Meet My Camper – Part I

I live in a 1977 Dodge Sportsman. It is a class C motor home, powered by a 318 V8 engine. I purchased it on May 29th, 2015. It had been sitting around for a few years, and it was quite a mess. It ran, barely. A good portion of it was in decent shape, and I was told that everything worked. The price was low, but I was on a pretty limited income. I really didn’t have any money to put into repairs, so I was leery of what I was getting myself into. My dad thought it was too good to pass up. He has quite a collection of materials and tools I would have access too, so I took the risk. Below is an overview of my work to date. I will post more details in separate posts, with pics.

At first, each day of hope and excitement was followed by two days of frustration and despair. I began by cleaning things up and testing all of the systems. In the process, I was upset to find out that almost nothing worked. The fridge didn’t work. The water pump kind of worked, but some of the lines were split open. The toilet was unusable due to a cracked black water tank. The stove mostly worked, but was bordering on dangerous. The water heater was rusted out. The dining table was missing. The A/C didn’t work, but I wasn’t planning on using that anyway. In the end, the only appliance that worked was the furnace, and the electrical seemed to be OK. I was told there was a water leak near the bed over the cab, but it was much worse than expected. There were many leaks, and 95% of the wood around the bed was rotten and waterlogged. My list of things to do grew and grew to overwhelming proportions. It was a chore just to decide where to start. I almost gave up a few times and, if I’m honest, I almost hoped to return and find it burned to the frame.

I had to take a breath, and ponder my priorities. Having previously pondered a van dwellers lifestyle, I had already wrapped my brain around what my truly basic necessities were for such a living space. Revisiting this, I knew I needed a place to sit at a table to read, write, eat, and plan. I knew I needed a place to sleep. I began to demolish the bed area, which proved to be quite a task. When I got frustrated with it, I worked on a table or tinkered with other things. Soon enough, I had a table that attached to the wall, so I could remove it to fold the seats into a bed as they were designed to do. I planned on keeping the table up permanently, but I wanted the bed option for guests. Eventually I had the rotten wood removed, the roof and seams repaired and re-framed, and the bottom surface of the bed area rebuilt. I still had to insulate, and cover the walls around the bed, but I was able to start sleeping there.

That was on July 1st, 2015. I have lived here ever since. I didn’t really plan on moving in then. I just started sleeping here because it was easier to keep working on it that way. I had set up a wifi extender so I could get a signal from my parents house. As you can see, the “geek” in “campergeek” is decidedly NOT arbitrary. Wifi goes a long way as far as comfort in my world. After a few weeks, I realized that I had only gone home to pick up some belongings, and then return to the camper. For the previous year, I had been living with my sister and her fiancee, on the 3rd floor of a large house he owned. I was reluctant to stop paying rent and “officially” move into the camper, because I had no idea if I was going to be ready for the winter. I even questioned how possible it would even be to brave a Northern Maine winter in this thing. It’s November as I write this, so I’m honestly still wondering what I’m really getting into. I’m quite comfortable thus far, but stretches of 20 below zero and colder are typically inevitable.

My work kind of stalled out for a while. I just lived here, overwhelmed with the tasks that lay ahead. I was parked next to my dads shop to facilitate the work since it gave easy access to tools and materials. It also provided my electrical power and a restroom. I eventually mustered some motivation and got back to work. I guess I would even say I got a bit obsessed. I replaced my stove with one my dad had picked up a while back to mess around with. I lucked out there. I pulled the broken LP/electric fridge out and replaced it with an all electric Frigidaire compact unit that I had gotten for Christmas the year prior. I hope to have an LP unit back in there eventually when I can afford it. It took some trim cutting to get it to fit, and its been a challenge to get it to run properly for reasons I will discuss in a different post.

I have the bed area re-insulated, and paneled. It needs finish work before it looks pretty, but cosmetics are generally a low priority right now. Function over fashion, always.

Join me in Part II for the riveting conclusion of my summary on the work to date.