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Harrisville woman is a Sister on the Fly


HARRISVILLE — A bolt of inspiration was inserted into Jane E. Wagner’s Watertown Daily Times one day last summer.

“Sisters on the Fly hit the road with vintage campers,” the headline on Page D1 read on that day in May. The wire story was out of Kansas City, Mo.

“That struck me as fun,” said Ms. Wagner, a Harrisville resident who is pastor of United Community Church in Carthage.

The story profiled a group, Sisters on the Fly, a national society of camping enthusiasts founded by two actual sisters who love fly-fishing in Montana. The group has three rules: No husbands, no pets and “be nice.”

The founding sisters, Maurrie Sussman and Becky Clarke, have seen their sorority grow from a dozen in 1999. Each new member is given a number, indicating how many members there are in Sisters on the Fly. Ms. Wagner became sister No. 2,796 shortly after reading the story.

She then sought out a vintage camper, the preferred method of camping for members, who paint their wheeled units with themes. The organization hosts national events and smaller regional get-togethers, sometimes creating artistic convoys of Sisters on the Fly members.

Responding to a want ad, Mrs. Wagner purchased a 13-foot-long 1980 Scamp from a seller in Pulaski for about $3,000.

“The person I bought it from had already done a lot of work on it,” Ms. Wagner said. “I just painted the inside, made new curtains and not too much more than that.”

Ms. Wagner has experience in do-it-yourself projects. For the past dozen years, she has operated a retreat center, the Promised Land, in Pitcairn.

“I didn’t know how to do carpentry or anything,” she said. “I had somebody show me some basics and started doing things. I always thought you can do anything if you try.”

Before Ms. Wagner found her Scamp, she noticed something about vintage campers in general.

“It’s amazing how many of these old campers there are in the area,” she said. “One Sunday after church, a friend and I decided to just stop wherever we saw one of these campers. Once you start looking for them, you see them all over the place.”

She found them abandoned on the “edge of properties” and “tucked away in back, with trees around them.”

Ms. Wagner and her friend stopped at about 10 places on that Sunday to inquire about the old campers.

“Only one of them had a ‘for sale’ sign on it,” she said. “The others, when we talked to people, all but two said ‘Yes’ immediately, that they would like to sell it. I just don’t think they thought anybody would want it.”

Ms. Wagner said she likes the Scamps, manufactured in Minnesota, because they are made of molded Fiberglass and are lightweight. Her unit weighs about 1,000 pounds

“Most of your old campers are wood-framed and have thin metal siding,” Ms. Wagner said.

She had an Adirondack-themed mural painted on her Scamp by her good friend James P. Woodworth, a landscape artist from Great Bend who normally uses oil on canvass. The camper project was something new for him.

“It was my first experience working on Fiberglass,” he said.

He used fast-drying latex and acrylic paints.

“Each scene was brushed free-hand to provide movement of water and sky,” Mr. Woodworth said.

The project took him nearly 100 hours. He titled the camper — with scenes of a waterfall through rocks, a canoe on a river, mountains, white birches and Adirondack chair reflections — “Adirondack Memories.”

In June, before Mr. Woodworth was done painting her camper, Ms. Wagner took it to a Sisters on the Fly gathering in New Jersey. About 40 members, from all walks of life attended, ranging from stay-at-home moms to a lawyer.

Many members, Ms. Wagner said, add antique items to go with their vintage campers. Ms. Wagner has collected things like a red-plaid cooler from the 1960s and old clunky suitcases.

She’s looking forward to more Sisters on the Fly gatherings with her artistically complete Scamp. But down the road, she may be towing something else behind her Toyota Tacoma.

“I’d like to find a Serro Scotty Highlander in really good shape,” Ms. Wagner said. “My friend says I’m getting obsessed with this.”

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