Pleasant smells wafted from the little kitchen inside Brett and April Denson’s Open Range recreation vehicle parked in the Cozy Acres Campground in Virginia’s Powhatan County.
Brett, a boilermaker by trade, had come in for the evening from his job on a crew building a storage tank for a Virginia client of Fisher Tank Co., his Lexington, S.C.-based employer.
April was preparing dinner while he relaxed and played with their dogs. They had been in Virginia for 2 ½ months, and his job was nearly done.
A couple of days later, having received his next job assignment from the foreman at Fisher Tank, the Densons battened down their belongings, dismantled the satellite dish, hitched the RV to their truck and headed off to Lawrence, Kan., according to the Richmond (Va.) Times Dispatch.
Brett Denson, 43, has been traveling around the country building storage tanks since he was 19, part of the time alone, other times with his wife, also 43, and their three children.
Their children are now adults — and living in the family home in Kentucky — so the Densons travel fulltime together.
“I guess it’s because it pays good,” explained Brett Denson about his career, while noting that using the RV beats staying at motels. “I don’t know how to do anything else. I took spells where I wanted to get a job at home, but I got over it.”
While some people use their RVs to chase work while seeing America, others simply live in their RVs and commute to their regular job. Some travel from place to place trading their work for a free campsite. But how many there are is anyone’s guess.
Anywhere from 25,000 to 250,000 working Americans travel around in RVs, motoring from state to state and job to job to earn a paycheck, according to Arkansas-based Workamper News, a website that caters to RV migrants.
“We definitely know that work camping is alive, well and growing in numbers,” Workamper News owner Steve Anderson said. “I know that because our subscriber base continues to grow.”
The biggest national RV trade organization, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) in Reston, Va., does not keep statistics on RV owners who travel from job to job. Spokesman Kevin Broom estimated that 400,000-800,000 people live full time on the road in an RV. “Many are also working,” he said.
Jean Daniels, who owns Cozy Acres with her husband, Larry, said RV workers are frequent residents there.
“They stay here until the job is completed and then they move on to the next job,” she said. “We had somebody building a Joseph A Bank Clothier store and one of the guys here is doing something with that American Family Fitness facility. . . . When they built [state] Route 288, a lot of the foremen on that job stayed here.
“There’s always people working in the area,” she said. “They don’t want to stay in a hotel. They have figured out that they can buy an RV and have the comfort of their own place, fix their meals and watch TV.”
Sonny Allen, manager of Americamps KOA Richmond, which is near Ashland, said about 30% of the campground’s tenants are workers traveling from job to job. They have included a computer analyst who sets up computer systems for companies, a nurse working under contract to a local hospital and an employee of a tobacco company transferred here from another state.
“The people we have in here right now — some of them are pavers,” Allen said. “They go around to different places and do paving projects” such as fast-food or grocery-store parking lots.
Erik Bjorklund, a 54-year-old carpenter, lives in a 26-foot Airstream RV at Americamps. He said he is kept busy by a small clientele of doctors, lawyers and other professionals. One job performed in 1993 for a urologist led to all the work he can handle.
“I’ve never had to look for work, and I’ve never been out of work,” he said. “I hardly have a day off.”
Bjorklund decided to live in, and work from, his RV after divorcing from his wife, who got their house in Richmond. “I’ve been here since October,” he said.
Brad Herzog of California has researched and written three books based on his RV travels.
For two months every summer, Herzog travels with his wife and sons, ages 8 and 9. He blogs and researches books.
“Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have a cell phone, no e-mail, no wireless Internet,” he said. “Now, when you hit the road, you can be as connected as you want to be. I think that’s why more and more people have found that it’s pretty easy to work from the road from an RV.”
Herzog also noted the money saved by not staying in hotels, not buying restaurant meals, not renting cars and not booking flights “makes up for what we spend in gas.”
Americamps charges $33 to $53 a day for a site with water, sewer and electricity, or a weekly rate of $275. Cozy Acres has daily rates starting at $37 and monthly rates starting at $475 plus electricity. Many campgrounds offer a variety of discount plans.
The Densons note that RV living is not for everyone, and life on the road can be tough.
A lot of the reason that some jobs pay so much is because people don’t want to be gone all the time, Brett Denson said. “Some do it for a little while and quit.”
Also, “you’re away from your extended family,” April Denson said, and “you really have to not mind being in close quarters.”
But the lifestyle offers a lot of variety. It has taken the Densons to more than 40 states.
“We really like going to different places,” she said. “We always have a good time.”
“It’s better doing it when you can take your family with you, especially your wife,” Brett Denson said. “It’s more like a regular life.”