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Where RVs Go To Die

Dilapidated Motorhomes and Trailers Can Be More Fun Than You Think!

Lindsay Valance
Jul 7, 2014
Photographers: Agustin Jimenez, Adam Blattenberg
Nothing is forever, despite what diamond commercials avow. As human beings, we are aware of our own mortality. Yes, someday the elements and minerals within our bodies will find their way back into the earth, becoming organic matter that might eventually support new forms of life. Although, the same applies to our RVs and towables, we often don’t consider the very last stages of that utility and what might follow. However, it’s worth a little thought, especially if you can squeeze a few more drops of fun out of an old motorhome or trailer. In this last issue of RV Magazine, we wanted to highlight how resourceful folks have imagined ways to re-use junk and make it valuable and useful again.
For years, we have been traveling to the deserts south of Palm Springs, California. They might seem barren and inhospitable, but they provide a playground for those who enjoy camping, off-road driving, and target shooting, and other desert activities. The dust is relentless and few trees grow in this arid climate, but the charms of open land are many. The area has become a favorite for people who want a weekend escape from city life. Though the summer months are usually too hot for casual camping, the rest of the year has comfortable outdoor temperatures. Increasingly, RV owners have begun to purchase inexpensive desert land to have year-round outposts.
Photo 2/18   |   We purchased this 1978 Winnebago Brave for $1,500. Most everything was operational, from the engine and drivetrain to the plumbing system. The AC was strong; the galley was outfitted with a working fridge, freezer, and an oven/stove combo; and the exterior was relatively unharmed. Although it was nice to have these features in our cheap RV, we knew many were likely to fail before long, and the vehicle itself was simply not worth remodeling. As such, it was a perfect candidate to become a permanent desert-dweller that we wouldn’t have to worry about too much.
These RV owners quickly learned the open desert is no place to store high-dollar Class-A rides. The blazing sun’s harsh UV rays tend to ruin RV exteriors fast. Paint bakes into oblivion and dry rot cracks and crumbles exposed tires. Additionally, break-ins, theft, and vandalism have become more common in the area. No, this is not the place for luxury RVs. The solution? Cheap, old—yet charming—motorhomes and trailers that can be use, then locked and left for months without worry.
This is where things get fun. Seasoned RVers usually have pretty good ideas regarding how to set up old trailers as outposts. On the other side of the coin, those who have never owned an RV discover purchasing an older model to tinker around with is a perfect way to become acclimated to ownership without the high costs or home-storage needs often associated with RV use.
When we recently had the opportunity to leave an old and unused magazine project RV at a pal’s plot of land in Borrego Springs, California, about an hour southwest of Palm Springs, we jumped at the chance. Excited at the prospect of establishing our own outpost, we prepared the 1978 Winnebago Brave for its new home in the desert and then started the journey. After the inevitable breakdowns and setbacks, the RV is now happily parked—for good, perhaps—and we’ve already made several trips to enjoy it. Check out the photos to see our stressful, but ultimately satisfying, odyssey to bring our project to the land where RVs go to be useful one last time.
Photo 6/18   |   1978 Winnebago Brave Interior
After a few days’ work, we’d transformed the RV’s interior with the corduroy fabric and black, textured contact adhesive paper. Our Editor-in-Chief, Adam Blattenberg, had fun creating the bottle-cap-surfaced table.
Photo 7/18   |   1978 Winnebago Brave Front View
Although we had RV coverage within our AAA policy, we couldn’t convince the dispatch operator to send the promised free tow truck. We’ve noticed AAA has continually been more difficult to work with in situations like these. In this case, the operator (wrongly) suspected we were simply moving the RV after purchasing it in the ritzy neighborhood where it sat. We ended up calling a tow company and paying for the service. Here, the tow driver makes sure the RV will clear low underpasses while secured on his trailer.
Photo 8/18   |   1978 Winnebago Brave Being Loading On A Flatbed
The Brave’s transmission wouldn’t operate correctly, but there was enough pop left in first gear to drive the RV onto the lowboy flatbed trailer. Our breakdown had occurred at 1 p.m., but it was close to midnight before we were finally able to continue our trip to the desert. The RV could no longer be driven long distances, but it would still function as a stationary home base for our desert activities.
Photo 9/18   |   1978 Winnebago Brave Being Towed
Our Winnebago had been towed before during our previous attempt to take it on a weekend camping trip, before reaching our intended destination. This was further evidence the Brave’s life as a mobile unit was over and done. When a pal mentioned we could take it to his desert property and leave it there (on the condition we didn’t abandon it), we jumped at the opportunity.
Photo 10/18   |   1978 Winnebago Brave Front View
The tow truck dropped the Brave at our friend’s property in the wee hours of the morning, and by midday we had it leveled in its permanent spot. We immediately covered the wheel well openings with plywood to protect the tires from UV-caused dry rot.
Photo 11/18   |   1978 Winnebago Brave Front View
Other trailers had been parked at the property and used the same way we planned to use our RV. This toy-hauler has been in the desert for several years, and as parts within it broke or wore out, they were replaced with external parts. Here, you can see a protective wooden box that has been built to house an external generator.
Photo 12/18   |   Parked Trailer 01
We enjoyed looking at the variety of trailers stashed around the area. Some of them were actually so old and unique that they may someday have value as vintage equipment. Others will be used until they no longer provide comfortable shelter and will likely rust and decompose in the harsh desert.
Photo 13/18   |   Parked Trailers
Parked trailers can serve as a repository for other equipment that is functional but no longer aesthetically appropriate for home use. Here, we see multiple generations of barbecue grills relegated to desert camping.
Photo 14/18   |   1978 Winnebago Brave Onboard Propane Tanks
Filling onboard propane tanks within an RV can be troublesome if the said RV is no longer mobile. Removing a large on-board tank and replacing it with a smaller twin BBQ-style tank system is the way to go. They can be detached easily and refilled at any propane-dispensing station.
Photo 15/18   |   1978 Winnebago Brave Pop Out
Factory pop out a little tired? No problem. If your eyes are sharp here, you may notice the pop out is supported by a jack-stand. Because roadworthiness is no longer a factor, quick fixes that wouldn’t be safe to tow become okay.
Photo 16/18   |   Pickup Truck Bed
One big advantage of a permanently parked RV at a campsite is only certain necessities need to be transported in and out. No longer needing to use his truck bed to haul sleeping bags, tables, and other camping supplies, this truck owner was free to use his bed to haul out a supply of bottles to be recycled.
Photo 17/18   |   1978 Winnebago Brave Covered Wheels
In the desert, utility trumps looking respectable. Wood tire covers and grates laid down in dirt serve as permanent fixtures.
Photo 18/18   |   1978 Winnebago Brave Side View
As we departed our desert campsite for the last time this season, we secured the Winnebago for several months of storage. We sealed gaps between windows with tape in an attempt to keep excessive dust from entering the RV. As of this writing, we are halfway through the summer off-season and are looking forward to visiting the Brave as soon as temperatures start to cool.