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Saturday, July 30, 2011

From a Tent to a Luxury Coach

July 30

I wrote the below article a few years ago and it was never published before, so here we go: (Warning: It's a long one)

Decades of camping
I guess I was around 16 years old, when I had my very first experience of going camping on my own. The tent was tiny and I had to share it with a friend of mine.

Mom drove us to the campground by a lake some 60kms from home. There she left us with all of our equipment, which was a kayak, bedding, clothes and food.

5 years later, I had just filled 21 and was owning my first car, my next camping experience was a trip to the north of Scandinavia. Again we camped in a tent, fighting hordes of northern mosquitos. An experience I will ever remember was when I and my friend had left the tent open while we had gone on a walk. Upon our return to the campsite we discovered that the entire tent had been filled with scandinavian-size (very large) mosquitos. It appeared to be difficult to sleep with the monsters, so something had to be done.

By one or the other reason I had brought a smoking pipe along, which I now put to use.
Thinking quite rightly that the insects would not enjoy a massive amount of smoke, I filled my pipe with tobacco. When sufficient amounts of smoke escaped the pipe, I dove into the tent and closed the zipper behind me. Being on my back I started puffing along on that pipe. Pretty soon I could not make out the ceiling anymore and watched gleefully as hundreds of mosquitos started a kamikaze-style descend landing kind-of-dead on the floor. After nearly 10 minutes of me coughing inside the tent, my friend opened the zipper.

Now all we had to do was sweeping the floor and all our mosquitos were gone.

It was a full 4 years later and the year of 1976, when I was able to purchase a brand-new Volkswagen Transporter. Immediately after I started to convert the vehicle to be my first RV. Benches were made of light-weight plywood, ceiling cupboards were hung along the side and the rear, and a tiny little kitchen was made with a camping-style propane stove. A full-size roof rack covered the entire roof from the front to the back. On it I transported my kayaks, tires, jerry-cans and everything else which would not fit inside the vehicle.

This RV made many trips from Germany to Scandinavia and I was hooked on to that lifestyle for ever.

Long after the transporter was sold I discovered an old travel trailer hidden away in the garden of a neighbour. I started pestering that man long enough until he was willing to sell the 1969 model of a british produced trailer for a small amount.

The trailer needed an outside scrub, new paint and new seat cushions and was ready to go the same summer. I hooked it up behind my vintage 1966 Mercedes 230 and off I went, discovering the mountains and valleys of Norway. Whereever I pulled into a campground I had the attention of everyone around.
That travel trailer remained not the last one I owned. A 23ft German-brand trailer followed in 1999 and was pulled by an American Chevy Suburban all the way up to the Lofot-Islands in Norway.

After moving to Canada I soon got struck with the idea of buying a Class C motorhome. But at the time it seemed too costly so the idea was put to rest – but never forgotten.

In 2004 I spent days on the Internet looking for a used Class C – and finally found one in the great “Garden State of New Jersey”. The fact that the vehicle was some 3000 miles from Alberta did not deterr me a bit. One day in april, I got on a plane heading eastward. In Toronto I had to pass the U.S. Customs, so all baggage had to be taken out. When re-entering the security zone I put my briefcase onto what I thought was a security conveyor. However, my briefcase never popped up on the other end. Instead it had gone to the distribution centre of all flight baggage, without any name tag or destination tag on it. I must have panicked, because the brief case contained $10,000 in cash for the motorhome to be purchased. Upon my lament a friendly lady came to inquire about the reason of my hollering. She told me that the brief case would eventually pop up again at the main baggage claim, as it had no tags attached to it. We returned through U.S. Customs whose officers gave me a curious glance. After 5 minutes at the baggage claim my property popped up. Running out of time now, I had to hurry back to the gate. I kind of flew through U.S. Customs again and made it safely and in time for departure.

