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Pa. (AP) — In a week, Rusty and Diane Oleszewski will pack
their belongings into a 400-square-foot camper and set off on a nomadic
The Manor Township, Pa., couple is joining the growing number of “workampers,” folks
who live fulltime out of a camper or RV while they do seasonal work wherever
the road and the opportunities take them.
The Oleszewskis are headed to a dude ranch in North Carolina, where he will do
maintenance and she will cook for guests until December. After that, well, who
“I guess my wife and I are kind of risk-takers a little bit,” Oleszewski,
52, said. “We don’t have any children, so we’ve lived by the
motto of ‘Let’s not find ourselves in 20 years down the road saying
we should have done that or should have tried that.”’
Most of them retirees, some with colorful nicknames like “Gypsy Larry,” the
workampers man parks, tourist attractions and campgrounds all over the country.
They cook and clean, answer the phones, cut the grass, run amusement park rides
and shuttle guests here and there.
Some do it in exchange for their campground site fees, spending their free time
touring wherever they land. But more and more in this tight economy, others want
an hourly wage and a steadier income.
An entire industry has grown up to support the lifestyle, with publications,
seminars and websites such as workamper.com, workersonwheels.com and workampingtoday.com,
where workers and employers can find each other as well as RV accessories, cell
phone apps, tax tips and other information.
Lake-in-Wood Resort in Brecknock Township, Pa, hires between eight and 10 workamper
couples every summer. The couples come to the campground from all over the country,
including the Dakotas, the Carolinas and Florida, said Jerome Bakker, the resort’s
Some, like “Gypsy Larry,” a retired principal from Pittsburgh, have
acquired a park trailer that they leave at the Narvon campground. They travel
from Narvon to other job sites, perhaps in Florida or Arizona, over the winter.
The workamping phenomenon has grown over the past decade, Bakker said, and most
large campgrounds now employ the itinerant workers.
Jim Breneman is the manager of the Old Mill Stream Campground, which is adjacent
to Dutch Wonderland on Route 30 in Pennsylvania. For about 10 years, he’s
employed five workamper couples who live at the campground and work there and
at Dutch Wonderland.
“They are great people,” he said.
Larry Lima, 62, got his start in the camping industry as director of the Lancaster
YMCA’s Camp Shand in Lebanon County, Pa., in the 1980s.
After working in the industry and doing some other jobs, he and his wife decided
to became workampers in 2008, working at sites in Washington, Texas and now Arizona.
“RVs are fast becoming a way of life for all those who have lost their
homes and/or jobs,” he said in an email. “In our economy of today,
it is a reasonable way to live, at a low cost.”
A little more than half of workampers work to supplement their retirement income,
according to the workamper.com website. The rest are in it mostly for the travel
No one keeps statistics on the number of workampers, but the Recreation Vehicle
Industry Association estimates about a half a million people live in RVs full
time in this country, spokesman Kevin Broom said.
Since they aren’t yet retired and don’t collect Social Security,
the Oleszewskis will be collecting a regular wage, between $2,000 and $2,500
a month for both of them, for their seasonal work at Clear Creek Ranch in Burnsville,
In the winter, they might try to secure a job with Amazon, which hires large
numbers of workampers to staff its regional shipping warehouses during the Christmas
rush, Oleszewski said.
The couple is finishing up work as property managers for Pheasant Ridge, a manufactured
housing community. Their job provided their home so they didn’t have to
worry about selling a house before they embarked on their workamping stint, which
they hope to do until they hit retirement age.
To downsize, they sold belongings online, gave some things to charities and stored
some with friends.
The friends, he said, have been “impressed by our gumption” and a
little envious of the take-to-the-road attitude of the couple.
“We get that a lot from people,” Oleszewski said with a slightly
nervous laugh. “I say, `We’ll let you know in six months how it goes.’ “
Joe T. Kaufhold, a Columbia native who now lives in Virginia, has done workamping
off and on since 2008 with his wife, Ruth. Both work with computers out of wherever
home happens to be, which allows them some flexibility.
Kaufhold, 63, has workamped for a state park in Virginia and also for an Amazon
warehouse in Kentucky.
The couple, who lived on a houseboat for a time, have a touch of wanderlust.
“We were looking for an adventure, something to do other than a 9-to-5
job, and travel,” he said. “It is exciting.”
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