A merry heart doeth good like a medicine. Proverbs 17:22
Sisters on the Fly, an international organization boasting a membership of over 12,000, is a group of women, most of them with vintage campers, who travel, fly-fish, kayak, camp, make quilts, host chili-cook-offs, organize fundraisers for those in need, do community projects, and have a motto, We have more fun than anybody.
SOTF ladies road trip to antique shows, caravan to Alaska, deliver supplies to hurricane and flood victims, raise funds for cancer research, and dress in outrageous costumes including pink and blue tutus with sparkling sequins and real lights that blink on and off, just for the fun of it.
These ladies share everyday life happenings, headaches and heartaches, triumphant achievements, professional milestones, the birth of children and grandchildren, holidays, regular days, and even recipes suitable for cooking over the campfire such as Turkey in a Trash Can. (It serves 12 to 15 and is easier than roasting one in the oven.)
Their common denominator is owning a camper, a tent, or even just a sleeping bag. They meet at campgrounds, tree-lined parks, grassy meadows or lakeside resting places. They laugh around campfires, encourage, uplift, and sanctify the space they envelope with their lively, loving, embracing presence.
Some women find their dream camper in the classified section of local newspapers, on Craig’s List, or RV internet For Sale sites. However, most of these enterprising, extremely creative ladies find vintage campers from a variety of other highly unlikely places. Covered in weeds behind a garage, forgotten in the back of a barn, abandoned in a pig enclosure, or sitting in a vacant lot, are just a few examples.
“My friend and I were hiking over some wooded ground on a farm of an elderly relative when we came across an abandoned camper,” said Lydia, a Canadian. “We were so shocked. It was covered in so many vines, broken tree limbs, half hidden in the underbrush we weren’t even sure what it was at first.”
Upon closer inspection, the girls discovered it was a travel trailer. The landowner gave them the camper with a clear title for just removing it from the property. I saw pictures of the free RV, and thought the girls overpaid, but then, I lacked their vision and young energy they apparently had great amounts of, as well as available time.
It was a good thing Lydia knew how to operate power tools because this project required a total overhaul from welding a new frame to tearing out and replacing the floor and interior walls. As they say, it takes a village, and indeed it did.
For the following several months Lydia was fortunate to have a wide circle of talented friends. If the little RV had been a sailboat, it would have required a total renovation from stern to bow. As it was a camper, then we can say bumper to tow bar, with the bumper and tow bar both needing to be replaced, as well as just about everything in between.
This was a work of love, bringing many together for a common cause, and resulting in a beautiful restoration.
“I use the camper as my get-away place,” says Lydia. “I made it into a great escape of personal space I can call my own. Sometimes I travel cross-country and sometimes I just park it under a shade tree. Wherever it is, becomes my quiet alone special place of calm.”
Theresa’s Handmade Teardrop
Theresa is Sister on The Fly member #3904. Having a limited budget with which to purchase a camper, Theresa and husband Chuck decided to build one for her from scratch in their driveway.
“I priced them and found these little Teardrop campers were selling for up to $10,000 and sometimes more,” said Theresa. “I had a budget of $2500. That was my limit, not to mention my tow vehicle was going to be my Mini-Cooper. I had to keep the weight down to under 1400 lbs.” Theresa’s dry weight of her finished Teardrop is 750 pounds. Fully loaded, it is close to 1,000.
“I love having a little Teardrop camper of my own,” says Theresa. “I sometimes just take it down the road to the park, set it up under a shade tree, and spend time there. It is my personal get-away place. It gives me quiet space to call my own. Other times, I will meet the Sisters at a destination or event. Even then, the Teardrop gives me a restful place to spend the night in quiet solitude while still being a part of our fun group.”
Madelyn and the Gladys Mae
The classified ad said the camper was a 1974 wreck. The sellers were correct. Somehow Madelyn saw beyond the sagging step, the door hanging by one loose hinge, cabinets that just needed to be thrown out and replaced, damaged linoleum, and the two flat tires trying valiantly to hold the whole thing up off the ground.
“It otherwise seemed in good shape,” said Madelyn.
When hearing this story, I wasn’t sure what else was left in the camper that Madelyn might be referring to that could possibly be in good shape. But it’s irrelevant, because she later retracted the statement. When removing the old linoleum, she found the wooden floor rotten straight through.
“You could see the ground,” she said. There was definite leakage from the ceiling, one window was slightly askew, and some small rodent had moved into the storage compartment. He’d since moved out but not before leaving behind a chewed corner of the wooden bench.
These kinds of fix-it projects are only for the strong of heart, those who don’t mind spending $100 on bleach, and have plenty of time on their hands. A variety of power tools, great amounts of energy and patience, creative know-how, and the ability to see beyond the present problems into the future hope, are helpful.
Fixer-uppers are an ingenious breed. For whatever reason, they find fulfillment in dedicating huge amounts of time into these forgotten relics other people chose to throw out or sell cheap. Once restored, these little gems are priceless. Some restored campers sell for over $15,000 even though they might have been purchased for a few hundred.
Most stay with their new owner as a treasured keepsake of the journey taken bringing the little travel trailers back to life.
“It took me almost a year,” said Madelyn. “And I’m not sure I’d do it again. However, I just love my little camper. I call her Gladys Mae. She is so fun. I hitch her up and we hit the road, visit the grandkids, or I might just park beside the lake for a quiet weekend all to myself.
“The experience of restoring Gladys did something to me. I think any of us who venture into a project like this will say the same,” said Madelyn. “It touches you on a level deep inside to clear out that which is old, and make it new again. To throw away the damaged parts, to make everything clean, to repair, restore, and breath new life into that which was once so broken, it was discarded as worthless by someone else. It makes me smile just to think of it because it’s exactly what Jesus does when He comes into our life. He takes us just as we are, wherever that is, and perfects us into His own, giving us new life.”
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.2 Corinthians 5:17