Sunday, February 7, 2021

Darkness, Darkness

 We have been pretty much "home bodies" this Winter so have had plenty of time for little projects. We love performing small upgrades on our Camper Van.

Recently, I updated all the old light fixtures to LED lights. The old filament lights got very HOT and they draw much more energy.

The rear door access was poor, so I priced a rear receiver hitch step at a local RV Store...$49.00? way. I had a number of unused receiver hitches, some heavy aluminum plate, rubber matting, so I fabricated my own. Cost me $2.00 for a large black anodized nut/bolt/washers.

I noticed that light was detectable through our accordion shades at night. I decided to do a little test, and turned on the TV one night. Went outside and peered through the shades, to my dismay, I could see right through them and into our sleeping area. With that in mind we decided to make up additional privacy curtains to be used with the stock shades. Chose these "common sense" (didn't know they were called that) twist lock fasteners, as they won't stress the fabric like snaps would.

Darian recently purchased a new sewing machine so she was ready to go!

Left rear shade installed:

     Fastener locations:

We ended up making numerous covers...a rear door cover that stays in place when door is opened. 

A side door cover.

Rear "Cubby hole" covers.
The rear cover is attached to interior panels, rather than the door. This way privacy is maintained when door is opened.

Roof Vent Covers.
Used snaps on the rear cover:

I had to get creative on the front roof vent cover as we had only a tiny bit of material leftover, plus the crank extends down.

When we were done, I went out to van in pitch darkness...turned on 6 different lights, and the TV inside...could not see any detectable light through the two layers of curtains from outside.
We don't always need to be completely "stealthy" when out camping, but the thought of the possibility of someone peering into van in the middle of the night kind of bothered us.
We are firm "2nd. Ammendment" believers, and always travel with self defense "options". These days a bit of paranoia is not a bad thing! Lol

Our rig has a large table, but when bed is made up it is unusable.
I made up a smaller table which has multiple uses:

We used a small aluminum folding table a couple times but it was awkward. This small wood panel stores right next to the larger dinette table.

2020...A season of Change

 "Out with the old, in with the new"

Our biggest news of 2020 was the purchase of a new property in AZ. We've been spending our Winters at the same property since the mid 90's and were ready for a change. The old neighborhood was getting somewhat depressing. Some of the area lots were becoming somewhat derelict, and a new home was built directly to our us a wonderful view of the side of a house. 

We'd targeted a specific neighborhood higher up on a hill, but properties there seldom came up for sale. Finally the planets aligned and we found / purchased a new lot. The process was a bit painful, due to Covid insanity and the seller being in Oklahoma, but we got it done!

Stormy Day View to our East:

Window view from my favorite chair:

The new property needed a lot of upgrades to suit us. We had recently laid down additional brick pavers at our old property so we uprooted many of them (still leaving 3 large patio areas paved) and transplanted them to our new place.

Last Summer we obtained a fairly large gazebo and portable hot tub, so setting that up was a priority.
Hot Tub view:

Land Rover hauling brick 

We added some side boards and converted our motorcycle trailer into a temporary  utility trailer. Hauled a few loads of pavers and a few loads to the dump. 

The new property was pretty stagnant aesthetically so we immediately set out to make it "home". Darian transplanted/moved numerous scattered cacti to a single area and installed borders. She planted numerous elysium flowers in a new patio border area. We added a little "Zen" garden in the rear, and planting area up front and then a lovely little "gnome garden"...complete with pathways, little homes, castles, colored stones, grass areas, trees, and more detail than I can describe.
Darian repainted our two large sliding entrance gates and we have another small brick pathway yet to complete.
The lot has a fairly large shed, so we set it up to our liking...replacing an old dated washing machine with a new one. I also emptied our old property shed, and moved my workbench, peg boards, shelving, 8 small fastener storage bins and lots of motorcycle parts to the new shed.

All in all this past year has been interesting.
We haven't done a lot of motorcycle traveling, instead favoring our camper van. Our "mode" has been traveling we move our camper van to Montana, then fly to AZ to retrieve our motorhome and back to MT. This way we make a couple roadtrip vacations each Spring / Fall.
We traveled the entire west coast in July in our camper....from Mexico to the northern cascades of Washington...visiting friends and family along the way. With the "Covid situation" in mind, we avoided large cities and crowds. 
We did attend a Salton Sea Airhead campout in November...taking our camper. Was a nice gathering with 75 or so other folks. No Covid issues whatsoever.
Planning a camper roadtrip next week up the Colorado River and possibly, eventually, over to Death Valley and the Airheads Death Valley gathering. 
More to come...

