A little Scamp you can pull with your Subaru

fiberglass campers called Scamp
Egg-shaped fiberglass campers called Scamps have been made by the same Backus, Minnesota, family since the 1970s. Photo by Linda Koutsky

I am right on top the COVID-19 vacation trend. Yes, I am a new RV owner.

My husband and I had talked about getting one last fall. I’ve always wanted to go to Vancouver and there are a few national parks and friends we’d like to visit between here and there. We thought a recreational vehicle would be the best way to cover it all. We started casually looking and figured it would take a year to find one.

Before the virus hit, we wandered the aisles of February’s convention center RV show. Some RVs were larger than semitrucks and had marble counters, kitchen islands with hanging chandeliers, bump-out living rooms, fireplaces and televisions in every other room and even perched on the outside of the vehicles. They cost $500,000 and up! Way too much for us. We also climbed into an adorable Vistabule Teardrop camper. These made-in-St.-Paul, low-to-the-ground trailers can be pulled by any car. They’re essentially small sofa beds with pop-up kitchens on the backs. They’re a big step up from camping but not something I’d want to live in for a cross-country trip.

Years ago I remember seeing a display of Scamps at the state fair. These egg-shaped fiberglass trailers have been made in Backus, Minnesota, since the mid-1970s. They’re still in production today, the company run by the second generation of the Eveland family. Other than minor modifications, they look exactly the same as the early models. They’re built by hand and only available at the factory — there are no dealerships. If you want to see one in person, the drive to Backus is 185 miles north from Minneapolis, between Brainerd and Walker.

A used one was fine with us so I started looking online. Facebook, Craigslist, eBay and fiberglass and vintage RV sales sites all listed Scamps for sale. They were available from Florida to Oregon and everywhere in between. Years covered the spectrum from the 1970s to 2019. Prices ranged from $2,000 for a partially renovated wreck to a nearly new camper for $14,000 — almost the price of a new one. Updates oft en included new cushion covers and painted cabinet doors. Scamp owners are pretty practical compared with the glamorous campers known as “glampers” who outfit vintage trailers with polka-dot curtains and kitschy collections. But the DIY home improvement industry has certainly made inroads into Scamp interiors. I loved the creative modifications.

Minnesota was on lockdown and we didn’t want to look at any in person, but I kept checking the postings. Th ey’d come on the market and be gone within days. I couldn’t believe how quickly they sold. One seller included this with his description: “Yes, this is for sale and you can come look at it. If you’re actually looking at this post during the lockdown, then apparently you’re not worried about the virus either.” Yikes! Didn’t want to buy from him.

The day before the lockdown was lifted, I saw a posting for a 1981 13-footer in Owatonna. We made an appointment for the next day. We brought along a buyer’s checklist I found on the Scamp Travel Trailers Facebook group. We pulled onto the farm just as the seller opened the barn door. It looked tiny! My husband put on his mask and coveralls and crawled underneath it. I went inside. Th e actual interior is just 6-by-10 feet. There was a bunk bed/sofa, a kitchen and a dinette that folds into a full-sized bed. The floor wasn’t rotten, it didn’t seem to have any leaks and the wall coverings were still attached. This was the first one we’d seen together in person. We stood in the barn and looked at each other. We offered $500 less than the asking price. He shook a piece of paper at us and said: “Are you kidding? Here’s a list of eight people coming this afternoon.” We believed him. We hooked it to my Subaru and drove home.

Fixing it up and making modifications has been a great way to spend time during this pandemic. We painted the interior, made new cushions, changed the water system and still have to polish the fiberglass shell. The axle needs to be checked out, so we haven’t wanted to wander too far from home. Our first trip was to Baker Park Reserve on Lake Independence — a mere 30 miles from home. But it felt like we were a world away. We’re going again later this September. You can go, too — bring a hammock and a picnic and enjoy the last days of summer beside a big, beautiful lake. You don’t have to go far to get away.

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Baker Park Reserve in Maple Plain has 200 campsites for tents and RVs as well as several log cabins. There are nearly 20 miles of hiking trails and 9 miles of mowed trails for horseback riders. There’s a boat launch and a long beach and fishing pier on Lake Independence. Canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, rowboats and stand-up paddleboards are available to rent on weekends.

Open 5 a.m.–10 p.m. Admission is free.