Camper to glamper: A recipe for renovation

As a self-proclaimed "DIY Dummy," my husband nearly fell on the ground when I told him I was going to practice my pathetic Pinterest-ing skills on the 2004 Forest River Cherokee fifth wheel camper we purchased from some good friends. After readin...

Cristen Clark renovated their camper by replacing the flooring and painting the walls and cabinets. (Cristen Clark/Special to Agweek)

As a self-proclaimed "DIY Dummy," my husband nearly fell on the ground when I told him I was going to practice my pathetic Pinterest-ing skills on the 2004 Forest River Cherokee fifth wheel camper we purchased from some good friends. After reading Katie Pinke's recent column about slowing down for summer, I'm sure glad I did. My kids are at the perfect age to spend some time with no distractions.

As most of you know, leaving livestock is next to impossible without harnessing help from near and far. It's especially difficult when the reasons for leaving are firing up s'mores and committing yourself to being mosquito bait for the weekend! I'm only somewhat kidding on that last statement.

"Why would you gut and redo a nice camper?"

The camper was quite nice when we bought it, despite the décor being typical to most campers of its era. As a friend of mine said, it looks "like Paul Bunyan's grandmother decorated it." I didn't mind the forest green and lavender tapestries much because everything was so clean! Once we got it home I second guessed my decision to renovate it and didn't quite start right away, because it was in great condition and I knew it was going to be a load of work to do what I wanted to with it. I guess I inherited the "all or nothing gene" from my dad.

The only thing I considered a must-do was removing the carpet flooring so I had a surface I could sanitize after this camper goes to pig shows so we don't drag germs home to the farm. I guess all the add-ons came as a result of "well, what if I did this?" and so on. Imagine the absolute glee on my husband's face when I had a new idea, like when I told him I was going to repaint the whole unit, including the cabinets? The bad part about that was, when I sniffed any aroma of doubt from anyone about this project, it drove me further, faster to finish until I wanted to hook up to it and drive it off a cliff.


The thing that kept me most sane in this whole process was the fact that we'd get to enjoy this camper as a family. Some of my fondest memories are of camping at the Iowa State Fair with my family. Granted, the waiting list to get into the Iowa State Fair Campgrounds is 15-20 years. I'd better get on that.

I've poured quite a few hours into making this renovation happen. I worked inside this camper on all of the rainy days off during harvest last year until we buttoned it up from December to mid-February. Then I hopped back inside to finish up this spring. I learned a few things about myself and about DIY in this experience.

The bad: I am not a DIY expert. I do not own all the tools. I do not have all the skills. I found the easy fixes on my own for the most part, bought supplies I could easily work with and divided the renovation up into many parts so it could be flexible with my schedule. I threw tools. I said lots and lots of bad words and stomped around like a little whiny toddler out of frustration. I got lots of blisters, cuts and bruises.

There were a few days I hated it because I couldn't figure something out but had to push my focus on the future and the potential of lasting memories to share with my family.

The good: I learned how to use new and different (to me) power tools. I got to spend a lot of fun days with my friend Melissa, a fellow corn and soybean farmer and super-handy DIY expert. I was able to find jobs for my kids to do, teaching them new skills and giving them a sense of ownership when this whole experience was over. I got to decorate the space with lots of pig décor, which I love. This past weekend we had our first family camping outing and made incredible memories.

Yes, it was all worth it. Would I do it again? Sure thing.

Recipe for Renovation: Camper DIY



• More patience than you think you'll ever need times 1 million.

• At least 23 trips to the local hardware store - that's if you are organized and have a list. Multiply that by three if you come unprepared.

• Plenty of paint clothes to ruin in the process. Campers are tight quarters, you will brush against fresh paint more times than you can count.

• An extensive first aid kit to address all the cuts, blisters and bruises you'll endure because you don't want to quit when you should.

• Several boxes of tissues to handle the tears of frustration at the beginning and tears of happiness at the end of your project.

• A hammer to throw when you cannot yet see the light at the end of the tunnel of your renovation.

• Plenty of caffeine to keep you moving right along when you want to throw yourself on the floor in exhaustion.

• Lastly, grab your camera once this is all done and take some pictures and compare before and after photos. This is one of the best parts of the process. Then go camping and enjoy your new space with your family and friends!

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