Ed Betz  /  AP
Alona and Jim Robison check their email for for new work assignments inside of their camper in Westbury, N.Y. The Robisons — both in their early 50s — had careers as drafters, helping draw up construction plans, before work dried up in the last economic downturn.
updated 6/22/2005 4:00:15 PM ET 2005-06-22T20:00:15

It’s the carefree life Alona and Jim Robison always dreamed of. Well, almost.

The open road stretching out in front of their motor home. No grass to mow, or utility bills to pay. The sound of surf just outside the door.

Then the alarm clock rings at 6:30 a.m., and it’s time to get up for another day of work.

“What I want to do is wake up in the woods or on a beach and sit around a fire at night,” says Alona Robison who, along with her husband, quit her job three years ago to travel the country in a 33-foot recreational vehicle. “But I still have to have an income, so I’m looking for that happy medium.”

The Robisons — who used to live in a Denver suburb, but have recently been making their home in Row 3, Space 23 at a county campground here — are not the only ones combining a job with life on the road.

About 1 million Americans live at least part of the year in motor homes or trailers, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. The number has held relatively steady, even as the sale of RVs has surged in the past few years. But more of those full-time RV residents are working while they travel, employers and others say.

With many baby boomers now in their 50s, more are becoming “interested in the RV lifestyle and there’s a percentage of people who wouldn’t be able to afford it unless they were supplementing (their income) as they went,” says Greg Robus, owner of Workamper News, a magazine and Web site that matches RVers with employers.

The pairing of RV travelers and businesses has happened for a number of reasons. Generally, most of the workers are older, and sign up for jobs, in part to help pay for retirement and partly to do something they enjoy.

Employers, mostly seasonal businesses, increasingly see them as an untapped source of labor, often more experienced and reliable than the teens they’ve counted on in the past.

When Robus and his wife, Debbie, started their magazine in the late 1980s, it was eight pages of ads, stapled together. Now, the magazine’s six yearly issues sport a full-color cover and run to 64 pages. Every night, the couple e-mails fresh postings to about 10,000 subscribers.

“We need a friendly couple to start immediately,” says one listing, posted by the operator of a Texas campground. “Extra $$’s for extra hrs,” another ad says.

Major Market Indices

Most of the jobs on offer are from hotels, amusement parks and campgrounds. With the supply of seasonal workers limited in many rural areas, some employers have been working harder to draw RV-dwelling workers.

Last year, for example, Kampgrounds of America Inc. launched an incentive program designed to attract working campers, offering them free nights at member campgrounds as they motor between jobs, as well as discounts and sweepstakes drawings.

“Lots of them have been campers their whole lives so they know the clients,” said Hillary Mockel, human resources coordinator for KOA, which is based in Billings, Mont. “It really benefits us to have the mature worker.”

Managers at Adventureland, an amusement park outside Des Moines, Iowa, also have recruited RVers. Until five or six years ago, virtually all the park’s seasonal staffing was done locally, and was mostly younger workers.

This year, about 400 of the 900 employees are RVers, most in their 60s, a boon for a park that was increasingly competing with retailers, casinos and other businesses for local employees. The older workers often arrive with an optimistic attitude and better work ethic than younger workers, said Steve Anderson, the park’s personnel director.

The RVers have their own reasons for taking on jobs.

The Robisons — both in their early 50s — had career as drafters, helping draw up construction plans, before work dried up in the last economic downturn. To get by, they took jobs at a home improvement store not far from their last permanent home in Littleton, Colo.

They had talked for years about how, once they had money or won the lottery, they’d buy a camper and spend their days traveling. But it was only a well-worn fantasy until one of their adult sons confronted them three years ago.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but you’re never going to have any money. So figure out another way to do it,” he told them.

With the help of a $9,000 inheritance check, the couple bought a 1985 motor home, tan with brown stripes. Photos of some of their nine grandchildren are bolted to the cabinets above the built-in sofa.

The past two years, they worked at a hotel just outside Yellowstone National Park, a job that paid each $7 an hour with a free site to park their home.

This summer, they’re inspecting shopping centers in the northeast U.S. for a Florida firm that documents commercial sites for absentee landlords. In the fall, they plan to head to California to run a pumpkin patch and Christmas tree lot.

BANKER
Charlie Neibergall  /  AP
Frank and Mary Banker stand in front of their vending carts earlier this month at the Adventureland Amusement Park in Altoona, Iowa. The couple live in their RV and work at the amusement park during the summer months.
The couple have no pension or savings to speak of, and acknowledge they’re not making a fortune. But with very few fixed costs, they earn enough to live comfortably. Their one worry is health care. Both are uninsured, and so far, have remained healthy, but are concerned about what might happen if that were to change.

Frank and Mary Banker have embarked on a similar route. The couple, originally from Pottstown, Pa., began traveling after Frank Banker retired from a career researching viruses at a pharmaceutical firm. They’ve since worked at amusement parks in Tennessee and Florida and are back for their fifth season at the Iowa park. He’s manning a frozen lemonade cart. She sells ice cream.

“It helped us so we don’t have to take as much out of retirement, but this is also play money,” said Frank Banker, who’s 65. “People ask us when we’re going to retire and go back to a house....and right now, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight because this is such a great lifestyle.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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