Joining the Amazon CamperForce

When we decided to retire, become fulltime RVers and travel North America, we knew we would want to supplement our retirement savings on occasion.  That would be accomplished through ‘work camping’, which involves some sort of work being done in exchange for a campsite. Our jobs the past two summers at Wild Cherry provided us a free place to stay in a fabulous location for two easy days of work each week.  Many of these campgrounds offer fulltimers additional compensation after a certain number of hours to entice us rolling retirees to come and work for them.  Recognizing the work ethic this segment of society has to offer, several companies that have nothing to do with camping are jumping on this bandwagon.  One of the biggest examples of this is the online retailer, Amazon.com.

To pass along a little history, Amazon.com was founded as Cadabra, Inc in 1994 by Jeff Bezos in his garage in Bellevue, Washington.  

One of his lawyers misunderstood the name to be cadaver, so Bezos changed it to Amazon, as the Amazon River was “exotic and different.”  It’s also the biggest river in the world, just as he hoped his company would be.  Furthermore, he noted that it was at the top of the alphabet, thereby appearing at the top of an alphabetized list.  The company went online in 1995 as a book retailer (I remember that!) and eventually began selling everything from A to Z with a smile, as indicated in their logo.    

I wonder where he got that idea?

Amazon survived the dot com bubble burst and turned a profit in the fourth quarter of 2001.  The company went public with an initial public offering of stock at a price of $18 a share in 1997 (actually equal to $1.50 after three stock splits early on) and is now trading at $822 a share.  It is mind boggling to think that a person who would have invested a mere $2000 in the company in 1995 would be a millionaire today from just that one transaction!  In 22 short years, the company has over 100 billion in annual revenue (2015) and over 250,000 employees in 16 countries….and it all started in a garage.

With that kind of explosive growth, logistics come into play.  Fulfillment centers (known from here out as FC) need to be placed near airports that are serviced by shipping companies, and also near a stable workforce.  Campbellsville, Kentucky was a perfect choice, as a 1998 closing of a Fruit of the Loom textile plant left a fairly new building vacant and over 800 workers unemployed.  It was also very close to the Louisville airport (airport code SDF), also known as Worldport, United Parcel Services main hub.  The new FC in Campbellsville opened in May of 1999 and was named SDF-1…or the first FC to ship out of that airport.  Being centrally located in the United States, SDF-1 played an important role in Amazon’s success.

Amazon started offering items other than books in November of 1999.  It wasn’t long before consumer buying habits started shifting from brick-and-mortar stores to buying goods online.  In 2005, the term Cyber Monday came into existence, referring to the first workday after Black Friday, when many people sit at their desks and do their holiday shopping instead of their jobs.  The Amazon FCs started feeling the pinch, and armies of temporary employees were brought in to help with the increased workload.  In Campbellsville’s case, many were bussed in from Louisville and housed in local hotels.  As is often the case with temps, quality and attendance issues arose…and sleepy little Campbellsville was having to deal with a segment of society that tend to cause problems.  

In 2008, the FC in Coffeysville, Kansas began a pilot program to hire work campers to help with the holiday rush, known in Amazon circles as peak season. That program has since been expanded to several other FCs…including Campbellsville…and has been given the name Amazon CamperForce. The upside for the company is that the majority of these workers are retired and have a great work ethic and attendance.  The only drawback is that they tend to want to change the Amazon way of doing things, as they come from careers in which they did things differently.  That fact is stressed at orientation, saying “it’s a job, not a career”.  The company sends recruiters to RV shows around the country to recruit new workers each year.  We put our names on the list at the Tampa RV Show in January, after reading the accounts of several friends and family members who had done it in the past.  We already had ties with the company as advertisers through our Associates account (located at the bottom of each post), so we thought it would be fun to see what makes the place tick.

We arrived on October 8 to find a newly remodeled facility.  Our friends Peg and Michele who worked last year pointed out that the building is vastly improved, and is much cleaner.  The regular workers (known as Amazonians) seem genuinely happy that we are there, probably because the CamperForce can be counted on to get the job done without too much drama.  Our first morning was orientation, led by a very entertaining and informative gentleman named Kelly Calmes.  That was followed by safety school in the afternoon.  The remainder of the first week was 5 hour work days in our departments, meant to harden us for the 10 hour days that were to follow.  We were assigned to packing, which I will talk more about in a future post.  


Looking pretty good at 6:15 AM for Breast Cancer Awareness Week!

For now, I will leave it at this:  our first week went really well. We found the work, the environment and people enjoyable.  We are amazed at the process, and I kept finding myself looking back to my career in manufacturing and thinking ‘THIS is how we should have done things’.  Granted, their system is not perfect…but when you consider that almost every package they deliver is on time and correct, it’s pretty darned slick.

And it all started in a garage just a mere 22 years ago…
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20 thoughts on “Joining the Amazon CamperForce”

  1. This is going to be an enjoyable set of blog posts to follow!. Looking forward to reading about your experiences at Amazon.

    Karen and I have talked about working there someday. My greatest concerns are can our bodies handle it if we stand or walk all day.

    I’ve heard some of the overtime is voluntary and wonder if you can stick to 40 hours a week. We also wondered about taking care of our dogs during the shift. Looking forward to the answers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I haven’t worked in a shop in years, Mark…and this is totally new to Diana. We are doing pretty good considering that, so I’m sure you two will be fine. 🙂

      Once peak kicks in, there will be 10 hours of mandatory OT, and more voluntary beyond that, if you wanted it. As far as the dogs, you might be able to find a dog walker in your park…especially in Heartland, if you can get in there. Our Goldens used to handle us being gone 12 hours from home just fine, and this would be more like 11 to 11.5 hours.

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  2. No matter how the next few weeks go you’ll have wonderful stories to tell! The big A opened a fulfillment center just South of Milwaukee and the cars parked out front make it look like a little city! Who would have thunk it.
    Have fun and enjoy the arduousity (I just made that word up). It’ll make the next months of travel and freedom all the sweeter!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They say it takes a few weeks of 10 hour days before the pain lessens, so we are counting on that. I’ll blog more about the next phase of it in a week or so, plus some exploring and family time coming up, Peter. The really cool thing is the social aspect of it. So many fellow work campers!

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    1. Thanks, Linda! I’m really glad Amazon has the CamperForce program, as it allows us a window into a world that most of us wouldn’t see otherwise. How cool is that? Most of the vistas we explore have to do with natural scenic areas, but the world around us is full of things other than canyons, rivers and lakes. It’s good to take note of them, as there are people working day in and day out in those environments. It definitely is fascinating!

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  3. Great info on both the company and the program – thanks for putting all of this together! I’m sure it is a lot of work but knowing it’s well organized and that proper training is provided makes a huge difference to me. For the week we’re at Cedars I’d be glad to cover a couple days of dog walking there and/or at Heartland if you hear of a need. You guys should all be well “hardened” by the time we see you 🙂

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