Sylvester, my office on wheels

When I was a kid, the only vacations my family ever took were to the Iowa State Fair. Every August, our dad would fill our pickup truck with enough gear for four kids and two adults, and we’d spend four days camping in Iowa, sleeping in an Army canvas tent. Can you feel the stifling heat I’ve just described?

When I had a family of my own, you might think I’d be a natural at camping. Not so. Some of the worst nights of my life have been spent in tents, either desperately hoping the rain would stop or wishing the drunken campers next to us would take pity on a mother with young children and go to sleep.

My husband, Chris, is a real outdoorsman. One summer, when he was substitute teaching and thus not drawing a paycheck, Chris camped in state parks all summer in a tent. He was perfectly content. He’s that resourceful. I am not.

So when I learned that as part of my husband’s family, I would be expected to camp in a state park in Idaho every last weekend in July, I realized we needed a camper. Enter Sylvester.

Sylvester is a 1968 16-foot Oasis travel trailer. I like to think it’s such an amazing camper because of the year of its birth. Many amazing things were made in 1968. Like me!

We found Sylvester on Craigslist. When we went to see it, we missed the first clue: the owner had stenciled the words “money pit” on the back of it. The small trailer had moss on every surface and one flat tire. We walked inside and unlike the other used trailers we considered buying, I could stand up straight in this one. For me, it was love at first sight. And it had an indoor bathroom. Sweet.

We bought it for the staggering figure of $500. We brought it home, and Chris went to work. He completely sanded down all of the inner wood surfaces and varnished them. He repaired the part of the floor that had been water damaged. He replaced the hot water heater. He reupholstered the dinette seats. A few years later, he made new curtains for our little trailer.

We found a trailer shop in Anchorage, and they replaced the axle and installed a new refrigerator for us. (That’s probably the most expensive refrigerator that Chris and I will ever buy). We had a new awning made for it that matched perfectly the large gold strip painted on the side of our trailer. Remember: 1968.

This little trailer journeyed up and down the Alaskan Highway twice. During a trip in the summer of 2011, it shone most brightly. Chris and I, with Jack, age 4, would drive until we were exhausted, pull over to the side of the road and sleep. In the morning, we’d get up and drive some more. When we reached a town, we’d gas up our car and ask where the local elementary school was. We’d drive there. Jack and I would play on the playground equipment while Chris fixed dinner, usually something gourmet like hamburger helper. 

This year, now that we’re living in eastern Washington, we plan to drive Sylvester to the Midwest for the Obermeier family reunion and then north to Des Moines for the Iowa State Fair. While there, Sylvester will transform from a home on wheels to an office on wheels. I daydream about sitting at the formica dinette table, a hint of wind playing with the curtains, while I compose my next blog. I can’t wait.


Sylvester, the 1968 Oasis travel trailer that we restored, is our home away from home.

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: Storytelling.