Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Installation Day

A forklift brings the Grandby up toward the truck. While I took this shot, I pretended that I wasn't concerned about the changes in tilt that the driveway presented.

A forklift brings the Grandby up toward the truck. While I took this shot, I pretended that I wasn’t concerned about the changes in tilt that the driveway presented.

Installation day for the Grandby turned out to a unique experience. I got up at 5 AM in order to leave at 6:30 and hopefully arrive at Adventure Trailers by 11 AM. I just assumed that installation would take a couple of hours to drill the truck’s bed for hold-down hardware, and to run wires from the battery back to the camper’s power cord. I actually left at 6:45 and booked it to try to compensate for the time lost on the 4-1/2 hour drive. It’s a technical 4 hours of driving, but between stoplight delays on-route, and fuel and potty stops, it adds up. Thanks largely to my Bank of America credit card throwing a hissy fit due to “unusual activity” caused by my traveling stops here and there, I didn’t arrive at the Prescott dealership until 11:25. When I hadn’t shown up by 11:15, they called just to make sure I wasn’t still asleep in Yuma, but they were not booked such that my delay would cause any issues for them.

For the amount of business they do, their facility is a bit tight, but gets the job done. One look at the lot shows that they also use what they sell.

For the amount of business they do, their facility is a bit tight, but gets the job done. One look at the lot shows that they also use what they sell.

Overland Journal has an office opposite Adventure Trailers’ office. That’s a glossy, high-end photographic rag that covers vehicle travel all over the globe, and the effort that takes limits them to five issues per year. It’s an interesting magazine.

At this point I found that the typical installation takes about 3 hours, which would wound my hopes of visiting a camper in Quartzsite on the way back, but it still appeared somewhat do-able. The Mighty Furd was parked and the hood raised for access to its starter batteries for wiring. With the battery prep package I ordered, the camper depends on this cable for lighting up the exterior marker lights, and to allow the vehicle’s charging system to recharge any batteries installed inside the camper during travel. A battery isolator on-board does not allow camper usage to pull any power from the starter batteries, so there’s no danger of accidentally draining your starting batteries flat. Without that option, the camper necessarily draws all power from the vehicle’s battery, so you need to install deep cycle Optima cells under the hood in place of the originals, and watch your power usage.

I found this interesting - a teardrop for towing behind your Expedition Vehicle. With a kitchen galley hidden under the rear cover, it allows an alternative to tent camping wherever you like. Adventure Trailer provides the frame and running gear only, the body made by someone else for the ultimate seller somewhere else in the state.

I found this interesting – a teardrop for towing behind your Expedition Vehicle. With a kitchen galley hidden under the rear cover, it allows an alternative to tent camping wherever you like. Adventure Trailer provides the frame and running gear only, the body made by someone else for the ultimate seller somewhere else in the state.

Well, the Mighty Furd sat untouched for quite awhile, and I eventually decided that I may as well go with the flow and walk down the street to grab some lunch at a little shack calling itself Montana Bar-BQ. They serve what they call a Bowl of Soul, a generous combination of shredded smoked pork laid over macaroni & cheese. Your choice of sweet or spicy sauce on the pork. I’d had that on my previous visit, and it was devastatingly good. Its brother dish is called the Mac Attack, but with the mac & cheese over pork, as if that makes much difference. But it did! The Bowl of Soul was better, the mac & cheese having been better on the day I’d been there before.

Between the very advanced suspension, the extreme-tilt hitch system, and the extra fuel jugs, there isn't much of anywhere this lightweight teardrop can't go. Though it's horrifically expensive, the terrain limitations are much more tied to the tow vehicle than the trailer.

Between the very advanced suspension, the extreme-tilt hitch system, and the extra fuel jugs, there isn’t much of anywhere this lightweight teardrop can’t go. Though it’s horrifically expensive, the terrain limitations are much more tied to the tow vehicle than the trailer.

With time to kill after lunch, I walked across the street to Prescott’s Watson Lake Park, an elaborate recreational day use park with some boondocking camping spots off to one side. The camping area closes in October and all of the diversions in the park were also packed up for the season, but I could still hoof it down to the lake.

Not too many cities I've been to offer parks like this! A boat launch ramp is off to the right.

Not too many cities I’ve been to offer parks like this! A boat launch ramp is off to the right.

A closer look.

