Article written by Charli Bowman
I fell in love with and bought a 1994 Chateau about two months ago. It is my dream to travel the country to write my stories. Henry David Thoreau went to the woods because he wished to live deliberately. I wish to live on the road to live with purpose. This aluminum-sided Chateau is a 16-foot camper being used as a deer lease. When I found it, it was located on a property about 4 hours away from where I lived. I'd spent weeks pouring over Craigslist and Facebook, constantly searching for the "right one." When I saw this one on Facebook Marketplace, it was love at first sight.
For those who need to learn what a deer lease is, it is when a landowner sells the opportunity to hunt deer or other animals on their land. They will rent out rights for a single night or weekend for up to a couple of weeks. Think the "Airbnb" of Hunting.
In Texas, property owners have the right to control destructive species out of season. If a herd moves in and starts taking over, landowners have the right to control the size of the herd. There are also herds of wild boar, which will tear the land up. Many landowners provide an old RV to these hunters as an incentive to charge more or to use it by the family.
At first, I didn't care how big or small the camper was. I cared about the weight and how much I could haul without buying a new vehicle. The qualities I was looking for in an RV consisted of staying well underneath what I could haul with my Jeep and the cheapest I could go and still being happy. I didn't want to spend twenty thousand dollars if I could spend five thousand and have something that would be just as good and mean more to me.
I have a Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo. Either I would have to tow it behind me or use it to tow something else. With this information, we can determine the GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating) is 6500 lbs. [Ed: The GCWR is the manufacturer’s specification of the maximum allowable combined weight of a tow vehicle and trailer. The vehicle's chassis dictates proper GCWR for safe operation of the combination truck and trailer.] This put me at finding a camper under 3500 lbs. dry weight – meaning without any stuff in it. Leaving me an extra 1500 lbs for everything I own. Some people would go over this weight trying to push it, but to prolong the life of your vehicle, it is not wise or safe to do so.
There were a lot of absolute nightmares out there, and the search wasn't easy. I'd talk to someone all too often, and the weight would be too high, or the camper would have already been gutted, or the RV had not been moved in too long, or the tires were flat. If the tires are flat, you will probably have issues or rust on the axles. With a pre-gutted RV, you cannot know what the final weight would be without starting from the baseline, and that just seemed too extensive for me.
From the pictures on Facebook, this camper was perfect. It was everything I wanted. The right size and weight, including the vintage aluminum siding and Jalousie windows. (Pronounced Jal-oh-see). I love Jalousie windows because I spent three years living in Hawaii, and they were a constant aspect. Houses in Hawaii don't typically have AC due to the extraordinary electricity costs. So, I sent the message and waited anxiously for a reply, and lo and behold, the seller answered!
The seller - let's call him "Tim" - only took the time to reply to 2 interested messages out of 600, mine and one other. I felt the universe moving in my life to bring me the perfect travel home. I intended to pick it up and bring it back to a local repair shop. I would have them inspect the camper and tell me absolutely everything that would need to be done. When I got there, I realized that the plan would have to change.
There was much more damage than you can see in the pictures, but when I saw it, it felt like the universe was telling me THIS is the one for Charli. As I stepped in, my foot sank a little into the soft spot near the door frame. As I looked around in the dim light, my senses were immediately hit with the smell of mold, mildew, and dryer sheets. It was beautiful. Everything I ever wanted in a rehab RV Project. It was better than I could imagine. I looked up and saw a bubble in the ceiling. I knew exactly what it was when I saw it - a giant water bubble just waiting to be popped. The first pimple on what would be a long and arduous journey. I looked at the seller eagerly and asked to borrow his knife. We're in Texas, and every man worth his salt always carries a knife.
Running to my car, I grabbed the mop bucket and a few towels. I grabbed his knife, shoved it into the bubble, and ripped it out, causing the brown and muddy ceiling water to come gushing out in a disgusting torrent. I then poked another hole above the water line to increase the pressure. As I watched the dirty, disintegrated plywood gushing out of the bubble… it was at that moment I knew she was mine.
I then walked around the trailer to check the axles and the condition of the trailer itself, looking for rust, holes, and damage. I realized it was in excellent repair and would hold its value no matter what I did to it. Even without the camper on top, the trailer itself would be worth the money I was paying. No matter what I would do to it – no matter how much I tore it apart to put it back together, I would never be reducing the base value. I could always sell it for what I paid for it. There was also the small matter of the trailer not being attached to the frame on one side. My working theory was that someone had an intimate encounter with a pole until I discovered something I will share in Part 2. I was sold.
The Drive Home
Tim was a little hesitant about selling her to a tiny woman with more hopes than know-how. Still, I reassured him that I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. Being the good Texas man he was, he insisted that we strap the entire front of the camper to the trailer it sat on before I drove off the ranch. Let me tell you, that was a brand new 50-dollar strap, and he gave it to me – so, of course, I was happy to do it. I'd never be able to go full speed down the highway until I got it apart and inspected, and I didn't plan on driving over 60 miles per hour either way.
Either way: Now she was mine. Money exchanged hands, the title was handed over and signed, and we took a selfie for posterity. We hooked her up to my Jeep, and I set off.
After the inspection, I realized my initial plan of having her inspected top to bottom and front to back would be a complete waste of money. I could see with my own two eyes what would need to happen before I shelled out 500 dollars to have someone else tell me what I already knew. When I'm done with the repairs and ready to get my registration and insurance, I will get her professionally inspected. Until then, everything that needs to be done is painfully obvious.
Understanding this, I called some very good friends who live about an hour away from me. They're out in the middle of the country and have a spare RV parking space, and they were kind enough to allow me to park there. I also sat down and talked to them, and they have kindly allowed me access to their tool shed and the use of their tools. It is extremely important to be respectful of their land, property, and animals. So, in preparation for this event, I spent the last two months in planning and contemplation. I have researched thousands of articles and watched hundreds of hours of YouTube videos. I want to be absolutely sure that I know exactly what I'm doing before I do it. Nothing will be started until it can be finished, and no mess will be left for someone else to clean up.
Over the last two months, I've begun preparing for my life on the road. Due to the time it would take to dedicate to the rehab project, I closed the housekeeping business I had started when I returned to Texas from Hawaii. I also quit my bartending gig and found a job working from home. I had a few setbacks, including a pleasant encounter with a pole that required me to replace my radiator. Then Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hannukah happened, and everyone knows how expensive the holidays can be.
I've finally saved enough money to start working on the rehab. So far, I've only spent about 150 dollars in material, but I have enough saved to get through the first few weeks. I thought I would need professional help and could never do it myself. But the more and more I research and get my hands dirty, the more I realize that it's not so much about money or knowledge but about sweat equity and research. If I can do this, anyone can do it.
But that is a story for another day – Stay tuned for more, and I'll write about everything I face and the adventures we will be going on. I haven't named her yet; I've been waffling between Gypsy Wagon and Gone with the Wind – hence the title of this article. If you have any suggestions otherwise, I would love to hear them.
And as God as my witness – I will never be homeless again!
Editor: This story was submitted by Charli Bowman who, after reading her article, we consider her to be quite the RV adventurer. Not many people would have the courage to take on such a project. We look forward to getting her updates.
If you would like to submit an article to our Women RVers/Writers/Warriors section of your RV adventures, we'd be happy to compensate you for it and your pictures.
Comments will be approved before showing up.