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. 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Final days in Arizona - then to Montana

So the Yuma AZ. heat finally chased us out of town. Prior to taking off we took a little exploration back road drive in the Land Rover. Friend Dan was our guide as he had been out here before.

After a number a back roads / turns we came to an old neglected cemetery.

The photo below is an old Indian Heritage site where spiritual dances were held so many eons ago.

East side of Gila Mountains:

A few days earlier we had hiked to the top of Telegraph Pass....quite a steep distance 6 miles or so.

We took off first thing in the AM but it got pretty hot by the time we got to the top. 

Dome Valley above

The trail up to the top is a concrete access road...very steep...probably 20 - 25% in some stretches.
Going down was actually harder due to the steepness.

We arrived in Montana the first week of May, just in time for a lot of rain. Our Daughter accompanied us so we had a co-driver to share the driving with my Wife. We parked at a local RV park for a couple of days while I prepared our Summer parking area with a bit more gravel. Moved out to our site then it started raining. The property we park for the summer is not "RV access" friendly when it gets real wet, so our timing was good.

We've been seriously thinking about buying a small camper van for some road trips. Don't really want to drive our huge RV into rural areas. Found this Ford Camper on Craigslist so plan on taking a look at it / test drive next week. Going to Spokane WA. for a gathering and will sidetrack our trip over to Townsend MT to check the van over. Appears to be a pretty decent rig with under 70k miles on it.

The van is a "3 owner" rig and appears to be pretty clean from the photos. 
Only issue noted was a non working dash AC...hopefully just needs recharged.(?)

I've been watching for such a rig for the past couple of years, but most are well over $20k....Drove over to San Diego and looked at a slightly newer '93 Dodge Class B rig last Fall....they were asking $13k and it was not in very good condition. After looking it over for 5 minutes I passed on it. Well used...well worn. Hopefully the Ford van will pan out and be worth the $10k asking price. Sounds like the seller is pretty well firm on his price.

I performed a bit of final work on the Yamaha XS400 and listed it for sale of Craigslist. It sold in a few days. I put a few "shake down" miles on it and everything worked great. Should be a good bike for the new owner. Plus I made a little profit on it.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

"Another" California / San Diego County Camping Ride!

My buddie and I had "schemed" about making another camping ride so decided to ride over into San Diego County and ride some of the hill country near the Mex. Border.  Also Dan spotted a Railway Museum over in Campo CA. which interested the both of us. Sounds like a good enough reason for a motorcycle camping trip to me...

I'd planned on riding the old Honda GL1000 Gold Wing. During my routine "check out" a couple days before departure I found that the new wet acid battery was low on H20....3 cells having exposed plates....not good! I had installed an LED Volt meter a while back and knew that voltage output was on the "high" end, but had never verified exact voltage to battery. Hooked up digital meter and found over 18 Volts going to wonder battery was low. My last 300+ mile ride was cooking the battery. 

After some wiring checks, I figured it was a good chance the regulator was faulty. Found a cheap used one on eBay for $7.00 / $8.00 shipping....compared to over $100.00 new and many over $35.00 used.  Didn't have time to wait for new regulator so decided to go to "Plan B"...ride another bike....
(regulator arrived a week later and voltage output down to 14.2 volts to 15.0 volts...acceptable range)

Spent an afternoon and cleaned up the BMW R75/5....hadn't ridden it since last Summer. Checked vital signs (Tire pressures / fluids / charged battery to 100%) and then cleaned off last Summers bugs and road grime. 

I recently bought an old Yamaha 400 SX which had an "ill fitting" windscreen. By chance the windscreen fit the /5 better than the Yamaha. I typically ride it without a shield, or use a little Café style fairing. The Café fairing adds little protection. The "new" screen is just right. 

Riding buddies big ole Suzuki Cruiser. (below) He suffers from serious back / spine problems so his endurance on road trips is not good. He needs to stop every 30 minutes / 30 miles to "walk things off". This actually works pretty good for me as I typically "iron butt" most rides and cause myself quite a bit of similar suffering. The more frequent stops were good and kept the fatigue level down for both of us. 

Desert break time near Mex. Border.

US / Mex. Border barrier wall near Boulevard CA. 

Old Railway Trestle in CA. 

Next stop was Pacific Southwest Railway Museum in Campo CA. 

We spent 2 - 3 hours wandering around the place. Well worth the stop. 

Huge fully restored steam engine

The Museum delegated quite a bit of information concerning the African American influence on the American Railroads throughout the years. Very well done.

Lots of working engines here.

Ugly old Green Naval Yard "Push / Pull" Engine.

Ended up at Potrero Park in San Diego County.
Buddy "Dan" is a minimalist camper so no tents for him. 

Nice park and very few campers on a Sunday night. 
Got a bit chilly during the night....probably low 40's. 

Found a bit of firewood laying about so had a small campfire.

Next morning was very nice/ mostly sunny and we got a fairly early start at 8:00 or so.

No real route planned so just "winged" it as we rode....finally crossed under I-8 and headed North into cooler elevations. 

Near Lake Cuyumaka Ca.... then over to Julian California.

Eventually back  down into the desert….Anza Borrego Area. 

Stopped at an unmanned U.S. Border Patrol check point....

Had to "check" ourselves....

Yuha Desert

The route we had planned had a "bridge out" from earlier storms this Winter so we had to retrace our route from yesterday. All in all a great couple days of easy problems or drama.

Gila Mtns.

Gila Mtns.