Deanna Wohlgemuth stands outside her camper on July 17, 2015 in Vancouver, Wash.   Wohlgemuth's dubbed the camper "Matilda," which is a 1963 16-foot Aristocrat camper she rescued from the junk heap, she now rents it our for camping and events. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Deanna Wohlgemuth stands outside her camper on July 17, 2015 in Vancouver, Wash. Wohlgemuth's dubbed the camper "Matilda," which is a 1963 16-foot Aristocrat camper she rescued from the junk heap, she now rents it our for camping and events. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Live small to live large: Vintage campers inspire bartender

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Sometimes, smaller is better.

Just ask Deanna Wohlgemuth, who still lives with her children in the small first home she bought 15 years ago.

Friends told the Vancouver bartender that the three-bedroom, one bath rambler in Portland was too small. Wohlgemuth proved them wrong.

Wohlgemuth adopted a slogan: “Live small to live large.” The concept has infused her personal life and sparked a business idea.

The 46-year-old left behind a career in corporate marketing and supplements her bartending income by renting out remodeled vintage trailers. One of her trendy campers often is hauled to the great outdoors; another makes appearances at weddings and other events.

Even as a girl, Wohlgemuth was intrigued by silver Airstream campers, she said. Later in life, after she became a mother, she discovered a neighbor who wanted to sell a 17-foot 1965 Airstream.

“It was exactly what I had in my mind,” Wohlgemuth said. “When you open up to what you really want in life, it’s just delivered to you.”

She needed to take on a $70 monthly loan payment — about the same as their cable TV bill. She asked her kids if they wanted television or if they wanted to go camping. The vote was unanimous: Exchange cable television for unlimited family camping adventures.

The last night they had cable, Wohlgemuth made popcorn, and she and her kids stayed up late watching television until the screen turned to static.

“TV’s over. Let the camping begin!” she said.

In the beginning, there were “a lot of mishaps that are funny now. The ‘I Love Lucy’ moments. Cabinets breaking open. The soy sauce explosion of 2002,” she said, smiling.

The first time Wohlgemuth hooked up the water, she didn’t know she needed a regulator hose. The water pressure built and came up through the trailer. Cushions flew. Kids screamed.

“We call that incident Old Faithful,” she said.

Later, when money was tight, Wohlgemuth was faced with selling the camper. Friends stopped by the camper parked in the driveway for impromptu happy hours so often that it was coined the Tin Cantina. Sitting in the camper, they brainstormed ideas to turn the camper into a business, so the trailer would pay for itself.

Then a friend who was getting married outdoors asked Wohlgemuth to set up the Airstream as a lounge for the bridal party. Wedding guests flocked around the camper, took photos and asked Wohlgemuth if she rented it for events. That gave her an idea.

The Tin Cantina is now in its fifth summer providing bar service for weddings and private parties.

At those private parties, people asked if she rented the Tin Cantina for camping trips. But it is her family’s camper, and she didn’t want to share it with other campers.

When her mother mentioned she was going to pay someone to haul a dilapidated old camper to the dump, Wohlgemuth asked if she could have it.

“You don’t want that,” her mother told her.

The 16-foot 1963 Aristocrat camper had broken windows, dirty shag carpeting and a door that was wired shut.

But Wohlgemuth believed she could restore it and rent it out for camping, she said. She hauled it to a friend who restores campers to get his opinion.

“He said, ‘Deanna, it’s a beauty!’ “

And he went to work.

Wohlgemuth christened the restored camper Matilda, her great-grandmother’s name. It also was the name of the mother of Frida Kahlo, a favorite artist.

She rents Matilda out for $50 a night to people who want to try camping in a tiny trailer.

On the back of Matilda, Wohlgemuth painted: “Live small to live large.”

Along the way to seeking a simplified life, Wohlgemuth scaled back her career, too. For years, she had worked long hours in corporate advertising, but her employer always wanted more.

She decided to quit her job and find a better way, she said. Again, friends and colleagues doubted her.

“People told me, ‘You can’t do that. It’s not going to work.’ “

Today, she juggles multiple part-time jobs but says she is happier and has more free time than when she worked one full-time job.