A closer look.

The suspension under that teardrop shown above is something I’d marveled at when I first saw it at the Overland Expo earlier in the year. It’s a cut above the Timbren design, which is no slouch in itself. When I returned to the dealership, I asked one of the owners about how the trailers are selling, and what makes them sell despite their high price point. They are, after all, hand-built instead of mass manufactured. How could they possibly compete? Most off-road trailers have simple torsion-arm suspensions that stay out of the way and can be installed such that lift height is not so pathetic, and the cost is very low. I was aware that they also have a reputation for spontaneously disassembling in rough off-road use, but why?

Back at the ranch, the going is slow, but protected wires have bee strung from the engine bay, down along the frame, and through a hole drilled in the bed inner wall.

Back at the ranch, the going is slow, but protected wires have bee strung from the engine bay, down along the frame, and through a hole drilled in the bed inner wall.

The gist of it is that the torsion arm suspension is a little too simple for its own good. A square steel tube is inserted into a square tube of rubber. Weld an arm onto one end of the steel tube, and attach a wheel spindle to it. Attach your hub, wheel rim and tire onto that, and any up and down movement is resisted by the distortion in the rubber as the square tube tries to twist inside it. What keeps the tube from slowly working its way back out of the rubber enclosure is another chunk of rubber halfway in that causes enough interference that the whole assembly is now trapped in place. To assemble it in the first place requires the insert to be super-cooled before everything is shoved in. Once it warms up, it’s still an effective lock. The trouble apparently comes on washboard dirt roads, where the constant movement of the rubber causes the insert to heat up to the point where it ceases to be an effective lock, and the square tube works its way out. Bang, the trailer now has no wheel or axle on that side, and there’s no way to get it back in.

Four forged eyelets backed by thick aluminum plates underneath are all that keep the camper from ejecting in one fashion or another. This is no place for hardware store equivalents.

Four forged eyelets backed by thick aluminum plates underneath are all that keep the camper from ejecting in one fashion or another. This is no place for hardware store equivalents.

Some time ago, one customer showed up with a conventional teardrop where this had occurred somewhere in Death Valley, I think the owner said. It had cost well over $1,000 to flatbed the thing out, and the customer wanted Adventure Trailer to try to graft on their super-suspension, no cost being too much. Unfortunately, the teardrop’s frame was not configured for or robust enough to mount the arm system, and would require the teardrop body to be grafted on top of an entirely new frame. For some reason, the customer loved the teardrop body and wanted to hang onto it, but the cost of McGyvering it all together would be more than starting over from scratch with a proper purpose-built design, and they barely talked him out of it. I suspect that’s why AT is now a frame supplier for the type of teardrop trailer you see in the photo above. built to do the job. Sometimes, saving money does not save money when the demands outstrip the design.

The big Ford is slowly aimed and, with the camper up on jacks, is gingerly backed up. This is the point where the wiring is connected, since there's no access room to do that once the camper is all the way in.

The big Ford is slowly aimed and, with the camper up on jacks, is gingerly backed up. This is the point where the wiring is connected, since there’s no access room to do that once the camper is all the way in.

I’m impressed with just how little clearance there is between the camper and the truck bed. I shouldn’t be, because any extra clearance is interior space lost inside the camper. But it sure requires precision when backing the truck up. The lift jacks keeping the camper up in the air will not withstand much of a side force before the leverage mangles their mount to the camper, so my hat’s off to those hardy souls who regularly mount and dismount their campers to put their trucks back into utility mode.

Nearly there. The camper must not simply be in, but must be centered.

Nearly there. The camper must not simply be in, but must be centered.

I almost got myself the lift jacks for free, since nobody’d noticed the tape on the back window saying that jacks were not to be included for this unit. Once the camper is in place, they tuck in well enough that they don’t require dismounting, which is far from a universal trait among truck campers.

An ordinary cordless drill is all that's needed to lift or lower the jacks.

An ordinary cordless drill is all that’s needed to lift or lower the jacks.

Adventure Trailers understandably started out strictly as a trailer manufacturer, and when that business took the hit during the economic collapse, they branched out into off-roading vehicle mods, which has become the bulk of their business. Winches, suspension mods, air bags, Aluminess bumpers and carrier systems, awnings, you name it. It’s pretty much a one-stop off-roading shop, and they do not sell and install what has been proven to break out in the field. This lets out the bulk of rear spring assist hardware so common on the market. When they recommend for or against some piece of equipment, there’s a reason behind it based on their and their customers’ experiences out in the rough stuff.

