Local DIY enthusiasts go the extra mile to achieve their dream campers
Travel is a hobby that many consider a favorite. It starts with a spark, something igniting the desire for a change in scenery. Adventure, discovering a new culture, relaxation and a shift in routine all await when wanderlust sets in.
This year, simply escaping the everyday is reason enough to hit the road. After a long year of stay-at-home orders and with current COVID-19 restrictions in mind, families are getting creative with how they satisfy the urge to get away.
The increase in at-home time has also caused a surge in home improvement projects from decluttering basements and renovating kitchens to everything in between. People have more time than ever to take on tasks themselves.
With weather warming and adventure calling, local camping enthusiasts combine both escape and home improvement.
The desire to travel safely and a love of DIY renovation — plus a healthy dose of creativity and persistence — is resulting in outdated campers being transformed into modern and impressive homes on wheels.
“There has been an uptick in interest in renovating campers in the last year,” says Jay Wendt, co-owner of Appleton camper and RV dealership Apple Valley Camping.
Appleton resident Amber Skaggs, who recently renovated a 1994 Jayco camper, is a perfect example of this emerging trend.
“When there is a worldwide pandemic there isn’t much else to do,” she says. “This summer would have been pretty boring and mundane, so we decided why not at least get away for a few weekends and … explore the state. I grew up camping in a pop-up camper almost every weekend, my entire childhood. I have always loved all aspects of it.”
Alexandra Baierl of Appleton has always enjoyed camping with her family, whether in a tent or camper. This inspired her to undertake a DIY renovation of a 1995 Damon Hornet that was certainly a labor of love.
“I love DIY and renovating things,” Baierl says. “My favorite thing to do is take something I got for fairly cheap and turn it into something beautiful. I have recreated furniture, my home, rummage sale finds, etc., so it was just natural for me to renovate my camper.”
Everyone loves the before photo in a makeover story, and campers are no exception. Both Baierl and Skaggs started with it all: faux wood veneer, linoleum flooring, outdated cabinets, and torn and antiquated fabric.
First things first: It is crucial to be mindful of the big things at the time of the camper purchase to weed out projects with potentially significant issues.
“One of the first steps I would take … is to make sure the camper is structurally sound,” Wendt suggests. “Mostly that the roof is in good shape and does not have any water leaks.”
“I know there are always lemons out there when shopping for a used camper,” Skaggs adds. “My advice would be always have (the camper) popped up to inspect before purchase. Check for water spots, mold and mildew. Make sure the crank and poles are all in good shape. It can be costly to replace entire pieces of canvas as well as poles and such for the mechanics of it.”
Once purchased, Wendt recommends a renovation process that prioritizes structure and electrical functions and then moves on to interior and appliances. He also says good tires are a must.
To keep costs down, leftover materials from home projects prove useful, as well as reused decorative items to add a familiar and comfortable ambiance to the space.
Some inexpensive and repurposed items can make a big impact in camper renovation projects:
• Leftover paint and wallpaper/contact paper
• Peel and stick backsplash
• Drop cloths to recover cushions (instead of more costly fabric)
• Burlap sacks or other nontraditional material for window treatments
• New furniture hardware
• Shelves and accessories for storage/decoration
“I ended up sewing all new covers for the cushions, all purchased online from JOANN Fabrics,” Skaggs says. “We utilized the Appleton Camping Center for some new seal, canvas waterproofing spray and taillights. The indoor and outdoor paint was purchased at Home Depot.”
“[A way] to save money is to look into all of the camper and RV forums on the internet that are out there,” Wendt says. “Also talk to your local RV dealership. Renovating a camper can really save you a lot of money and the end result can be really satisfying”
As any avid DIYer can attest, it’s rarely smooth sailing in terms of being able to dodge challenges. From self-proclaimed “fridge fiascos” to dismantling canvas resulting in blisters and sore fingers, Baierl and Skaggs were met with different hurdles but carried the same strategy to overcome them: perseverance.
“I went through three different types of peel and stick flooring,” Baierl says. “The first two were cheap and did not stick well. In the end I had to rip it out, which pulled up some of the original vinyl flooring and revealed some rotten spots; we had to add in all new plywood to the flooring. … I would suggest purchasing nicer materials for [that].”
“We ran into some ceiling leaks after the first hard rain and the whole roof seal needed to be scraped off and redone,” Skaggs explains. “Also, some of the canvas had tears that needed repairing. Because we didn’t want to completely dismantle the camper the canvas was all resewn and mended by hand over several days.”
A “learn as you go” attitude is crucial, but that doesn’t mean off-the-cuff works best when it comes to undertaking a do-it-yourself camper renovation.
“Do your research,” Skaggs urges. “There are amazing resources and many DIY blogs out there for information. Not all projects go smoothly, and if you run into a hiccup, don’t get discouraged.
Also, your local camper store can help with more than you think. Even if your
camper is vintage, they more than likely have what you need on hand.”
No matter the obstacles, Skaggs and Baierl agree that the project is much easier when the whole family works together.
“This became a family project, all hands on deck. It became a wonderful family affair.”
“I could not have done any of this without my family,” Baierl agrees. “All in all, this was a bigger project than expected but a fun one.”