Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Camper Project

I was nine years old when I discovered pop-up campers. We lived in a condominium complex and one of the parking spots was always taken up with a curious box on wheels that never moved. One summer day a playmate explained that it was her family's camper. Several of us expressed disbelief - how could such a small box be a camper for her family? Her dad joined us, popped the top off the box and began cranking away at a small handle. Within minutes the box had transformed into a fully functional camper, with two beds, a sink, dining table and stove. And it could all be easily pulled by their car.

I assume the "spirits" mentioned don't include alcohol or ghosts. I hope.

It was magical. I was hooked. My heart longed for a pop-up camper.

Flash forward 15 years. I love camping. TMOTH and the girls love camping. We love hiking and spending time outside and cooking over a fire and sitting out late to see the stars.

Camping at Starved Rock State Park, Illinois, 2005. (Sissy is 4 years old, Eowyn is 2 years old)

We've been on several camping trips with the girls and it's always special to see how they blossom when surrounded by nature. Up until now we've always camped with a tent - we have a two-room tent (with vestibule) that is big enough for all four of us to sleep in, with a little extra floor space for our things.

The problem is that, in my "old age," I no longer enjoy sleeping on the floor of the tent. When foot traffic shares space with sleeping zones...well, things get dirty very quickly (and I'm not talking about in a "bow chicka wow wow" way). Plus, it never fails that an air mattress leaks or suffers some sort of calamity. After two or three days I'm vehemently done with camping, due to the lack of sleep.

Camping at Scott Lake, Kansas, 2009. (Sissy is 8 years old, Eowyn is 6 years old)

Additionally, tent-camping has limited our excursions out with the girls. There have been more than a couple of camping trips that were canceled or postponed due to weather that was borderline acceptable. After a night spent tent-camping in western Kansas with severe-weather moving in from the next county, the girls and I are (understandably, I think) a little wimpy when it comes to weather concerns and tents.

Around a year ago it began to dawn on me how much we could benefit from a pop-up camper. Real beds, separate areas for storage and walking, better options in the event of rain and/or cold temperatures. Plus, our minivan could easily tow a pop-up camper.

We knew that our budget for a camper was relatively small ($1,200 or less), considering there are plenty of models that run in the $5,000 and $8,000 range. We knew we'd be looking for an older model which would probably need work. As long as the bones were good, we were willing to put some elbow grease into the camper.

In late summer I started checking Craigslist every so often, just to get a feel for what was available. There wasn't much in our price range, and if the price was reasonable the camper was not. Many of the campers had rotting floors, missing parts and/or canvas that was shredded beyond recognition.

Finally, around the first of November I saw an add for an older model pop-up that seemed to be in decent condition. After getting a tow hitch installed a week later we brought it home.

Yay! Our pop-up!

It's a 1978 Starcraft Galaxy 8 Swing-Out. The "Swing-Out" in the name refers to the fact that the cabinet that contains the sink and stove can, with the turn of a handle, be swung to the outside of the camper (it may also have been some sort of comment on social norms in the 1970s).

The awesome 1970's orange and brown color scheme carries over to the inside, too.

The camper is most definitely a fixer-upper and as such its purchase price was well below our budget limit. Which was good, because (in true Rational Living fashion), we managed to make things worse the day we brought it home.

That hanging piece of canvas is some of our handy-work.

TMOTH and I had quickly cranked up the camper in our excitement to show the girls the awesome purchased we made that day while they were at school. Unfortunately, we didn't secure the bunk-ends correctly and in a scene that looked like a cross between The Beverly Hillbillies and Titanic, we tipped the camper towards the rear and, only after one bunk-end ripped off, did the camper right itself again. Of course, in the process we shredded a considerable portion of the already-questionable canvas top.


So, right now our goal is to get enough basic repairs done by spring break so that we can take it to a local lake for a trial run. We've ordered an entirely new canvas top (which, for the love of Hawkman, cost the same amount as we paid for the camper), but before we install that TMOTH is rehabbing the roof to repair a leaky seam. Then there's some wiring to fix, door hardware to replace, a bench to rebuild, bunk-end to reinstall, cushions to recover and...

Well, we'll be plenty busy over the next month.

--Rational Mama


  1. Oh, where did you order your new canvas from? We have an early 1990s model pop-up camper and a previous owner didn't store it properly so one area of our canvas has some dry rot. It's functional, but really ought to be replaced as well.

    I absolutely LOVE our pop-up. We can drive it into most campsites, unlike a real camper. One of our favorite camping spots is a rustic site up in the UP of Michigan.

    We still get a LOT of dirt into the pop-up, but I keep a broom handy and we make sure to check out feet before we climb up into the bunks. :)

    1. MooMama - you're totally right about being able to pull it in to more rustic campsites. We got our canvas from Bear Creek Canvas ( They are super friendly and already have more common models in stock. Plus, you don't have to order the entire top - you have the option of buying just a portion (i.e. a single bunk-end) if that's what you need.

  2. We had that camper when I was growing up! Identical! When I was 10 my dad ran over my toe backing it into our yard....Ah, good times....

    1. Wouldn't that be cool if WAS the exact same one? I assume your parents sold it awhile ago (we bought it from the second owner, the first owner apparently had it for roughly 30 years).

  3. Michelle where you held your camp for your this season holidays. Enjoy your self take care.