One thing I asked about was how low to safely go when lowering tire air pressures. This is commonly done to let the tire have a bigger footprint on soft or slippery surfaces, aiding flotation and traction. It also softens the ride on rough rock trails, which is a big draw on something as stiffly suspended as the F-250. You then can’t go very fast this way for fear of damaging the tire from heat or sidewall damage, so airing up afterwards is necessary once the need for low pressure is over. But the problem is that universal pressure guides for how low to go do not apply. People driving Jeeps and such can lower pressures to 8-15 PSI and get away with it, while vehicles using high-capacity E-rated tires, like the Ford, consider 40 PSI to be “low”. Go too low for your specific vehicle and tire combination, and you risk unseating the tire bead from the rim, which becomes a flat tire that may or may not be able to be remounted in the field. Any time you come across a blog recommending specific tire pressures for all readers, you know that you can’t trust that blogger’s advice for that or anything else.

The advice I got was to forget the pressure claims and measure the distance from the lower edge of the wheel rim to the ground. Then lower the tire pressure to bring that distance to 75% of what it was before. Measure the resulting tire pressure with a gauge, and that’s your vehicle’s minimum safe tire pressure for off-road conditions. Considering the Ford’s weight, its obnoxiously high torque available in 4WD-Low, and the difficulty of easing slowly into the throttle in that gear range, my main fear of wandering too low in pressure based on “helpful” advice has been to risk spinning the wheel rim inside the stationary tire. That would not be good, particularly when turning or with side loads. Not enough sidewall pressure to keep the tire bead seated during the spin. So I’ll be playing with that once I get my hands on a 12V air pump capable of doing the job, and I can tell you that the $30 model from the auto parts store won’t cut it with 70-PSI truck tires. Ask me how I know that.

Apart from removing my almost-free lifts, she's ready to go. Introducing the Intrepid.

Apart from removing my almost-free lifts, she’s ready to go. Introducing the Intrepid.

The dealership was nice enough to hook up one of my 104Ah deep cycles in the battery compartment, to verify that everything was hooked up and working correctly. By the time the run-through on the unit’s features and how to operate them was finished, the installation timed out at 4-1/2 hours plus, start to finish. That shot any chance to visit on the way home all to hell, as well as getting back to camp  at any reasonable hour. And the camper was still filthy from road spray obtained during its shipment from snowy California. It would not be usable for camping on the way back, owing to my lack of bedding or warm clothes for the low overnight temps, the propane canisters that would need purging and filling for first use, and the lack of a toilet for those special moments in the middle of the night. Plus, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get the roof back down by myself. It is fitted with high-lift struts awaiting the addition of solar panels on the roof and, without that extra weight, the roof wants to rise all by itself if it gets half a chance.

Naturally, my phone’s battery had somehow exhausted itself even though I’d turned it off when I noticed that its power was halfway down when I arrived, so I couldn’t call Quartzsite to cancel the visit. And I hadn’t brought my charger – after all, what could possibly go wrong on this happy voyage? So I lit out for a nearby Walmart to pick up a charger and cable, and got that rolling. I’d wondered what handling would be like on the road, since I’ve followed many a lumbering truck camper rolling this way and that at every pebble. I thought the Four Wheel would be pretty good, livable at least, based on my experience with the Tankmin waste/water system that had been occupying some of that space. That weighs 100 pounds by itself, and when filled with 70 gallons of water tops out at 680 pounds. The Granby starts at 950 and goes up with options and water.

The drive back was surprising. The same modest drain on acceleration was there, but otherwise, the rest was not. The way back included plenty of tight 30 MPH switchbacks, but there is no rolling or other misbehavior that I would expect. The only way I can tell it’s back there is when crossing low spots on the diagonal. Normal behavior is for the bare Ford to pitch violently from one side to the other as the diagonal passes underneath. With the camper installed, this pitching smooths out very nicely, and that’s about it. It’s actually a plus, with no exaggeration at all in how far it tilts. At this point, I’m not seeing any significant drop in fuel mileage, which is something I can’t explain. The Mighty Furd tends to shrug off weight, but is touchy about anything that increases air resistance. I’d expected the cabover section to cause a noticeable drop, but nothing so far. At this point, at speeds not exceeding 65 MPH, the drop seems somewhere not even close to 1/2 MPG at most, which seems odd. Actually, going by the numbers, it’s 0.2-0.0 drop, which simply means I need more miles to get a better handle on it. This can’t be, logically.

