Published: May 20, 2013
our years ago, Bill Turner came home from his job as a bank CFO and announced to his wife that he was tired of sitting at a desk crunching numbers. How did she feel about early retirement and full-time RVing?
Jennifer Turner wasn't completely sold on the idea, but the couple nonetheless decided to put their house - an 1898 East Texas farmhouse they'd spent years restoring - on the market.
"If it sells, we figured we'd take it from there," said Jennifer, 60, a retired middle school English teacher. "Within three days, we had a contract."
Off to new homes went the chickens and the goat and the donkey named Millie - and the furniture, family heirlooms and the Turners themselves, who moved into an apartment while they gifted or sold their remaining belongings and prepared for life on the road, towing the fifth-wheel recreational vehicle that would be their new home.
"I did struggle with getting rid of the things that had been in the family for years, but those things were going to keep us from our hearts' desire, to travel," said Jennifer, who knew from experience how physically and emotionally draining it was to clear out a loved one's home after their death. "We told our children, you will thank us some day."
Full-time RVing might offer a tidy life of simplicity and adventure, but it doesn't come cheap, especially for retirees on fixed incomes.
In addition to the cost of the vehicle, which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, motor homes and towed trailer rigs are known for abysmal gas mileage; most get well under 10 miles per gallon. Campsites, depending on the amenities and services, can cost up to $50 a night.
"Every time you pull up to that pump, it's $200 to $500," said Steve Anderson, CEO of Workamper News, an online hub for full-time RVers that connects the peripatetic with temporary, part-time work at campgrounds, parks and businesses around the country. "Those wages help reduce that shock factor of those fuel bills."
For 25 years, the Arkansas-based Workamper News has connected its members with employers, finding them seasonal positions at campground front desks, helping out visitors at national parks, harvesting sugar beets or Christmas trees or serving as "Santa's Helpers" during the holiday crunch at Amazon's retail fulfillment center. In one of the more unusual opportunities, a Florida job periodically brings in work campers to help with gator counts.
"On the West Coast, there's a lighthouse that hires work campers to come in and be docents," Anderson said.
"The idea is to experience America one job at a time by traveling in your RV. We help great people find great jobs in great places while living the RV lifestyle."
Camp workers post r?um? at Workamper News and, once they've connected with a job, usually put in 15-20 hours a week. Compensations can range from free campsites and use of park services and amenities to hourly wages. The average age of Workamper News members is 59, said Anderson, who wouldn't share specifics about membership other than to say it numbers in the thousands.
Jeanie and Jeff Severn took early retirement from manufacturing jobs in Medford, Ore., a decade ago to embark on an extended work camping adventure, traveling the western part of the nation in a 38-foot diesel motor home. Jeff has family in Monument, so the couple came for a visit and took jobs at Colorado Heights Camping Resort. In return for the time they put in at the campground, the Severns get their campsite and electricity free of charge, along with perks such as free lunches and discounts on propane. They also earn hourly wages.
"The parks are all different, but at most you've got to work 20 hours a week for your site and you get paid after that," Severn said.
Severn, 54, admits her first work camping job - with a staggered schedule that made Swiss cheese of her days - wasn't ideal, but it taught her to hang onto a good thing once she found it. The Severns are now the most senior work campers on the seasonal staff at Colorado Heights, opening the park April 15 and closing the store at the end of September before heading off for warmer, vacation destinations.
"In the winter, you only have six or seven states that everybody's trying to get jobs in, so we now don't work the winters. We just travel," she said. "It's a great life."
The Turners' first gig, coordinated through Workamper, was at a children's home in Texas, caring for a group of troubled teen boys. Now, on their first major jaunt outside their home state, they're working the front desk at Garden of the Gods RV Resort through the end of September.
"We've gone from being a teacher and bank CFO to taking reservations," Jennifer Turner said. "It's fun to learn new things and stretch yourself. I'm enjoying it more than I thought I would and am not missing the things I gave up at all."
And what if they land in some new locale, only to find they don't like the gig?
A change in career trajectory isn't as big a deal as it used to be.
"We have wheels. If we don't like it, we'll hook up and go," she said.
Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364