The Day Our Camper Left Without Us...


1984 Rockwood Model 1460

The Story (also published in PopUpTimes)

December 15th, 1992:  On a Monday morning,  I drove off to work thinking all was fine.  At 10:00 AM that morning, two morally challenged individuals, drove onto the additional lot next to my house and hitched up to the Popup.  The curious neighbors across the street stopped in their tracks and gave the motley crew a filthy look.  The thieves smiled and waved.  The (silly) neighbors thought thieves wouldn't be so bold, so everything must be fine as I must have loaned it to friends.  They watched as the thieves drove off with our camper.

Nothing was mentioned to me when I arrived home.  It was a typical Monday at work and I was tired when I got home.  Didn't notice the camper was missing at that point.  The next morning, I was standing in the driveway when I noticed that my freshly cut grass (cut on Sunday) was rather tall in one particular spot in the side yard... where the camper lived!!!  I ran around behind the house, hoping kids pushed it back there as a prank (yes, I know this sounds silly now).  I then could see the compressed grass ruts where the camper had been pulled away.  This wasn't good.

I saw one of the neighbors outside and asked if they had seen anything.  "Oh yes, we saw them...".  I felt ill when I learned the truth.  They were rather embarrassed when I told them it had actually been stolen.  Turns out another neighbor had also witnessed the whole deal as well.  So much for the "Neighborhood Watch" signs, eh?  Yep, they watched.

I called the police and filed a report.  I then called State Farm and filed an insurance claim (another long story). I eventually did okay on the claim but it took a couple of months.

The camper did have a hitch lock, which I thought would discourage theft.  Not so.  I have since learned that thieves replace their hitch ball with a bolt and simply place the locked hitch on the bolt and throw a strap over it to secure it.  Another popular deterrent is to cut the threaded portion off a tow ball and place it into the coupler.  Once a hitch lock is added, it appears that this would work quite well.  The problem is the coupler is designed to be adjustable.  If you look at the underside of the coupler, you will see a nut that adjusts how tight the "underjaw" clamps onto the hitch ball.  With nothing more than a socket and ratchet, it only takes 10 seconds to remove the nut, underjaw, and your modified tow ball.  Unfortunately, this is common knowledge.  See the images below.

The only good part of the story was we had just returned from a camping trip and the porta potti hadn't been emptied!


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Doesn't that Master Lock look tough?  Can't cut it with bolt cutters.  Put in a modified receiver ball (no threads) and it can't be hitched.  Think this will slow a thief?

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Here's what the underside of the coupler looks like.  Notice the nut on the underjaw.  With the lock still in place, it's a simple matter to bypass the lock by loosening the nut.

A Few Lessons Learned...

1.  Keep copies of all your receipts and pictures of anything you don't have a receipt for.  Makes filing a claim much easier.

2.  Homeowners insurance only covers up to a $1000 for a trailer (at least State Farm).  Anything not physically attached to the trailer can be a separate line item on the claim.  A separate policy for the camper is CHEAP and covers a lot more.  

3.  Please inform your neighbors if they see a strange vehicle at your house, write the tag number down.  Don't confront strangers, just make note of what's going on.  Do the same for them.  We have a neighborhood watch program, unfortunately, that's all my neighbors did.

4.  Don't assume a hitch lock will even slow them down.  You need to prevent the camper from ROLLING.  They only need to connect the safety chains to take your camper to a secluded spot to cut the locks off.

5.  Just because there are much newer and nicer campers in the neighborhood (with roof A/C even), don't assume that thieves are smart enough to tell the difference.

6.  Never empty your porta potti.  At least you'll get a grin knowing they stole your black water  as well! 



The Aftermath

May 12th, 1995: I purchased a new Coleman Royale.  My financial responsibilities (just married, just bought a house,  Church obligations, etc.) had prevented me buying a new camper before then.

The new Popup has a separate insurance policy ($50/yr and worth every penny).  

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I poured 300+ pounds of concrete in the ground with rebar crisscrossed through the largest chain I could find.  I lock the frame of the camper to the chain in 2 places with Master Locks.  They'll have to work to steal this one.  


I still miss our old camper and I find myself looking at Rockwood Pop-Ups on the road to see if it was mine!  It had some exterior modifications that would easily identify it.  I'm certain I never will know who took it and where it went, but can't help looking anyway.

The Coleman now sits in place of the old Rockwood, chained to the ground.  I check on it every day.  Until you've had something significant stolen, this may seem like paranoia.   Where's your camper tonight?



No, my Rockwood camper was never recovered.  However, my security additions worked.  At about 4:30 AM in the morning Summer 2003, a pickup truck pulled into my side yard, then left.  He did this a few times, which tripped the security light on the side of the house.  I was still sleeping and never heard a thing.  Since nobody came out, he came back.  He parked the truck on my lawn and checked out the camper.  He raised the tongue of the trailer before noticing the massive chain and locks.  He immediately gave up on the trailer and looked at my utility trailer, canoe, and shed.  All were secure with visible locks and chains.  He then ventured into my backyard.  That's when he saw my neighbor, who was watching him.  She gets up early every morning to take medicine and smoke on her back patio.  A small chain link fence separates our two yards.  He moved towards her, but her large dog growled.  He ran between the houses, leaving the truck behind.

My neighbor called the cops after getting her gun in case he came back.  I finally got up for work, backed out my truck from the garage to see the cops in my yard, along with the now abandoned truck.  There was a grungy looking young guy talking to the cops.  I thought he was the one who had been doing donuts in my yard.  I was noticeably upset when I walked over to the cops.  They asked if I was the homeowner and said "we'll be with you in a moment".  In the meantime, the told the guy he was free to go.  I asked why they were letting him go and I was told the truck had been reported stolen the day before.  He was just the owner.  And before you ask, the owner was white, the potential thief this time was black.  The first camper was stolen by a couple of white guys in their 30s.  Nothing related between the first theft and this attempt.  Dirtbags come in all colors and ages.

If I had a license plate of the tow vehicle and the camper was gone, I'd still be out of luck since the tow vehicle was stolen.  As I've told countless people over the years, when you park your camper, make sure it can't roll.  I still have my camper this time.  Insurance is fine, but not having to go through the hassle of filing a claim, and buying another camper and equipment is MUCH better!

* UPDATE 2 *

An unexpected divorce cause the sale of most of my personal possessions.  My trusty camper was sold after nine years to a neighbor.  It sold within a couple of hours of putting a For Sale sign on it.  She keeps it locked up behind a fence, so it should be safe.  As an interesting twist, she was the one that called the police when it was almost stolen again.


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Last updated 02/17/05    All rights reserved.