I hope to follow up this post with some kind of camper tour, but there is much to do at the moment. The gap between the truck cab and the camper overhang had calculated out as about an inch, but much more is actually there, allowing solar panel storage there, if I want it. I’d ruled this option out, and since it affects what solar equipment is purchased, I now need to rethink all my options for solar and either stay the course or readjust. Four Wheel also recommends certain protective measures for the camper’s exterior, and those steps need to be taken promptly. So much to do, so little time. However, any post on the camper’s interior now will be unique in that it will be just about the only time that you’ll ever see this particular unit not clogged and cluttered with stuff!

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24 thoughts on “Installation Day

  1. Matt Lemcke on said:

    Exciting!!!

    • And so were the two peccaries I narrowly missed in the dark on the way back! Brake test!

    • SO exciting!!!! What a handsome rig it is. A couple of things caught my attention: Do you have more than one starter battery in the engine compartment? Nice to know the house batteries are being charged while tooling down the road. Hopefully that can also be done if I end up with a trailer. And what are the “protective measures for the camper’s exterior”?

      Congratulations! Fun times ahead.

      • Thanks, Dawn. The 6.4L diesel option included two batteries underhood to allow starting in truly cold weather. As long as your trailer is connected up while you’re on the road, your tow vehicle will charge its coach battery(s) whether it has an isolator or not. The isolator is there just to prevent you from depleting your vehicle’s battery while camping. Without it, you need to remember to unplug its connector when appropriate.

        Four Wheel recommends promptly waxing the roof and aluminum siding to prevent staining from such things as tree sap and bugs. I already obtained plenty of bugs on the front face of the cabover on the way back, so those have to come off first. I won’t be able to wax the roof until I adhere the solar panels in place, for obvious reasons. They also recommend treating the flexible poly fabric with a UV protectant to lengthen its service life. The dealer also cautioned me to open all windows, roof vents and the back door when firing up the furnace for the first time, to let the unholy stink out while the furnace burns away its internal paint. Good idea!

  2. Virginia on said:

    Hooray! Impressive and exciting new digs. I was also impressed with the fellow backing the Mighty Furd up into an unforgiving tight space with absolutely no room for error. To think my palms get sweaty upon attempting to park in the garage basement at work’s tight spots makes me feel rather foolish at this point.

    At any rate, I shall enjoy a glass of wine in celebration on your new addition!

    • That’s the spirit(s), so to speak! Backing the camper in took awhile, even with one person of the group talking the driver in, so I can’t imagine one guy doing it solo. It would take days. I don’t even try to sleeve the Ford into typical parking lot spaces anymore, because of that long wheelbase and the difficulty of guessing where the next car is, somewhere beyond and below the high, rounded fenders. Fortunately, here, I can nearly aways swing it into a more open area and get a little of that healthy walking I’m supposed to do. For you, you have to “park by ear”! Why am I not jealous?

  3. Linda Sand on said:

    Wow! Moving right ahead! (Pun not intended but enjoyed anyway.)

  4. Congratulations Douglas!!

  5. Nice! I’ve been noticing those campers here & there since you started talking about them. “So much to do, so little time”, too bad you’re not retired! 🙂
    See you around…

  6. ooh, exciting! Wow, I have enough trouble backing into a parking spot, I don’t know about loading and unloading on a regular basis. I don’t feel so bad now after reading about your parking. My relatives who haven’t seen my truck yet wonder why I pay for parking on the street now instead of tucking into the underground condo guest spots.

    Thanks on all the details in your first impressions. That is odd about the gas mileage. I guess you’ll get a better idea over time of the real gas mileage.

    You will be adhering the solar panels to the top? What will you do if you ever have to remove them, say for a warranty exchange on a faulty panel? Are you concerned about heat buildup on the panel that can’t dissipate because it has no air gap underneath?

    • If I recall my list correctly, I’ll be using a special version of velcro-like tape by 3M. That should allow me removal if necessary, though the pull effort may be considerable. I do expect to lose some degree of efficiency due to the lack of ventilation, yes. Plus, the panels will not tilt. I hope to offset these issues by adding more panel wattage than standard. It’s only money, right?