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Class B Camper Upgrades

I've been performing some maintenance / upgrades to the Dodge Van the past couple of weeks.
Since I had no maintenance records I decided I had better inspect / pack the front wheel bearings...also check the front brake pads. Packing wheel bearings is not one of my favorite past times so I stopped at a local Tire Shop to see what they would charge....their quote was over $200.00...$100.00 / axle. Well, I'd say that was a motivating factor to perform the work myself.
I spent an afternoon completing the task and spent a total of $12.00: Two new wheel seals, 2 cotter pins and a tube of wheel bearing grease. I had purchased a "wheel bearing grease cone" years ago so had to get that out. The brake pads appeared about at 80% as new so no need to replace them.
Messy darn job but I was glad I got it done.

We found that the little 15" TV / DVD in the camper was a bit "dated" worked but was having issues accepting DVD's ….it would take a dozen or so tries to get a DVD to start reading. Plus it was a 110 volt unit, so either shore power was required, or running our small (slightly noisy) 175 watt inverter when using.


I'd been "hoarding" a couple old BMW "Teutonic QSL 1000 Mile Solo Seats" for a while which I didn't plan on using....only bought them because the price was right and they are somewhat rare. Sold off two of them on eBay to finance some upgrades for the van. Found the above 19" TV/DVD combination on eBay for a reasonable it is a 12 volt unit so won't need to run an inverter. It fit the existing swivel mount and is actually over all smaller than the old one. 

Brother in Law had given me a couple of LED lights which I planned on mounting as additional  backup lights on the rear.....after looking things over I decided one would be sufficient and the second one would be held as a spare, if ever needed. It was wired into the backup light system so activates only with reverse selection. 

Next in line was the sewer hose storage....the Van had a storage tube, but it was basically a useless space...a small tube which would hold a sewer hose, but not the end fittings. No one wants to assemble / disassemble their sewer hose with each use....for obvious reasons. 
Currently I've had to store the sewer hose (in a plastic bag) under the rear seat / bed. I did not like that situation, also for obvious reasons. 

I removed the tube and then cut out the back plastic area around the enclosure with a "roto-zip" tool on my Dremel. This enlarged the opening into the underside of the van....and will allow the sewer hose end fittings to fit into the area.

Inspecting the area behind the opening I had found that it would be possible to make a "floor" enclosure to access through the door opening. I cut a card board "template" to initially size the floor and then cut some scrap sheet metal we had in the shop.

The sheet metal fit tightly and I was able to secure each corner with screws / bolts. It is not a "sealed" area since I want any water to drain away after use....should work! 

After a few uses I was able to get all functions of the refrigerator to work...12 volt...110 volt...and propane. The fridge has a 12 volt cooling fan which activates when a pre set temperature is achieved. On a very hot day I found that the fan would activate even when the fridge was not turned on. I installed a toggle switch behind the fridge rear access door to be able to deactivate the circuit. It appears that the previous owner had the same situation and removed an inline fuse when the fridge was not in use. Just need to activate the circuit when the fridge is in use. 

Next on my list was the existing roof vents / fans. They were the original units and the little fans had succumbed to the elements with the blades degrading / rotting away. The units also had 12 volt lights in the "surround" but they were not functional. I thought of replacing the fan blade units but these types of fans are quite loud / noisy so decided to upgrade to one "Fan-Tastic Fan" in the bed area and a standard vent fan in the kitchen area. 

The "Fantastic-Fans" are pretty quiet and move a LOT of air...also have 3 speeds. We have two of these in our large with an automatic rain sensor, powered lid, thermostat control. The "optioned" units cost nearly $400.00 so I opted for the cheaper "standard" model at $130.00. 

Above is the "standard" roof vent / fan similar to the original ones, but without the lights. This one sits above the "kitchen" area so can vent out when cooking in the van. 

Installing the new vents took a few hours each....removing the old ones / cleaning up the old sealant was the hardest task. Crawling around on the fiberglass roof was a bit of a challenge as I had to be careful to not stress the roof close to the openings. I used a butyl compressible tape under the frames and then a self leveling "DuCor" sealant around the frames and screws. The DuCor Sealant is great stuff and does not harden / become brittle. Had to re-drill all the holes (over 50) in the roof cap for both vents as the old ones were a different layout. I simply used a 1/32 nd. bit to drill pilot holes then used self tapping screws (with a bit of sealant on each). 

