Camp Hosts at USI RV Park in Wichita, Kansas

Levi about to fill up a 100 lb propane tank at USI RV Park. The front office is in the background. If you look to the right edge of the photo you can glimpse the back end of our rig. We were parked right next to the office; made for a quick commute to work.

How did we learn about the position at USI RV Park?

Although there are a number of sources regarding work camping positions for seasonal and full time RVers, up to this point, we have obtained jobs through Workamper News.  We read about the camp host position at USI RV Park in one of the organization’s bimonthly magazines.  We were work campers in northern Nevada at that time and were looking for a gig the following year, mid-winter season thru early spring, 2016.

From our experience, securing a work camping job during the beginning months of each year can be daunting, especially if you are looking for one that offers a site with full hook-ups and all hours paid.  Typically, establishments that hire RVers with these benefits will seek employees from spring on into early fall, vacation time.  Other companies like Amazon Camperforce or Sugar Beet Harvest will hire RVers in mass quantity during the fall/winter season for periods of two weeks to four months.

There are two simple conditions we want to meet when deciding upon the right work camping job. First, the location should be uncharted territory, a place we would like to explore.  Second, the compensation should match or exceed our monthly living expenses. USI RV Park met both standards and more! I must confess, I was more concerned about the possibility of encountering a tornado than Levi and was a bit standoffish about initially applying.  Fact is, storms occur all over our nation, and for that matter, the entire world.  If we let nature rule the roost, we would have never ventured outside of our sticks and bricks home, let alone travel all over the US and back again.

What did the hiring process entail?

We initially sent an email to the owner, Sheila Wagner, via the contact information in the Workamper News ad.  The email addressed our interest in working for the park during the late winter/early spring seasons, included our  resumes, and a picture of us standing in front of our rig.  Within days, we received a reply email with date and time options for a phone interview. After checking our work schedule, we replied back with a definite time and date.

Our phone interview lasted about twenty minutes.  Mrs. Wagner ran through the job duties, expectations, and compensation.  She asked us questions about our work experience, more specifically with camp hosting.  We were in the midst of our first campground position at Desert Rose RV Park, so she wanted to consult with the owner for additional information on our work ethic and qualifications. Mrs. Wagner took the time to answer our questions ranging from job attire to seasonal weather conditions before we ended the call.

The following day, we received an email with a job offer to USI.  A sample contract was sent for us to review.  After clarifying some sections of the paperwork, we signed and sent back a revised copy.  The process was painless and only took a week or two to complete.  Afterwards, we keep in contact through a series of email correspondence, between the hiring date in July and the end of December before our arrival.

What were our duties?

We started working at USI RV Park the final week of 2015, just a few days after completing our first season working as associates for Amazon Camperforce near Dallas/Fort Worth area. Our original start date at USI was scheduled for the first of January 2016, but we happened to roll on into the park earlier in lieu of an approaching winter storm.

Upon arrival to the park, we were greeted by the owner, Sheila Wagner, and one of the two current work camping couples.  They were very welcoming, asked us about our journey from north Texas, gave us a brief explanation of the park grounds, and ushered us to our site, right next to the office.  We were handed a binder that outlined park and office duties and procedures to review before beginning our first week of training.

Orientation and training began a couple of days after our arrival.  After completing the initial paperwork of state and federal tax forms with Mrs Wagner, we were asked to review and sign our contract that stipulated our duties, park policies, and compensation for the four months that we would be employed.  (We had signed and returned a preliminary contract back in the summer of 2015 when we initially interviewed and were hired for the positions.)  This final contract solidified the deal.  She took the time to answer all of our questions and we chit-chatted for a bit before starting our training sessions with the current work campers.

For this employment, much like our job at Desert Rose RV Park in Fernley, Nevada, Levi was assigned to work outside and general maintenance and I was assigned front office duty. Our four days of training consisted of learning about and performing the various procedures that keep this park a top rated campground with, among other associations,  Good Sam RV Club.

Our first day on the job, as official camp hosts, was January 5th.  From that point on, Levi and I would work three day shifts and flip flop that time with another work camping couple.  We reported to work 15 minutes before the office opened (9 AM, Monday thru Saturday and 10 AM, Sunday) and closed everyday at or a little after 6 PM.  We were considered “on call” after this time.  Guests could get a hold of us after hours since calls were forwarded to a company cell phone that we had in our possession.  This cell traveled back and forth between both work camping couples at the start of each new shift.

Levi’s Duties: Levi’s daily job functions included general housekeeping of the park and facilities: cleaning the laundry room, sanitizing the bathrooms/showers, removing pet waste and debris from the premises, gathering the mail, collecting change from the washers and dryers, escorting guests to their sites, assisting customers with questions or concerns,  and pumping propane.

Kansas state law requires employees that dispense propane to be certified.  Levi’s schooling for this included viewing tutorials,  observing and then physically filling a variety of  propane bottles/tanks, and demonstrating his knowledge and understanding with a paper/pencil test, Kansas State Dispensing Unit Operation Exam.

Since we were employed during the better part of winter, much of January was spent salting walkways and heavy traffic locations throughout the park. Every once in awhile, Levi would use various equipment to smooth out rocks in the gravel driveway, gather and suction fallen leaves, organize the tool shed, and complete minor repairs like replacing light bulbs or batteries. There were a number of miscellaneous tasks that Levi performed around the park.  Job completions all depended on the weather, customer needs, and park safety measures.  Levi was also able to put his technical skills to the test by assisting with computer hardware/software issues.