The take-over of the motor home went without complications and soon I was dashing westward again – this time negotiating heavy traffic through the eastern United States. After 200km on the highway I noticed that the once “full” showing tank meter was nearing the “Empty” sign. Knowing that the Ford had a tank of 36gal. I started wondering. After filling up I had to realize that this great vehicle had consumed a gallon of gas for every 7 miles. Wow, even with gas prices of 2004 this seemed a bit over the top.

On my way home I had ample opportunity to learn the location of many gas stations along the way.

It is needless to say that the Class C did not stay in my ownership for a very long time. By the end of the same year I had purchased a Ford F350 Dually Diesel and a 5th wheel. My RV-career could continue just the same.

In 2005 we were ready to leave Canada for 6 months and head out for the ultimate trip to the Southern United States.

Our first destination was Vancouver, BC. In Kamloops we made the mistake of missing the turn towards Cache Creek and the TC 1. Instead we found ourselves climbing up the Coquihalla Highway. Unfortunately that Highway is a mis-construction alltogether as it challenges the RVer with steep grades of 8% over many kilometers.  Our 2001 F 350 took that in a most unfriendly manner as it blew out the transmission about 25 kilometers up from Hope.

Hope is only a little town and its name is symbolical for many people. Travelers have hope to master the intricate Coquihalla Highway, the repair shops in Hope are hoping that many travelers will develop a need for their first-class expertise in repairs and replacements and all people of Hope must sure have a hope of never having to drive the Coquihalla Highway during wintery conditions.

After waiting 3 days and paying $5,000 out of our budget we could continue our first journey to the south of the United States.

Two more trips have now followed and this last year (2008) I had started to eyeball the sales-lots of many RV-dealerships where  a tremendous amount of Class A motorhomes were up for sale at heavily discounted prices.

One afternoon, I was searching the Internet and Ebay, simply to find some comparisons, when a special ad from a seller in Glendale,AZ caught my attention. It was a typical Ebay auction and the highest bid on this 2004 Damon Diesel pusher had just reached $30,000. Reserve price not met. Of course, who would ever expect to buy that coach for such a low amount.  In a daring moment of frenzy I made my bid with $75,000. Naturally I became the high-bidder of this item. Being sure somebody would come along with a higher bid I hardly mentioned it to my wife of many years. Three days later I was still the high-bidder and things became exciting, to say the least. Two more days left. After another day with still no change I had to confess to my wife. I think she did not really put her mind to it as I heard only a low humm from her.

The last day came up. I checked on the Ebay auction every couple of hours – no change. I was sure that some guy would make a higher bid the last minute of this auction and the game would be over. But even with one hour left, no higher bid had come in. I was sure a bidding assault would start any minute now. At 5pm I was glued to the laptop. 

Only a few minutes of the auction was left. The countdown was as dramatical as the launch of the space shuttle. Three minutes later I received an Ebay congratulation to the winning bidder (which was me). I must have screamed it all-around because my wife peeked though the door thinking I had lost my marbles.

We had just become the owners of a 2004 Damon Ultrasport on a Freightliner chassis.

During the following day contact was made to the seller and a trip to Glendale was scheduled for Friday the week after. 

With almost 4 hours to drive we started early. Since our GPS-girl was showing us directions, we arrived on-time at the given address. In a large company parking lot we saw the Damon glistening jewel-like in the bright sun. The sellers, two guys who had started to buy and sell bank repos, were friendly and showed us around in our future home. Everything seemed very little used and after completing the paper work we were free to go.

But it was friday afternoon, construction workers along the street and heavy traffic from all directions. I tried to navigate that vehicle within the drawn-up lines and watched the mirrors eagerly.

Being one of the last days in november it got dark early and at Gila Bend we found a huge wide-open parking area to stay for the night.

Before sleep overtook me it dawned on me that I had made the transition from being a tenting tourist to the driver of a luxury coach. And it had only taken me 40 years.


  1. Not sure if my comment posted or not. What a great story. I loved hearing how you went from tenting to Class A.

  2. Fantastic post Peter! I was glued to your every word. And to think I was parked next to your last purchase at Belle Starr's Silverado Ranch!


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