We will be leaving our car here in Montana this Winter for the first time. My Brother in Law has a huge shop and offered to let us leave the car here. My Wife has never ridden South with me in the big RV since she has always had to drive our car South....this year we will ride together to AZ in the big RV, then fly back to MT. for a couple more weeks and then return to AZ with the camper van....hoping to take a circuitous route South in the van and make a "tourist" trip out of it. We found air fare from Mesa AZ to Billings MT for less than $150.00 for both of us. We'll need to rent a car "one way" for Yuma to Mesa but car rentals are fairly inexpensive for one day. 

The Camper Van has sort of sidelined me from my normal routine of motorcycle riding this Summer. But that is OK and I'll get some riding time in this Winter. I feel it was time to give the MC riding a "break" for some reason. Riding is still my favorite passion / activity and I'll balance the riding with the camping van activities. 

Big Horn Mountains - Wyoming:
                                                           Big Horn Reservoir - Wyoming:

                                                               Black Hills - South Dakota:

So far we've visited 6 + different Hot Springs around MT. / WY. / SD.
We've visited different areas of Yellowstone Park twice......been through a large area of the Black Hills in South Dakota.....criss-crossed the Big Horn mountains in Wyoming numerous times. Also attended Grandsons soccer tournament in Bozeman. Camping / staying in the van suits us perfectly and has already saved hundreds of $$$$ in lodging costs!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Class B Camper Van - BMW sidecar "Rat Patrol"

Wow....early August already...where has the time gone! No posts yet this here goes a long one...

We had been looking for a reasonably priced Class B camping van for the past couple of years. We would like to do some more remote camping but our large Class A rig is much too big....and we are getting to a point where constant tent camping is somewhat of a pain. We still don't mind tent camping, but every night is a lot of work.
Early in our lives we had a couple different camping vans, but never one with powered fridge / flush toilet / etc.

Before I was married I had a neat old 1968 VW Westphalia pop up camper like the one above. It was quite under powered, small and somewhat crude. Heater was very poor. It actually had a gasoline powered furnace that never did work properly. I found that they were also known to be a bit dangerous. Drove it as my daily driver for a couple of years.

When I met my Wife, I had this old 1968 Dodge A100. It was somewhat "converted"...having an ice box and a hand pump sink. We refurbished the Wife made new curtains / cushions for the dinette / bed. It was a great little rig. But again somewhat crude. Brakes were poor, no power steering, aftermarket  AC unit never worked and was removed. We drove it all over Montana, down to AZ and up the California coast one Winter. I traded it for an Opel GT a friend had, and then the friends son totaled out the van (hit a power pole) within a week or two. 

We eventually bought this "Gladiator" Conversion van...burgundy suede box / sink. Was quite the "pimp" wagon. Rear seat folded down into a bed. We traveled extensively in this one too. 

For the past couple of years we've been watching for a decent, low mileage Class B Camper, but have found the market to be tough Nearly all I found were either WAY over priced, or decently priced with high miles and high wear. 

We nearly bought the 1990 Ford Coachman pictured here. It had decent mileage, 60k miles and was in fairly good condition. Seller was asking $10k firm and would not budge. We didn't really care for the rear mounted / open viewed "throne" flush toilet. It also had a big crack in the windshield and the dash AC did not work. 

The "Deal Breaker" for me was that the exterior finish was really poor...all the clear coat on the paint was peeling off / fading out. Paying $10,000.00 for something ugly just didn't sit well with me. 
The other "downside" for us was the overhead sleeping bunk. Really not functional as the space was so cramped. It had a fold out couch bed, so the upper bunk was really not necessary and would have been relegated as storage space, and the upper body extension makes for a huge cross wind target.

A couple of months ago we drove over to Big Timber Montana with my Brother in Law to visit a local museum we had never visited. As we entered the town I told my Wife: "Now these little towns might be the place we see a small Class B camper sitting around for sale". (Previously my main focus had been searching Craigslist / eBay.)  Lo and behold within a few minutes we spy a clean looking Dodge Class B camper sitting in a Dollar Store Parking lot with a "for sale" sign in the window. 

I called the seller and within an hour or so we took it for a test drive. He was asking $11k "firm" and did not want to drop a penny. After some negotiating I got him to drop $500.00 off, but not another nickel. The rig had 77k original miles, and had been in the same family since new. We found very few flaws while going over things.....Michelin tires were "new", but actually 6 + years old.  They had great tread but I  cracking was evident in the tread grooves / sidewalls. So immediate tire replacement would be a must. It had the little 318 V8 engine which I had in my 1968 Dodge van. Quite a good engine for fuel mileage, but a little under powered in the hills. 