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The weather got pretty brutal some days. Levi wrapped up to keep warm riding around outside on the golf cart.

I have to hand it to him, some of our shifts fell on days that the weather was, to say the least, less than favorable.  Wind, snow, rain, ice, and even prairie smoke in Kansas are conditions we have not experienced, living in the Las Vegas desert for over a decade.  Levi was a trooper through it all.  He admits, the best parts of his job were being outside on nice days and the unexpected, unplanned projects he had a chance to work on.  Levi loves a good problem solve project.

Natalie’s duties:  I spent the majority of my work days in the front office.  Reservations and transactions were conveniently completed on a single software program, Campground Master.  It took me a couple of weeks to really understand and correctly manipulate the various functions of the system, a part of the learning curve.  I am sure many can relate; practice helps build comfort level.  So after inputting a number of reservations and taking various payments for overnight stays, propane fills,  and gift shop products, using the system became almost second nature.

Mrs. Wagner was almost always on park grounds during our shifts, so it was nice being able to ask her or the other work camping couple for assistance.  Plus, the handbook (binder) was always a great reference.  I would regularly refer to it when taking reservations for pricing options (rates are based on a set of variables including number of people, length of rig, length of stay, and discount programs) and assigning RV sites (matching the RV to an accommodating parking spot).

20160204_103931-e1459992600317“Welcome to USI RV Park! How can I help you?” We were official camp hosts with our nifty name tags!

Other clerical duties included answering the phone, sorting and delivering mail (residents could opt to rent a mailbox if they were staying long term), using office equipment like a fax machine and copier, updating inventory, counting the cash drawer, and completing end of day settlements (to include collection of receipts, cash amount earned, and complete transaction history for the day).  I would also add posts onto USI RV Park’s Facebook page announcing upcoming events in Wichita and surrounding areas.  Daily cleaning of the work area included sweeping the front walkway, wiping down counters and windows, dusting, vacuuming rugs, mopping the floor, and sanitizing the office’s adjoining bathroom.

I do have to admit, I had two great companions throughout the work day, Izzie and Baxter, the resident felines of USI RV Park.  The brother and sister duo were adopted as babies and have called the park their haven ever since.  The pair could not be more polar opposite.  Baxter, the orange puffball, loves on anyone who enters the office door.  Izzie is more reserved and will let you know with the swipe of her paw when she is done with your attention.  Part of my duties included attending to my furry co-workers: filling their empty bowls with food and water, scooping waste from their litter box, and of course giving them pets and love.  Izzie and Baxter became little celebrities on Facebook, often featured in posts we created for the park page.

Baxter posing , begrudgingly for our Facebook post advertising hand and toe warmers sold in the giftshop.
Caught Izzie mid-meow, asking for treats. She appeared all smiles in this photo.

What were the perks?

We really enjoyed our work experience at USI RV Park, so much so that we decided to break one of our job selection rules (choosing new, unexplored locations) and work here again next year, January thru April.  I have a feeling we may be breaking this rule throughout our full-time RVing journey.  There will be some places, like USI RV Park, where there just isn’t enough time to see everything the city and surrounding areas have to offer and the people we work with and live close to will become a small, supportive community. Those qualities are hard to pass up!

Compensation: Camp hosts are compensated for working during regular business hours and after hours, on-call time.  All hours are paid during business hours.  We were paid minimum wage our first week of training.  Afterwards, and for the remainder of the four months employed, we were paid a bit more per hour.  Our on-call time, after company hours, included answering phone calls forwarded to the company cell and assisting park guests with miscellaneous tasks.  Credit for this work period included a full hook up site, an electric allowance, and a laundry allowance. We were paid every two weeks via check.

Location, Location, Location: The park is located in an industrial corner of Wichita, but you’d never know it tucked away in the midst of trees, open prairie, and a quiet ambiance within the establishment. USI is located on the northeast corner of Interstate 135 and Highway 96.  We were minutes away from shopping centers, tourist attractions, and local events.  It wasn’t difficult finding activities to do on our days off, between perusing the brochure racks in the office or sifting through weekly events posted on visitwichita.com.  The city of Wichita has tons to offer locals or those just passing through: Old Town Wichita, Sedwick County Zoo, Historic Delano, numerous parks and bike trails, craft beer and wine festivals, concerts, art exhibits, sports events, farmers markets, food truck gatherings, theater and symphonies, and much, much more.  Some days we ventured out of city limits and explored the Amish community of Yoder, traveled 650 feet under Hutchinson to the salt museum of Strataca, and raced through the trails of Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Strong City.

Sense of community and support:  USI RV Park is a family owned business and has been for nearly 40 years. Initially a piece of property for storage units, the business eventually evolved into a quaint, convenient stop for RVers with about 80 full hook-up sites and additional storage facilities.  It was quite evident, the day of our arrival, how close of a community the park had become. There are a number of RVers that stay long term.  Everyone knows and looks after one another.  It is not uncommon for residents to gather in the office to visit and catch up on old news.  The owners, especially Mrs. Wagner, are active and present on park grounds almost daily.  She is very easy to talk to, encourages input and ideas, and is always willing to help out in situations, no matter how big or small.  In fact, the entire Wagner family participates in the business in one way or another, from bookkeeping to outside repairing.  It was very refreshing to see this family involvement!

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