Ruminations of a Camp Worker.
I was talking to a fellow camper today who has been on the road now for 10 years in the same camper. He mentioned that he recently had to replace the refrigerator and water heater. Not bad after 10 years. His Ford diesel truck is 12 years old and has 170,000 miles on it and he was going to trade it in on a new model recently. The two dealers he went too both said, why, it’s running great and guys are clamoring to buy your vehicle. Imagine, two dealers telling you not to buy a new vehicle. I asked if he’d ever used any additives in the fuel tank and he said no. That Ford did not recommend using any, that they would gum up the valves and pistons and cause more trouble than they were worth. Others have told me with the new diesel fuels it’s a good idea to use those additives.
After that discussion he started telling me about his experiences as a work camper across the country. Having worked at Yellowstone, Lake Lanier north of Atlanta, Dollywood and a Dinner theatre in Pigeon Forge, Disney World in Orlando and a few other places. I’m always interested in other campers experiences with work camping since I’ve only done a little of it along the way myself. My experiences have always been pretty good, especially working at State Parks and a few BLM land locations.
Here's his story:
One of the first things he told me was that he and his wife never worked a place unless they got paid. Usually $7 an hour with a campsite included sometimes. At Yellowstone they worked for a concessionaire (who no longer is there so I‘m not sure what it‘s like now). He told me they had to work long hours and that they never got used to the high elevation which averages 8,000 feet. Telling me that many of the workers, especially women, some with pacemakers, were passing out all the time, just bending down to pick something up and attempting to get back up too quickly. The supervisors would tell the other workers to just put a pillow or something soft under their head and let them lay there until they came too again. Then telling the passed out worker to continue working after they recovered. And darn if they didn’t go back to work. He told me he never got used to the high elevation and quite often felt light headed. All the workers were promised bonuses if they remained till the end of the season. But when the end of the season got near and less and less workers were needed to run the concessions, the managers would get ugly and try to get the workers to quit, forfeiting their bonuses. One trick would be that a boss would tell a worker to stay behind a counter for the whole day and not leave. Then another supervisor would come along and tell the worker they were needed to help unload something or other. The worker would say he couldn’t leave his post. Thus making the second supervisor angry and he would start yelling and cussing out the worker. If the worker did leave his post, the first supervisor would come along and get angry and fire the worker for not obeying his command.
When I interviewed for a job with a concessionaire in the Grand Teton’s, I was told that they pay you a full hourly wage, and give you a discount on your campsite, bonus at the end of the year, but you are expected to work 40+ hours a week and more than likely a 6 day week. I never signed up. Not having any desire to work a full time job again.
At Lake Lanier north of Atlanta, the many campgrounds around the lake each had their own problems and the camp workers usually got the brunt of the incoming campers rage. Because it was so close to Atlanta, there were lots of rowdy partiers, drug users and dealers coming and going all hours of the night. His supervisor insisted that the gates be locked at 10:30 at night and could not be opened except for an emergency. Other campgrounds around the lake had their own rules, with some leaving the gates open 24 hours a day. At his campground though customers and visitors either were getting locked inside our outside all the time. They would then converge on the camp hosts site in the middle of the night and raise all kinds of ruckus to try and get them to unlock the gates. Which he told me they would not do. He said they had a guy stab his wife, loud arguments to contend with and much more. Not a satisfying experience at all. Especially for a job paying $7 an hour.
I’ve never encountered a campground like that in the 8 years I‘ve been out on the road, but it is something to think about if you plan on camping in an area that’s relatively close to a large metropolitan area like Atlanta.
Over in Dollywood, he and his wife signed up to work in the park, having been told they would get paid $7 an hour. After signing tons of paperwork, the last paper to be signed indicated that they would only be paid about $6 an hour. He told his wife, if they’re willing to lie right up front, I don’t think we want to work for them. The HR manager got all angry and said, but you’ve already agreed to work for us and have signed all the forms.
They went down the street and got a job ($7 an hour) at one of the theatres where they had Elvis impersonators and the like. And he said the entertainment was top notch. He and his wife worked a few hours each evening, seating people or selling refreshments and gifts. Saving enough money over the summer to bank almost $8,000.
He said the easiest job he had was working at a campground in the office. Working 4 days on and 4 days off. Giving he and his wife plenty of time to explore the surrounding areas on their days off. Now that’s the kind of job to get if your going to do some work camping.
The job at Disney World was working out ok until a boss came by one day and said he want the guys wife and himself to get into costumes and walk on stilts about 5 feet off the ground for their next assignment. Imagine, telling a 60 something couple to walk on stilts all day. They obviously declined and moved onto to their next job grilling and selling hotdogs and hamburgers at a baseball stadium. And they were able to watch many of the Cardinals games to boot.
Just a few examples of the kinds of situations one can get themselves in when signing up for work camp programs. Be smart and find out what the work situation is really like before signing up. Ask the other work campers what they think about the place and what their duties are. Most will be very forthcoming with what it’s all about. And remember, just because you tell someone you’ll commit to the whole season, if it doesn’t work out, it’s time to head on down the road. After all, the people who sign you up probably weren’t honest with you about the work situation to begin with, so what do you owe them by staying longer than you really want to.
There are some really great awesome work camping jobs out there. I know, I’ve had a few of those great experiences myself. Of course I have not worked for money. And that may be the difference. Working for money or signing up as a volunteer work camper can be two totally different things. As I did Volunteer Work Camping where one gets their campsite free for a few hours work each day, it’s not considered a job, it’s volunteering. I think the cautionary note in all of this is that once you accept money with the work camping it’s no longer volunteer work, it’s a job.
Fortunately, none of my volunteer work camping were like any of those “jobs” listed above. Just thought I’d share someone else’s experiences with you.