How did the trailer handle once you got your rig set up?
Rick: There were some adjustments. Whenever a truck camper is in a regular pick up truck, you have the wheel wells to keep it from going side-to-side. After I got the camper, I took some 2×6 boards and cut them the length of the camper floor. I screwed them to the floor of the trailer. Now the camper can’t move side to side. I’ve been driving it all over Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas and it works great and doesn’t move.
Above: Two four-foot aluminum toolboxes were added to the fender wells
I also added toolboxes to the fender wells. They are two 4 foot aluminum diamond plate boxes. I keep my camper electrical cords and water lines in one box. In the other box I have my rock crawler supplies like U joints, shafts, extra oil, and antifreeze.
Above: Storage under the front of the camper for extra wood blocks and a spare tire
Above: The total length from the front truck bumper to the back of the trailer is 48 feet
TCM: Is it hard to maneuver?
Rick: The total length is forty-eight feet long from the front bumper to the end of the trailer. I’ve been pulling trailers all my life. I have ten years of experience driving trucks, so the length of my rig doesn’t bother me. You do have to watch it like you do with a travel trailer. It’s not hard to get around. A gooseneck pulls easier than a travel trailer, and it’s easier to turn.
Above: Rick’s Redneck Mansion camper tag
TCM: You’ve named your rig the Redneck Mansion. Why?
Rick: I thought my rig looked redneck going down the road so I came up with the name.
Above: When camping with the Travel Lite 890RX and Jeep on the trailer, Rick can still open the camper back door
TCM: What’s your on-the-road lifestyle like?
Rick: I work Monday through Friday. If it’s a weekend run, we’ll leave Friday afternoon and go out just for Saturday and Sunday. For longer drives, we have taken off Thursday and Friday or Wednesday through Friday. It’s mainly long weekend trips.
Just last year, we went out ten to twelve weekends just camping. We go out rock crawling or wheeling at least once a month, sometimes twice a month. We don’t stay home on the weekends. We go somewhere just about every weekend.
Above: Rick rock crawling with his modded 1993 Jeep Wrangler
TCM: Tell us about your rock crawling interest.
Rick: I have been into Jeeps and rock crawling since I was in my early twenties. I have bought, built-up, and sold different Jeeps. It’s kind of a hobby for me. My friends and I go to different places like Hot Springs, Arkansas, Clayton, Oklahoma, and Gilmer, Texas, just to name a few.
We’ve wheeled Palo Duro Canyon in Texas, Moab in Utah, and the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico. When we go, we like to camp as much as possible and wheel our Jeeps off-road. There’s nothing better than sitting around a campfire and talking about that day’s experience, and the next day’s plans.
Above: Rick tackling the most severe off-road trails
TCM: Your rock crawling looks pretty extreme. How did you learn how to do that?
Rick: Back in high school my shop teacher was into off-roading. He had a Toyota that we helped build in the shop. As I got older, I always had four-wheel drive vehicles. I went from a Toyota to Jeeps in my early 30s.
For the last twelve years, I have been a part of the Lone Star Jeep Club. I’m actually one of the longest running members. From the club I get ideas for modifications. I have always had vehicles capable of going off-road and street legal. Whenever I get off-road, I find biggest obstacle and climb it.
Above: The engine and body are the only original parts of Rick’s Jeep
TCM: Tell us about your rock crawler.
Rick: It’s a 1993 Jeep Wrangler that’s modded out. The only thing that’s original Jeep is the engine and body. Everything else is swapped out. It’s been turned into an off-road buggy that’s not street legal. It’s not inspected and doesn’t have registration.
I use a shop to make some of the upgrades, but most of it I’ve done myself or when my buddies and I get together for a Wrench-a-Thon. We’ll just hang out and work on our vehicles. I’m not a welder, so I have to have that stuff done at a shop.
TCM: Have you ever flipped your Jeep?
Rick: Flipping vehicles does happen, and luckily it has never happened to me. They can roll if you can get them sideways. If you go steep and it gets too light in the front, it goes backwards. It is possible and does happen quite often. That’s why it’s never good to wheel by yourself. With our club, if we have a big run we’ll break into easy, medium, and hard groups.
The easy group is street Jeeps with little to no modifications from the factory. The medium group is street legal Jeeps that are beefed up a little and want to minimize damage. I’m in the hard group. People like me don’t care if we break parts and have body damage. Here we are, a bunch of old guys investing money in our vehicles to beat the snot out of them.
TCM: No worries about dents and scratches?
Rick: No. Every time I get home I grease it, tighten it up, and look for broken parts. If I break a part, I upgrade it to something better.
TCM: Since your rock crawler is an off-road buggy, how do you get it from the campground to where you drive it?
Rick: The places we camp are for Off Highway Vehicles (OHV), which are places that we are allowed to run off road vehicles. The parks have an RV section where we can hook-up to electric and camp. We never have to leave the park.
If you Google “off road parks” you can find places. Like I said, I’m a member of the Lone Star Jeep club. We have more than 450 members who live anywhere from Texas to Colorado to Louisiana. People will post where they camp and rock crawl on the web. We’ll also post group get togethers, decide to get together, and go. I’ve been doing this a long time, so I am familiar with the off-road parks.
One thing I like about the community is that we sit around in the evenings after a day of wheelin and drink a couple beers. We’ll start a fire, cook, enjoy our evening and talk about the day. I love the camaraderie and just hanging out.
TCM: What else do you like to do while you’re on the road?
Rick: The state parks in Texas are usually on a river or lake. We’ll take my girlfriend’s granddaughter to go playing and swimming. We’ll just hang out for the weekend and camp. We’d much rather do that than stay at the house. Here in Texas, we’ve got everything from pine trees to desert.
TCM: What’s on your schedule this summer?
Rick: There are a lot of different places that we’re planning on going this year. We’re planning a trip to Galveston Island at Galveston State Park, which is on the beach. We’re going down to Dinosaur State Park near Glen Rose. There are actual dinosaur footprints embedded in the rock of the rivers there. We’re going back to Amarillo to Palo Duro canyon.
In short, we’re going to get all the wheeling trips in we can. We’ll also go to state parks in the Dallas / Fort Worth area like Tyler State Park. I am also looking forward to the Texas Truck Camper Rally in April of 2015.
TCM: Is there anything else you’d like to add to your interview?
Rick: I want to keep camping and rock crawling many more years until I can’t do it anymore. As long as my health holds up, I’ll always do it. I can’t see giving it up.
Truck: 2011 Dodge Ram 2500, crew cab, long bed, single rear wheel, 4×4, gas
Camper: 2012 Travel Lite 890RX
Tie-downs/Turnbuckles: Torklift on the back, Happijac on front
Suspension: Airlift system
Gear: Toolboxes were added to the fender wells