"Should we?" read the text.
The message, from Kim Senn's friend Maribeth Romslo, included a link to a listing on Facebook Marketplace for a 1999 Winnebago Brave SE.
"My response was, 'Yes, duh,' " said Senn.
Senn hadn't been planning to buy an RV when she got that message last spring, but she couldn't resist the thrill of a pandemic fixer-upper that would ultimately lead to travel.
Senn, an Edina illustrator and designer, and Romslo, a Minneapolis filmmaker, went in on the RV together — with bold plans to paint its entire 31-foot exterior in a graphic mural, then remodel the interior.
"It felt like a fun adventure — to fix her up and hit the road," said Romslo.
So far, they've created a home-on-wheels painted in pastels (including Benjamin Moore's Land of Liberty green, Amber Waves orange and Melted Ice Cream pink) that has enough personality to command her own Instagram account.
Yes, she's a she. And her name? Winnie Cooper RV (@winniecooper.rv).
At first, the friends just called her Winnie, but quickly decided to name her after the iconic girl-next-door character played by Danica McKellar in the TV show "The Wonder Years."
Amid a pandemic-fueled surge in sales of recreational vehicles, Winnie will be on the road with plenty of used RVs that are getting fixed up and featured on social media.
Like Senn and Romslo, some Twin Cities RV owners are putting in hundreds of hours on renovations. But they're not only sprucing up their aging vehicles, they're naming them, giving them online identities and documenting their travels and, in some cases, travails.
In addition to Winnie Cooper RV, Champ the Scamp (@champthescamp), Eden the Airstream (@edentheairstream) and Minnie Winnie (@minniecampers) are based in Minnesota. While most of these accounts rack up only a few hundred followers, they are part of a large, thriving RV community on social media, where owners connect over make and model and some rent out their rigs.
Champ comes through
Before Champ, there was Sylvia.
Jeremiah and Lani Schuster were dating when they started dreaming about renovating an old RV together. After they got married, they found a 30-foot vintage Airstream trailer that needed lots of work. The St. Paul couple named her Sylvia, set up an Instagram account in her name, and spent a year and a half renovating her inside and out.
Sylvia, though, needed more work than they could manage on their own.
"We realized we were in too deep pretty quick," said Jeremiah. They ended up selling her. But the very next day, they found a camper trailer for sale that was a better fit.
"With the money that we got from selling the gutted Airstream, we purchased a 1991 Scamp, which we could actually tow with our Subaru, and it was all in functioning condition," said Jeremiah. "It was more just aesthetic things that we wanted to change. We've always been people who enjoy interior design."
They named him the Scamp Champ and gave him updated upholstery, a custom walnut wooden table and counters made by a friend, electric appliances and a new faucet and sink. He took over Sylvia's Instagram and lives up to his name, Lani said.
"They have personalities," she said. "With Champ, he's kind of like our little guy who made our dream still be something."
Through the @champthescamp account, the couple have connected with other Scamp owners around the country. But it also functions as a "memory book" for their young family, Lani said.
They've documented drives through the Badlands and a stay in Bayfield, Wis., which was their daughter's first camper trip. They also reached out through Instagram recently when Champ took a very unexpected trip — someone stole the camper from a Maplewood RV service center early this month. Through a tip they received, they were able to find the camper and recover it, eventually posting, "CHAMP IS HOME."
A not-so mini Winnie
Grace McAvoy and her husband, Kyle, bought their 2005 Class C Winnebago last fall, aiming to remodel it as a "fun little quarantine project," McAvoy said. "We were like, 'Why not? We have literally nothing else to do.' "
The couple named her Minnie Winnie (a nod to her home state, not her size) and have been spending weekends and holidays fixing her up, hoping to get her ready for a trip out West in the fall.
Because they rent their home, it's their first big DIY project. So they prepared by researching RV remodeling through Instagram and the magazine Rootless Living. Before ripping out carpet and putting in a new floor, they learned to use lightweight vinyl flooring in order to not weigh down the rig.
"It's an early 2000s RV, so it's very outdated," McAvoy said. "I think it even had a place for the TV where it was still a box TV."
Now Minnie Winnie has cabinets painted a rich teal blue with matte black handles and an updated vinyl floor that looks like hardwood. The pair are documenting the changes on their @minniecampers account, posting before-and-after photos and videos of themselves at work.
McAvoy, who works as a marketing strategist, likes having a separate account dedicated only to the camper life.
"I log into @minniecampers and my feed is curated with local campers and pictures from out West, and different nature photographers. It's kind of like my little escape room," she said. "It's peaceful, and it gets me inspired."
The pair began their project with the goal of reselling the rig as a "flip" at some point, but are currently thinking about keeping it and renting it out for short trips.
"Maybe one day we'll live in it," McAvoy said.
Art on wheels
Of all the changes that Senn and Romslo planned to make to Winnie Cooper, they were most excited about making their RV a mural on wheels, so that was their first chore.
Last fall, Senn created the design in Adobe Illustrator, trying out mock-ups of what it would look like on the actual rig in Photoshop.
"RV designs tend to have a very specific, and very masculine look, and that look hasn't changed in decades," said Senn. "We wanted to stray pretty far from the traditional RV look — which meant using a lot of color, exploring big graphic forms, and even telling a bit of a story with the design."
She describes the end result as an "abstract landscape, with the color palette evoking the land, the lakes, and a warm sunset."
This May, they started painting — projecting the design onto Winnie at night and tracing the shapes with pencil.
"We used lots of blue painters' tape to mark off the straight lines and paint the shapes," said Romslo. "It was kind of like a giant paint-by-number after we traced the mural design onto the RV."
It took almost 200 hours.
Since then, they've done a few small projects inside, but plan to do more work on the interior.
The RV's journeys have been fairly short so far — to Maple Grove, Iowa and Wisconsin. But no matter where she goes, Winnie Cooper RV draws lots of comments.
Passersby have told Senn and Romslo that her colorful mural makes them smile. The only problem?
"We've heard at least five people ask, 'Are you an ice cream truck?' " said Romslo. "We might need to just keep a cooler of ice cream with us at all times so we don't disappoint people!"
Erica Pearson • @ericalpearson