That Time My 1983 Four Wheel Truck Camper Flew off… on the Freeway!!!

Literally 9 days after I bought my prized pop-up truck camper, it flew off of my truck as I was going 60mph on the freeway.

The guy I bought it from, who was supposedly an engineer, secured it onto my truck using only two ratchet straps in the back, and said it was safe. I questioned him… “are you sure this will be enough?” “It’ll be fine. We traveled for one year like that, no problem.” Being the idiot that I am, I just took his word for it.

I should have done a little more research… And maybe… I dunno… maybe I should have looked at where the anchors attached to the rotten wood.

The anchor points were brand new, shiny D rings that he had previously drilled into the old wood. The ratchet straps connected the D rings to my truck bed.

I was stoked! Sure, she was old and rugged, but I was going to fix her up and have many adventures with her! We cleaned, painted a base layer inside, stripped old flooring, bought hardware and fabric for upholstery and curtains.

A few days later, unsuspectingly driving down the freeway, dog in the camper, I looked in the rear view and saw the bottom of my camper in mid air!

In shock, I pulled over and turned my head.

The camper was upside down, in the middle of the freeway!

Was everyone alive?? Was my dog ok??

I held my breath. A moment later, she walked out of the front door, unfazed.

With 9-1-1 on the phone, I got the dog in the car, and got out to figure out how to get the camper off the road. To my amazement, a bunch of people got out of their cars and lifted the camper off the freeway in a matter of minutes.

When the CHP showed up, he had to use his car’s grill guard to push the camper even further off the road. He then told me I should take the exit and wait there for the tow truck. Half joking, I said, “I hope no one steals my camper!”

The friend I was meeting up with knew about the situation and called me back to tell me that he was pretty sure he saw someone loading it onto their tow truck! But, the tow company driver said he wouldn’t be there for another 45 min.


It was getting dark when I drove over to see what was going on, but I clearly saw that the camper wasn’t where the CHP had pushed it.

Holy shit… it was gone!

I took off down the freeway looking for the P.O.S. that stole my camper.

Three exits down, I decided I wouldn’t catch the thief. I pulled off to turn back around, and got a call from the CHP dispatch. They called to tell me that they had CalTrans drag it back even further off the road, about 100 feet. I laughed at myself for chasing nobody.

And as if ol’ Betsy hadn’t been through enough, the CalTrans people said they were going to have to damage it even more if I wanted them to get it into their yard the next day.

At 9am sharp, I called them. They said they would have to drag it onto their tow truck, and then use machinery to flip it right-side-up at the yard. Poor Betsy. I went to assess the damage.

She wasn’t looking pretty.

But, I was determined to bring her home and fix her up!

It took about a week for me to figure out how I’d get it onto my truck. With a little help from some friends, I finally got it on and somehow into my family’s yard. Whew.

It’s been over two months now, and being so busy, I haven’t been able to finish. But, I finished painting, got some help replacing the floor, windows and the door the CHP smashed in.

Now, all that’s left is replacing the mechanism that holds the canvas up on one side, patching a hole in the roof and the best part…. replacing part of the floor pack, so there’s a solid anchor. Seems a little daunting for me, someone who has no idea what I’m doing.

And this is me just doing the bare minimum. My friends are suggesting I rebuild the entire frame. I would love to go trigger-happy with some power tools, and brush up on my welding skills, but it’s just not gonna happen.

If you are looking to buy an old camper, and have no idea what you’re doing, learn from my mistake! Make sure you INSPECT! INSPECT! INSPECT!

I thought I did enough research before heading down there, but obviously I’m a fool. I should have ran away when I saw some mold, but honestly, I didn’t really consider the implications. I didn’t think it looked too bad, and I’d bleach the mold and seal up whatever leaks there were. How naive I was!!!

This is where the D-Ring Ripped out.

I was so gung ho about having my home on wheels, that I didn’t even think about how weak the wooden frame could have been, or if the anchors were secure. I just assumed that these nice people wouldn’t send me off with a wreck waiting to happen.

Maybe if I had four tie downs connecting the metal jack stand plates to the metal truck frame, it wouldn’t have flipped off on the freeway… until next year. I should have listened to my gut and added more tie downs… or just not bought the damn thing in the first place.

And, if you didn’t already know: Always check for leaks, water damage and that you have a SECURE way to fasten the rig to your truck.

“Oh, is that what they meant when they said water damage is problematic?”

Especially after listening to this “engineer” tell me about their adventures through PNC, British Columbia and Alaska for the last year, I should have considered all of the moisture from that trip and just thanked his sweet parents and girlfriend for the tea and cookies, and took off running.

If you’re considering an old pop up camper, don’t let this deter you! They’re great, and are the perfect camper for my mid-sized truck. If you’re a total rookie, like me, bring someone who knows better. Or, check out this link I found after the accident:

More updates to come…

Stay Radical

Published by The Radical Roamer

I roam around the world and lead a relatively radical lifestyle. Let's be radical together!

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