Interested in purchasing a truck camper, but don’t have the funds to buy new? One option is to buy used. Another is to buy a used classic from the ’50s, ’60s, and the ’70s. The problem is that they’re difficult to find though not impossible. Patience is important. If you have your eyes set on a particular make and model of camper it may take months or even years to find it. Such was the case with Seth Hensler who was able to score on a 1966 Cree Coach 10 truck camper. Founded by Howard Cree in 1945 and made in Marcellus, Michigan, Cree Coach made truck campers and travel trailers until 1992 when the company closed its doors for good. It’s too bad. The company built very functional and attractive campers that are in vogue today. But restoring or refurbishing a classic truck camper like a Cree Coach 10 isn’t easy. To learn more about this process, Seth was kind enough to answer a few questions.
How long have you been interested in truck camping?
Seth: When I was 11, I saw the Tom Hanks film, That Thing You Do. There is a scene in the movie where the main characters have a meeting to sign a deal with a record manager and they did it in a 1960’s truck camper. Until then I didn’t know such a thing even existed. I thought it was the coolest thing ever! I knew I had to have one someday!
Can you tell us about your truck camper and why you chose to restore it?
Seth: Our Camper is a 1966 Cree Coach Model 10. It’s the only Cree brand camper I have ever seen in person. My Wife and I both love “old stuff” so when we saw the listing, we knew we had to have it! We chose to restore it because we knew it was well-built and had survived 55 years and with a little work it should survive another 50!
What condition was the camper in?
Seth: When we picked it up it was in fair condition. The guy we bought it from purchased it from the original owner who clearly took excellent care of it. The current owner, however, did not. So sadly, any of the problems and blemishes had occurred in the two to three years since the original owner sold it. Overall, I was pleased. Everything was there and for the most part untouched. It even came with all the original paperwork and some really neat campground brochures and handwritten notes from the ’60s and ’70s. There was no real water damage, but the roof definitely needed to be stripped and resealed. The appliances needed serviced, and the electrical system needed some work. The rest was just cosmetic.
How did you find it?
Seth: It popped up on marketplace about 30 miles from home. I had been looking for months. It was priced really high, but came down a few hundred each week. The owner was very motivated to sell. It was listed for $3,000. We ended up purchasing it for $1,600 and put a total of $1,000 into repairs and modifications. Since then, we’ve had offers of $5,000 to $6,000 for it, but we aren’t ready to give it up yet.
What was involved in the restoration?
Seth: The most intensive part was the roof. I felt it was the most important, so I started there. It’s an aluminum roof. Past owners must have put a layer of tar on it every spring and every fall! Haha! What a nightmare. Mind you, I started this project in July of 2020. Scraping tar on a roof in 95-degree weather is not my idea of fun! It was miserable. I tried many different kinds of chemicals and tools, but in the end a good old heat gun and putty knife was the only way to go.
Once it was stripped down to bare metal, I used Eternabond Tape on the seams and Dicor Caulking, then followed it up with a reflective Dicor Metal Roof Coating. It looks amazing even after a year and lots of crazy weather. Once the roof was complete we moved to the inside. It took lot and lots of cleaning to remove 55 years of funk! My wife made her own custom seat covers and made a YouTube tutorial on the process which has kind of gone semi-viral. I installed laminate flooring, a new backsplash, and new curtains. We also painted the faded paneling. We retained all the vintage appliances. Why fix it if it isn’t broke, right? I replaced all the hoses, valves, and regulators to ensure everything is safe.
It looks like you were able to rescue several period pieces and appliances. Can you tell us more about them?
Seth: Yes! We were very pleased to be able to recondition and repair all of the original appliances! We use them with confidence each time we camp and travel! We love the old Dometic LP refrigerator freezer! My wife’s favorite appliance is by far the Honeywell Safety Vent (space heater). It keeps the camper cozy and is completely silent and requires no electrical power to heat the camper! We were also able to keep the Mobile Temp water heater, the 30 gallon self pressurized water tank, the Humphrey gas lantern, the dual voltage light fixtures, and the Magic Chef range/oven/vent hood. The windows, door latches, and drawer pulls in the camper are all original too.
What about the electrical and propane systems? Was it difficult to get those back in working order?
Seth: I rewired almost everything, but retained the original operation of the camper. It can run off shore power so it has a 110 volt fuse box with screw in glass fuses, but it also has a 12 volt side that runs off the truck. I also incorporated a small solar panel and 12 volt battery system for boondocking. It has several 110 volt and 12 volt lights throughout the camper. It has three 110 volt AC power outlets and two 12 volt charging stations. My favorite thing about the camper is that is so great for boondocking. It doesn’t require any shore power. It has Humphrey gas lights if needed. The heater does not use a blower. The fridge is propane only and works great. It has a pressurized water system, so no pump is needed. It came with a Magic Chef four-burner range and oven.
What was the biggest challenge during the restoration?
Seth: The biggest challenge has been learning all the ins and outs of a camper that is obsolete. There is little to no info out there about Cree Coach campers. This has also been one of the most rewarding parts as well. It has been quite a journey! Being 6-2 and trying to paint the cab over area was also challenging! Haha! It was a good ab work out!
What are the specs of the truck camper?
Seth: It’s a 1966 Cree model 10. It has a 30 gallon fresh water holding tank and was made for an 8-foot truck bed. It has a full wet-bath, but it’s still under construction. We have a new Dometic toilet in the bathroom that we are using, but the walls and floor are not finished yet. The camper has a 30-inch overhang for the bathroom. Overall it’s about 10-feet 6-inches long. Sitting on my truck it is 10-feet 4-inches tall. It tips the scales at 2,140 pounds before we load our stuff in it.
What are your plans on painting the exterior?
Yes, that’s on my list of things to do. I would like to repaint the red section with the original red color and change the white portion to a light grey to match the red/grey combo of the truck. Camping season is winding down, so that may be a late fall project.
Can you tell us more about your truck? Did you restore it too?
Seth: The truck I use to haul the camper is a 1988 GMC 3500 crew cab dually long-bed. I modified it but did not restore it. It has original paint, body and interior. It has 64,000 original miles on it. I did a 4×4 conversion and a 12-valve Cummins turbo diesel swap. It has a 6-speed NV4500/NP241 manual transmission and an auxiliary gear vendors overdrive/gear splitter. I added some tie-down points, and front and rear sway bars, but that’s about it. It’s a factory camper special. It handles the camper very well. I did have to extend my camper jacks to allow for the extra width of the dually.
What kind of activities are you planning to do in your truck camper rig?
Seth: We use the camper as our vacation on wheels. It saves us money and allows us to get in and out of places that would be impossible with a conventional camper. We travel with two children and it sleeps the four of us quite comfortably. My other hobby is vintage Willys Jeeps. The truck camper allows me to be able to tow my Jeep and still camp in comfort! We live in Pennsylvania. Our bucket list trip is to take the camper and the Jeep to Colorado and Utah.
What advice do you have for our readers who are planning on doing something similar?
Seth: Sure! Don’t be afraid to get an older camper. They are cheaper and built very well. We never could have afforded a modern camper and I’m thankful for that because that pushed us into the vintage camper world! My wife and I are old souls, so we absolutely love driving around with a piece of history, making history of our own! Don’t let the fact that your camper isn’t finished stop you from getting out there. There’s always more to be done and if you wait for the perfect time, you’ll never leave! At the end of the day if you paid $1,600 or $60,000 the truck camper life is like no other!