Creative Camping

Common Reasons for Camping:                                                                                              Save motel expense                                                                                                                  Get out of the city into the cool of the woods Seclusion to fish, write, sleep, read,    hike, enjoy amusement parks or beaches

Our original reason for dreaming of having a camper in the late 1950’s evolved when Jim was still in school, three preschoolers, and the yearn to see parents, siblings and friends with growing families but running out of sleeping space. We adjusted to being crowded because we wanted to be together. Having adequate room for meals at Mom’s was solved by having picnics in the city park which worked very well for eating, visiting and providing a play area.

My brothers, ahead of us in finishing Seminary and in full time pastorates, had purchased pop-up campers for travel. We needed a camper but were in no position to purchase one.  Unbeknown to me, our vital need for a camper put Jim’s mind in gear for a solution. You are not going to believe what I’m about to share, but I have pictures to prove that it actually happened, our children remember, some seminary friends and the McRoberts family-campout group are believable witnesses.

Jim designed a ‘book’ he called it, that was secured to the top of our station wagon.  It opened up with plywood walls to put in place, complete with cut out windows and beds on the front and back.  Yes, we actually climbed up on the car to get into bed. The kids were small so we had plenty of bed space. My mother, who was in her mid-sixties, was with us when we traveled to Amarillo to visit Jim’s cousin. We found a camping area outside of town not far from their home. Mom showed no reservations about crawling up on the car to bed-down in the ‘book’, because she fully trusted Jim, like I did.  The first half of the night was pleasant, but during the wee hours of the morning, the wind got up and began to blow so hard that Mom said she thought we were all going to fly to heaven.  We had some good laughs the next day, but used the ‘book’ successfully a couple of times that summer. Jim realized that although the book-style camper worked, it wasn’t good in all weather, so he had to re-visit his camper-dream.

Jim began his last year of seminary and I continued with my secretary’s job. But one evening when I got home from work there was a strange contraption in our drive--a 4-wheel trailer pulled with a tongue—a part of Jim’s mental plan coming to fruition. He worked on expanding the book by welded pieces of pipe for support and constructing a 4x4x8 three-sided box moving the ‘book’ from the car-roof and placing it on top of the frame. He designed a removable and weatherized door on the end to keep suitcases, bedding, tools, etc. dry. Then he sewed canvas coverings for the cut-out windows.

On that first trip with the ‘pulled camper’ we met our friends, Gwen and Dan Zachary, and their five children at a campground near a lake in Oklahoma for Jim and Dan to fish, the kids to swim and Gwen and me to visit. They had a fifth wheel camper. Dan couldn’t believe what he saw and even snickered at our homemade camper which didn’t bother Jim a bit.  “I have one more detail to finish this evening which won’t take long” Jim said, “attaching the canvas coverings to the windows in case of rain”

“You can wait until tomorrow. It never rains in this part of Oklahoma on July 25th, Dan said confidently.  We took his word until in the night rain running down our quilt woke us up.

“Come on Ruthie, I need your help” Jim whispered as he grabbed the canvas window coverings.  I’ll lift you up to reach the windows and you can tie them on.”  This was serious business in the middle of the night, barefoot, in our nightclothes and soaking wet, working as fast as we could but we were giggling and laughing so hard, Jim could hardly keep me steady enough to do my tying job.  We were afraid that we’d wake the sleeping kids inches away from the windows. The first thing I saw the next morning was Dan’s hairy arm thrust through the canvas entrance holding a peace offering-cup of hot coffee.

On the next trip, we excitedly pulled our home-made camper to Ohio to join my siblings and families for our first camp-out reunion.  Assembling the camper required time for us to get it set up, so my brothers, who had pop-up campers, pitched in to help. They teasingly called it shanty-town but still talk about Jim’s innovative design.

Later that summer we moved to York to pastor the mission and in getting acquainted with the Associational Missionary in charge of missions, we discovered that his family enjoyed camping but since their children were all out of the nest, they were no longer using it and he was eager to get rid of it. He offered an exceptionally low price because he was happy to make it available to our young family whom he knew. He said it was a large camper that could sleep 8. We were delighted to buy it.

A niece by marriage recently shared a story I hadn’t heard about her first night in a camper. “We had been dating for several weeks when he asked, ‘Would you like to go to a reunion for a few days?’  “I like new adventures so I said, ‘yes’.  As the first evening approached, he told me that there was only one empty bed available and that was in the Wards’ pop-up camper. That was okay with me”, she said, “but I discovered the empty bed was sharing the other half with Little Grandma who was also sleeping in the Wards’ camper.  But my problem was how I’d get my pj’s on, so I just slept in my clothes. But that was my initial introduction to this family.”

We enjoyed creative camping for many years in family overnights in nearby campgrounds, family reunions in other states, going to church conventions and visiting out-of state friends. Our daughters used it for slumber parties occasionally, but the camper was used for ministry as well.

The camper was up all summer near a side door, to take care of the frequent out of town church   guests-overflow of groups who came to knock on doors to invite people to visit the new Mission/church who primarily stayed at the parsonage. Several times college-students doing summer missionary work with VBS or other projects in York also slept in the camper.

Camping is not easy and it’s not for everyone. Jim and I always thanked the Lord for the creative camper contribution toward affordable visits to relatives and friends. When we no longer needed a large camper, we gave our big camper away and bought a smaller one which we eventually parked at the Ward lakehouse in Southwest Texas. Unbeknown to us, 2018 would be Jim’s last time to set it up.

A couple of weeks ago, forty-one Wards gathered for reunion at the A-frame house that can sleep 30 but not 41, so the rest found nearby lodging. David and grandson Jeff, set up our pop-up camper and even figured out how to assemble the Jim Ward-designer suitcase rack. David, Kay and I slept in it comfortably with a small AC unit providing pleasant sleeping but it was no match for the 104 daily temperatures. The creative mission involved this time was sharing the personality indicator with new family members which kept me happily busy.

P. S. The sturdy homemade camper served for years as an excellent utility trailer for hauling mulch, etc. Within this last year, I gave it to farming friends who could make good use of it.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your heart.  Ecc 9:10   (This verse describes Jim accurately).                                                                                                        There is A time to weep and a time to laugh. Ecc 3:4 --Always necessary when people camp together.                                                                                                        The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey…Deut. 2:7