A little trust goes a long way in travel-trailer transaction


Sarah Brandt, center, takes a selfie with her mother, Jacqueline, right, and her new friends, Larry and Lin Olson, in Livingston. That’s Sarah’s new travel trailer in the background.

I find some discomfort thinking that we understand the words: “You can’t be too careful.” Other protective phrases like “It’s a scam,” “You’ll get screwed,” “A friend of mine was robbed” and “Watch your behind” diminish the values of faith and trust between people. Paranoia, fear and reluctance seem to take over.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Stars shine from around the world when we look.

My wife and I decided to sell our travel trailer. Nice rig. Scamp fifth-wheel trailer that was truly like new. It was ordered to our specific needs two years earlier. We picked it up and hauled it from the manufacturing plant in Backus, Minn., to our then home in northern Nevada, camping along the way home. After that, we traveled in it (back and forth from Wyoming, Nevada and Montana) and then lived in it (for three months) while our new house was being built. It worked perfectly.

We juggled the idea of using a Mini Nickel posting, newspaper want ads and even consignment options to sell it. Then, the light bulb went on and we went with the current method of selling stuff: Craigslist.

My wife was really excited to participate in the technological learning curve to post the ad. Her enthusiasm was inspired many times during the writeup, picture uploading process and actual posting to the website. She persevered. There were a few phrases uttered during this process, thoiugh, that made me realize some of her casual recreational reading materials could be X-rated.

We waited. Thinking that we would be reaching only the Billings and Bozeman communities, we were amazed at emails received from North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Utah and Colorado. Most replies were informational. They led to a couple of telephone calls where the interested parties were fast to demand discounts on the price. Only one Looky-Lou came to see the trailer. We were discouraged.

The first email from Sarah Brandt seemed as unlikely as all the others. Placing her location in coastal Oregon, she was pleased that the Scamp wasn’t too far away. Pure irony when we look back. She had done her research on Scamp fifth-wheel trailers and over the next few correspondences she detailed that knowledge.

We continued our electronic dialogue until one email arrived in which Sarah informed us that she had decided to place a deposit on a new Scamp fifth-wheel. I certainly thought I had over-informed a potential buyer. Buy a new one instead. Not mine. I am quite the salesman.

After a short time, a new email came from Sarah. She explained that, as I had told her, the manufacturing delay for a new Scamp was longer than she would want to wait to carry out her boon-docking travel plans. She said she and her mother, Jacqueline, wanted to come and see the trailer, and she provided a time frame for the visit.

We were elated that we might have a legitimate buyer.

Sarah and I agreed to share telephone numbers. She called. As in her emails, she was very positive and knowledgeable. She knew what she wanted. She asked the right questions. She wanted a Scamp fifth-wheel. However, when she told me that she was calling and traveling from China, picking up her mom in Oregon and then traveling on to Montana, I mildly shook my head. This can’t be real.

Then, the real paranoia set in.

She requested the Scamp’s vehicle identification number be sent to the Oregon DMV and to her insurance company. I also needed to fill out a wire transfer form that included my checking account information. The disconcerting fact that her financing would come from a non-brick-and-mortar bank on the Eastern Seaboard compounded my worries.


Sarah Brandt, right, and her mother, Jacqueline, pose in front of Sarah’s new Scamp fifth-wheel trailer.

Sarah also informed me that she didn’t have a truck yet to haul the trailer. This was the proverbial cart before the horse story.

I told her that the truck, no matter the make and model, would need to meet specific towing requirements. Installation of the hitch and brake controller needed to be done according to the manufacturer’s standards. I volunteered to investigate local installers before she was to arrive.

I contacted Jim and Vicky Nardella, proprietors of Mobile Welding and Repair, in Livingston. I explained to them that the truck where the hitch would be installed wasn’t purchased, yet. I also related the China connection and no-bank situation. They agreed to do the installation and provided their own quizzical understanding of the story with a small rolling of the eyes gesture.

I did what lots of people do: I got input from places of business, friends and the internet.

The negativity was profound. “Sounds like she’s manufacturing a phony title,” one person explained. “Why would she need a VIN number?” another fear mongered. “China! How could you trace an account for the money?” an out-of-state banker offered. “It’s a scam!” “You’re going to get screwed.” “Watch your behind!”

What do you do?

We arranged a meeting with Sarah and her mom.

The day we met, Montana was in a lousy mood. Overcast. Rainy and snowy. Some driving wind.Literal foreshadowing? After they arrived, we worked our way around and through the trailer explaining how things worked. We demonstrated. They liked what they saw. They were appreciative.

We laughed, taught and learned. The sun came out in our thoughts. The clouds retreated from our fears. Sarah and her Mom were charming. They were honest. They were aware. Sarah knew what she was doing. All the positive attributes one wants to see in people—especially from as far away as China.

We went into our house and worked through the details of the sale. I retold the story of a house I had bought in Montana years earlier with a handshake and a $100 bill. Financing came after a beer with the seller at a local bar: a quaint story of “Old Montana values.” We ate my wife’s cookies and sipped tea.


The Olsons’ trailer, as it appeared on their Craigslist ad.

Sarah told a little of her life story. She lived in a small city in China—only 8 million people. She explained how she had received her formal education in New York and Eastern Europe. Worked for a while in the city and then decided on an adventure.

Originally, she adventured to China as a teacher—that was 10 years ago. Things changed and she started a tutoring and interpreting service. She got her yoga education in India. Her husband was from South Africa. A truly cosmopolitan person. Through the gaze out our window, she explained that views of the world like ours didn’t exist in her part of China. The mass of humanity was everywhere in every picture in every direction. She was wise and worldly beyond her young age.

We all agreed to the sale and Sarah set up a schedule for the following day. Money transfer details were completed. Sarah exuded confidence. She and her mom said good evening and left for their motel.

The next day, the details of the sale slowly melted away. Everything fell into place. We agreed to haul the trailer to Nardella’s in Livingston where Sara had arranged to put the trailer in storage until she purchased a truck. They were also impressed by her competence.

The deal was done—but not quite. As we were parting, and done with hugs and pictures, Sarah said: “We have one more thing to give you.”

She handed us a brown paper bag. In it was a large micro brew beer from their hometown in Oregon. Old Montana values are hard to shake—even from Oregon.

Being careful is important. Being too careful could prevent a star from brightening your life from half way around the world.

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