EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — Michael Shoemaker is sitting at a picnic table in front of his recreational vehicle on an early October evening here at the Red River State Recreation Area. “I woke up to a realization this morning,” Mr. Shoemaker, who is 69, says with a deadpan expression. “The only way I will have a smoking hot body is when I’m cremated.”

He cracks up. “I love telling jokes,” he says.

Mr. Shoemaker is a work camper, one of thousands of modern-day nomads who live in their motor homes or trailers, traveling from campground to campground for seasonal jobs. A majority of work campers are in the second half of life, many well into the traditional retirement years.

Mr. Shoemaker, who has worked, among other places, behind retailing counters at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, as well as the spring training camp for the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers in Arizona, has joined 550 work campers hired to help stack and store the sugar beet harvest for American Crystal Sugar along the border of North Dakota and Minnesota.

The work-camping community illuminates many trends shaping and being shaped by baby boomers, including the search for both money and meaning in life as they grow older.

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