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Why we bought a Fourwheel Camper
A couple of aging boomers give up the tent.

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We started out in a tent...

Sue and I both started as tent campers when we were kids, continued to tent camp when we married, and traveled over most of the east coast in an old car and our tent.  A footlocker, a cardboard box, and one duffle bag contained most of our camping gear - life was simple then.  As we got older, neither of us could sleep on just a 1/2" ensolite pad between us and the ground and a week of bad weather would produce two grumpy campers.  We acquired more creature comforts, bought a pickup truck, and started to camp in "less developed" areas. Hauling the gear in the back of a pickup left everything exposed to weather and theft.  We needed some way to protect the gear, and wouldn't it be nice if we had a place to sleep when it was raining or snowing...

Our first truck camper shell

In 1980 we moved up to an Anchor wood framed, insulated camper shell with screened windows, a 12 volt light, and a roof vent.  We added simple storage bins which could be remove when the truck was hauling stuff. The shell enabled us to sleep high and dry in any weather conditions.

Sleeping in an insulated, dry space away from the cold ground was like a grand hotel to us when the weather would turn wet for a week.  Tent camping is still fun as long as the weather is good, but it gets old on a long cross-country drive in the rain or snow.  The camper shell also eliminated the tent setup and teardown when we were short on time.
We briefly experimented with trailer towing in 1983. The trailer was very comfortable and featured a bath, shower, refrigerator, furnace, stove, oven, and hot&cold running water. It was also a pain to maneuver into many of the places we liked to camp. It was impossible to drag into remote areas! We found that we did not use it very often, and went back to camping from the back of the truck. Sue with our 1980 F150 and 16' Shasta trailer

When the F150 was replaced with an F250 4X4 in 1985, the camper shell moved to the new truck where it remained until we began preparing for a 1993 trip to Alaska. After 12 years of beating around through the woods, out old camper shell had seen better days, and needed to be replaced before it literally fell apart on the road.

The second truck bed cap

The replacement was an ARE commercial duty aluminum frame cap with some custom modifications including  extra frame welding to provide strength off-road, side hatches with screened windows, and double doors in back that eliminated the climb over a dirty tailgate to enter the cap.  We insulated the cap with expanded foam and finnised the ceiling with white masonite. A removable platform bed was constructed with storage underneath, and the side bins from the previous camper were installed.  One overhead 12V light was installed for convenience at night. Velcro tabs attached window curtains for privacy.

This arrangement worked very well for off road camping in the woods because the camper could fit anywhere the truck could, it had good ventilation, and it was easy to climb into without having to get dirty on the tailgate.  The shell was cramped, but it was mosquito proof, dry, reasonably dust free, and sturdy enough for the two month trip to Alaska.  In 1994 we bought a Dodge Ram diesel 4X4 and began preparing it for another trip to Alaska. The cap from the F250 did not fit the Dodge bed, so we started thinking about how nice it would be to stand while getting dressed, and how a furnace would keep food from freezing in cold weather.

Moving up with a true truck camper

1994 Ram 2500 with a Sunlite pop-up camper     In 1995  we bought a used 1990 Sunlite popup truck camper as an experiment to see how we would like a full camper and how we would like to configure a new camper.  Because I prefer the camper to stay on the truck regardless of terrain, eyebolts were installed through the side of the truck bed to secure the front of the camper. The rear of the camper was secured to the built-in bed tie downs. Camper Tie Down photos
     Immediately, we discovered that a gas refrigerator will not work unless the truck is almost completely level - right! That works well in RV campgrounds, but not in the wilds where the truck is not sitting on flat ground very often.  Out came the refrigerator and shelves were built into the space.
     Next we discovered that we don't eat inside very often and the table was in the way, so out it came, and the table area became a couch. The space under the table became storage for a cooler and camping gear.
     Storage space was needed for recovery tools, spare parts, folding chairs, firewood tools, a portable shower, tarps, etc so the space between the camper and truck bed rails was closed with beveled wood strips and gasket material that made a weather tight seal between the truck bed and the camper. Space between the camper body and the truck bed was for secure storage of infrequently used items. The filler strips remained attached to the camper when the camper is removed from the truck.
     The camper, having seen many miles before we bought it, had served it's purpose. After the 1996 Alaska trip we felt we knew what we wanted in a camper, and were ready to replace the aging Sunlite. With another Alaska trip planned for 2000, we looked at what the manufacturers had to offer and selected the Alaskan Camper and the Fourwheel Camper as likely candidates.

The decision fell to a choice between a custom built Alaskan Camper or a shell model Fourwheel Camper. The Alaskan and  Fourwheel camper profiles are no taller than some bed caps and seem durable. Alaskan campers use solid plywood construction while FourWheel campers use a plywood bottom and a welded aluminum frame for the sides and top.

The 94 Ram and new 4Wheel camper returning from California Both campers had their advantages, and both would require a trip to the west coast to take delivery. The Fourwheel Camper finally won due to lighter weight (1000 pounds lighter than the Alaskan), simplicity of design, and a lower profile. It also cost considerably less than the Alaskan camper.

We ordered our camper in September 1998, with the installation scheduled for mid-November. A custom Diamond utility bed was ordered for installation at the same time. There were no installation problems and the camper/bed match has been excellent!


 

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