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 Summer....so 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 interior....my 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 interior...ice 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 fine...cruise 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 seat....it 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 plate...total 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 dilemma...how 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.