She’s a bartender at Old Ivy Brewery & Taproom in downtown Vancouver. She books the Tin Cantina for gigs and serves as her bartender, and she books Matilda for camping trips. She also designs and sells jewelry.

“Somehow, when you do what you’re passionate about, it all just works out,” she said. “Don’t listen to other people. Look at your own path of evolving. It’s powerful to look at what I’ve accomplished.”

Story is important to Wohlgemuth, a Cherokee Indian. When water destroyed a keepsake box she had saved since high school, her first response was to grieve the treasures made by her mother and grandmother. But then she gathered her children around her, pulled each item from the box and told a story about it.

“It was easy to let those things go. We had a nice bonfire.”

But she kept the stories. Her kids still ask her to tell those stories.

“Pass things on. Get less cluttered. Tell more stories,” she said.

Deanna Wohlgemuth inside her 17-foot 1965 Airstream on Friday July 17, 2015 in Vancouver, Wash. Now dubbed the Tin Cantina, Wohlgemuth uses the Airstream as a traveling vintage bar.  (Natalie Behring/The Columbian via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Deanna Wohlgemuth inside her 17-foot 1965 Airstream on Friday July 17, 2015 in Vancouver, Wash. Now dubbed the Tin Cantina, Wohlgemuth uses the Airstream as a traveling vintage bar. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

This Friday, July 17, 2015 photo shows the inside of  Deanna Wohlgemuth's vintage Aristocrat camper in Vancouver, Wash.   Wohlgemuth's dubbed the camper "Matilda," which is a 1963 16-foot Aristocrat camper she rescued from the junk heap, she now rents it our for camping and events. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

This Friday, July 17, 2015 photo shows the inside of Deanna Wohlgemuth’s vintage Aristocrat camper in Vancouver, Wash. Wohlgemuth’s dubbed the camper “Matilda,” which is a 1963 16-foot Aristocrat camper she rescued from the junk heap, she now rents it our for camping and events. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

More in Life

This artwork, as well as the story that accompanied it in the October 1953 issue of Master Detective magazine, sensationalized and fictionalized an actual murder in Anchorage in 1919. The terrified woman in the image is supposed to represent Marie Lavor.
A nexus of lives and lies: The William Dempsey story — Part 1

William Dempsey and two other men slipped away from the rest of the prison road gang on fog-enshrouded McNeil Island, Washington, on Jan. 30, 1940

File
Minister’s Message: Reorienting yourself to pray throughout the day

No doubt, one of the most remarkable gifts God gives to communicate with his creation is the gift of prayer

The Christ Lutheran Church is seen on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Musicians bring ‘golden age of guitar’ to Performing Arts Society

Armin Abdihodžic and Thomas Tallant to play concert Saturday

Storm Reid plays June Allen in “Missing,” a screenlife film that takes place entirely on the screens of multiple devices, including a laptop and an iPhone. (Photo courtesy Sony Pictures)
On The Screen: ‘Missing’ is twisty, modern, great

I knew “Missing” was something special early on

Puff pastry desserts are sprinkled with sugar. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Puff pastry made simple

I often shop at thrift stores. Mostly for cost, but also out… Continue reading

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Would I do it again?

I ran across some 20-some year-old journal notes rambling on about a 268-foot dive I took

A copy of Prince Harry’s “Spare” sits on a desk in the Peninsula Clarion office on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Off the Shelf: Prince Harry gets candid about ‘gilded cage’ in new memoir

“Spare” undoubtedly succeeds in humanizing Harry

The cast of “Tarzan” rides the Triumvirate Theatre float during the Independence Day parade in downtown Kenai, Alaska on Monday, July 4, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Triumvirate swings into the year with ‘Tarzan’, Dr. Seuss and fishy parody

The next local showing of the Triumvirate Theatre is fast approaching with a Feb. 10 premiere of “Seussical”

This vegan kimchi mandu uses crumbled extra-firm tofu as the protein. (Photo by Tressa Dale / Peninsula Clarion)
Meditating on the new year with kimchi mandu

Artfully folding dumplings evokes the peace and thoughtful calm of the Year of the Rabbit

Most Read