I spent a good hour checking things, and everything seemed to function control, dash air, power windows, door locks..... rode a little rough, but it is a 1 Ton chassis and the tires were hard as rocks. Drove nice and straight / quiet down the highway. 

The interior was in near perfect condition and shows very little wear / use.  

Wood work is nice quality and even a little built in "old school" wall clock worked. 

Has a 3 way refrigerator, micro wave oven, 2 burner stove top, sink, flush toilet (in its' own little compartment), but no hot water system. Since it has no shower, the lack of a hot water system wasn't really a big deal to us. 

Only one mid / rotating passenger seat which is fine.

Pedestal table sits in rear, and it converts to a queen sized bed or single beds if preferred. A small built in propane heater sits in the rear under the passenger side really cranks out the heat too!

Also has a newer flat screen / DVD TV in the rear.

It has an integral mounted 120 Volt Air Conditioner in the rear. The rig has no auxiliary generator which I would like to have had....but it may be possible to install a 2.8 kw Onan in between the rear frame rails. Would require some fabrication / engineering so really not worth the effort. 

I've found that the manufacturer, American Cruiser, was only in business for 5 or 6 years. Their quality was good, and their rigs were quite expensive in their time. This one is a "first year" model being a 1995...they stopped production in 2000 I believe. They only built / sold Class B camper vans. 

After purchase, upon closer inspection once I got home, I found a helper spring u-bolt / plate missing. Had a spring shop make me the u-bolt and bought a piece of steel to make the cost of $25.00. Also found a couple loose clamps on the springs so took care of those. 

Two small floor lights (come on when doors open) were burnt out, one was missing a bulb. Found that the bulbs were a "tube type" bulb and couldn't find anything similar in RV books.....finally checked a "Marine Supply" company and found the bulbs...they are actually a marine application bulb so bought a few extras, since shipping was more than the bulbs.

So far we have taken 2 short trips...totaling nearly 2500 miles. Fuel mileage is pretty steady at 16+ MPG on the highway, driving 65 -70. Has a large 36 gallon fuel tank so range is great....over 500 miles if one wanted to "push" it. I immediately had 4 new Toyo All Season Tires mounted (nearly $700.00) and performed an oil / filter change. 

We've spent quite a bit of effort on improvements on our "camping" area this Summer...installed an above ground pool, freshened up all the gravel areas and Darian has planted a lot of new grass...also set up 3 different bird feeders. The other day I looked out the window to see this guy looking at me:

He was a huge Rock Marmot. He had taken up residence in a 6" drainage pipe which crossed through our front yard. My past experiences with these guys has not been good. They are destructive in the human world...eating auto wiring / interiors and also carry some disease's. All around they are a stinky damned rodent....but he's so damned cute! 

So now I had a to get rid of him?
   Option one: grab my old .22 Mossberg 151M and a 5 cent cartridge.
Option two: drive 100 miles round trip and buy a $40.00 live trap. 

I quickly decided I could not go the "Mossberg" route. He is in his own environment and we are actually the trespasser's….right away he avoided me and ran into the drainage pipe. So now "I've got him"...I plugged both ends of the pipe with large rocks and contained him in the pipe at near sundown. The next day we went o town and I bought a huge "Live Trap".

Now need to get him in the trap....I set the trap at one end of the pipe and used some cherries / greens as bait. The next morning I peered out to find the trap "sprung"....and the Marmot standing on top of the trap peering at me. Damned thing outsmarted me. Reset the trap and immediately he "bulldozed" the rocks aside and there he was, standing on the trap again. Unfortunately he ran behind some wood, rather than back in the pipe. Eventually he ran down behind our shop and disappeared...I thought he moved on. Next morning there he was again and he ran back into the pipe when I came out....reset the trap with more rocks to secure things....then put some cantaloupe in for bait. 

Within a few minutes...SUCCESS!....had the bugger. He was pretty well pissed off....snapping, snarling, chirping....and all around mad. I covered him / trap with a towel to settle him down.
Decided to haul him to a rocky area about 5 miles away, across the Yellowstone River. 
Loaded him into my sidecar and haled him to his new area. The ride literally scared the crap out of him....what a mess, luckily the towel was the only victim. 

Gila Mtns.

Gila Mtns.