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Meet the CamperForce, Amazon's Nomadic Retiree Army

Meet the CamperForce, Amazon's Nomadic Retiree Army

Chuck still remembers the call from Wells Fargo that brought the 2008 financial crisis crashing down on his head. He had invested his $250,000 nest egg in a fund that supposedly guaranteed him $4,000 a month to live on. “You have no more money,” he recalls his banker saying flatly. “What do you want us to do?” Unable to think of a better answer, Chuck told him, “Well, shove your foot up your ass.” Then he hung up.

Barb had lost her savings too, some $200,000 in investments. And with the travel industry flattened by the Great Recession, bookings at Carolina Adventure Tours dwindled. By the time Barb and Chuck got married in 2009, they were upside down on their mortgage and grappling with credit card debt.

Whatever survived the purge had to fit in their new dwelling: a 29-foot 1996 National RV Sea Breeze motor home, which Barb’s brother sold to them for $500. The rig had dry-rotted tires, a dead generator, and a leak in the gas line. Back when the Stouts had money, they’d idly fantasized about becoming carefree vagabonds in a nice RV. Their current situation didn’t quite align with that dream, but they embraced it anyway. 


They wondered how anyone managed to survive on the road. Then someone told them about a website called Workers on Wheels. There they found a sprawling employment network for job-seeking RVers, a community whose members called themselves “workampers.”

A few weeks later, the Stouts were back on the move, driving west to Nevada, where they’d finally secured three months of full employment. For Chuck, the job meant he would occupy the lowest rung of a major corporation’s ladder for the first time since he was a garbage boy at McDonald’s. He didn’t mind, though. All that mattered was that he and Barb were together. And that Amazon would pay them.


In the mid-2000s, Amazon had a problem. Every year, the company scrambled to find temporary workers during the peak months of hectic commerce leading up to Christmas. In some areas of the country, reliable on-demand labor was so hard to come by that it resorted to busing in workers from three to five hours away. Then, in 2008, a staffing agency came up with something new: inviting a team of migrant RVers to work at the facility in Coffeyville, Kansas.


The Stouts’ Camper­Force social circle included a couple from Beaverton, Oregon, named Bob and Anita Apperley, who lived in a 2003 Cardinal fifth-wheel trailer. Like the Stouts, they were new to full-time RVing and were doing Camper­Force for the first time. When Bob looked around the Desert Rose, he recognized it as a place where the Great Recession had never ended. “This is a whole band of housing refugees!” he exclaimed.


Continued: https://www.wired.com/story/meet-camperforce-amazons-nomadic-retiree-army/