Meet My Camper – Part II

If you haven’t already, you may want to read part one of this series.

My water system was quite a challenge. I have been through a couple of incarnations already. I have a 50 gallon external freshwater tank that is entirely exposed to the freezing temps. A solid block of ice is very difficult to feed through a pump. I installed a smaller tank inside, and replaced the pump. I still had concerns of the water line freezing, so I reconfigured the system again. I will document the details in post dedicated to the water system.

The wood in this thing was in rough shape. Being an older camper, the wood is actually wood, not some cheap laminate. Refinishing is certainly an option, but being a purely cosmetic endeavor, I had it low on the priority list as a ‘next year’ project. I often spew the ‘function over fashion’ credo, but badly wanted to do something to make the wood ‘prettier’. I guess its my feminine side, which I am quite in touch with :). The truth is, there is a psychological element at play. When something looks better, it feels better. I discovered Minwax Polyshades. It’s a stain and polyurethane in one, so one coat does two jobs pretty quickly. I spent a day coating most of the wood, and the results were frankly astonishing. It really does make the place seem much less of a dump.

Insulation is an ongoing affair. I have the bulk of it done. Many windows are simply sealed shut with foam panels. It gets dark super early, so blocking out light was not a big deal. I used to live in a darkroom, so I am part vampire anyway. I left 2 windows open to light. They are both shrink wrapped, and I built a storm window on the larger main window. The cab of the vehicle is walled off with foamboard. I plan on banking all around with plastic and straw bales. More on that later.

I detected a new leak one day after we moved the camper to its winter resting spot. It sits differently, and water found a hole it hadn’t gotten to before. I patched the roof, but to be safe I tarped it as well. I’ve heard arguments for and against this practice, but I’m taking the chance.

I replaced all of the lights with LED’s to lower my power consumption. The ones I got are cheap. I had to exchange the first set due to many lights failing, and my second set is not looking so hot either. The LED’s I have are cool white, which is nice for doing work, but the warm white balance of the incandescent light is cozier. Right now I have a mix, so I get the best of both worlds. The old lights might draw more current, but they also give off quite a bit of heat. That heat is helpful right now.

I had a minor electrical issue. One of my two breakers (a GFCI which runs everything except 1 outlet) was tripping all of a sudden. It was an intermittent issue, so it was hard to solve. I blamed a shoddy outdoor outlet, but removing it changed nothing. I ruled out everything else on the circuit, I switched out the breaker, and it has not reoccurred.

Being that the camper is a Class C (i.e. drive-able), I am frequently asked how many miles are on it. That’s a bit of a mystery. The odometer claims 10,300 miles. That’s next to impossible for a 1977 that’s obviously seen use. The registration says 103,000 miles. It seems to me that the odometer was misread, and the tenths digit was mistaken for the ones digit. My guess is that the odometer has rolled over, and it’s 110,300 miles. Unless it’s rolled over more than once, but evidence seems to suggest otherwise.

The final topic on my list is the bathroom. I have saved it for last, because it is a topic many find uncomfortable. We poop. Get over it. In our society we pull a lever and it’s gone. In this lifestyle, you have to interact with it a bit more. Since my blackwater (i.e. sewer) tank was cracked, the toilet was useless. It would have been anyway, since the tanks contents would freeze (which is likely how it cracked in the first place). Even with ample anti-freeze, I had no solution for emptying the tank. I removed the tank and toilet, and put in a porta potty. There is much to be discussed about this matter, and it’s future, in posts to come.

There are many details left out here. Look for more detailed posts and pics regarding every aspect of this journey coming soon.

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.