      • lol, yes only money. I had thought that you could tilt the panels by either folding down one end or the other of the roof. Do you think that would work, and that the roof is strong enough to do that?

        • Only raising one end of the roof could certainly be done, though it would have less space impact if the front (bed) end were low. It’s not a problem for the roof, but the ability to open windows would be affected. I don’t see tilt as a significant issue though, Ming, since the Intrepid will (with luck) only be used during higher-arc spring/summer/fall. I’ve simply made the decision to fund 600W feeding 400Ah, rather than complicate using a more standard 400W-worth of tilting mounts or ground panels, as on the Defiant travel trailer. It’s the Principle of Wretched Excess. More reasonable folks would avoid both the battery capacity and the panel wattage I’ll be building in, so my approach will not be the “right” or “best” or “most efficient” approach, but merely what I think will work for me, given that I’m already sitting on a heap of AGMs.

          • wretched excess is only so if you stay within a certain geographical area. Up here in the PNW where I live, a 2:1 panel to batt ratio would be barely adequate a lot of the times. Glenn from To Simplify found himself driving around in search of a break in cloud and tree cover, then resorting to pay sites with power to recharge his 256Ah batt when his 500W roof mounted panels could not.

            More than 50% of my camping also involves deeply wooded sites where I spend the day chasing a tiny patch of sunlight around with my solar panel, or I would fold it up and hump it down to the beach or the riverside to recharge my little lithium batt packs.

            I guess for local camping, my dream setup would involve 400AH lithium batts, 600-800W of panels, and a tiny Honda generator for backup charging. That is if I stick with the diminutive Tacoma, which looks likely given my finances. I will likely end up with half of that capacity.

            I am waiting to see where you stuff all those batteries!!

  7. Mary Adachi on said:

    Awesome. I’d have 2nd thots about the velcro tho. If that’s the stuff I think it is , you’d do just as well using the 3M commercial double sided tape. That velcro is strong enuf the panels may break if you try to take them off. If you use just the tape, you can use a wire and pull from front to back and cut thru the foam part of the tape. Pbly would take 2 people , but it’d work. That 3M heavy duty commercial velcro sticks!
    Awaiting the next post! :0)

    • Thanks for speaking up about the cautions, Mary. I wouldn’t dare hope to get a rigid-frame panel back off the roof using Velcro. My hope is to be able to lift a corner of a semi-flexible panel and struggle from there. Actually, my main hope is to never have to remove them except from a failure, which is unlikely, but I’ve found trying to remove aged tape residue on a painted surface to be a true ordeal. I’d rather gamble with mushroom-type reclosable fasteners and get just a tiny bit more of an air gap under the panels. There are various “stem counts” available, and maybe sticking with the bottom end with their indoor/outdoor adhesive will be the way to go. If you keep reading future posts, you can eventually confirm just how correct your advice was!

      • this comment reminds me of a very good post by Technomadia where they detail their reasons for deciding against going with lightweight semiflex panels on top of their bus. Apparently, early adopters have found a relatively high failure rate with all the panel manufacturers compared to rigid panels.

        http://www.technomadia.com/solar/

        Based on that, my present dream setup would involve rigid on top and flexible ground deploy ones stored under the cabover. Thanks for your posts, it’s such fun to dream. 🙂

        • Odd, since I stumbled across this same issue this morning as I did kind of a last check before ordering panels. Whoops. It’s enough of effect to prompt another post here! Thanks for the mention. I think your plan would be a good way to go.

  8. Rod Duell on said:

    As an equipment and solutions nerd myself, I really enjoyed this one Doug. Your recent longer form postings are great too because of both our common interests and your disciplined and efficient composition style which is easy and enjoyable to read.

    I can’t wait to follow your ongoing deliberations as to solar and interior configuration. I get the sense you are having almost as much fun working on it as I am vicariously tagging along!

    • Thank you for the compliment, Rod. Glad you enjoy the challenges of sawing your way through my posts! At the moment, I’m doing too much deliberating to write about it, but I will cough things up as I can. Since I’m no longer getting paid for this type of thinking process, I have less ability to concentrate, and I myself will have to live with the results instead of foisting it off on someone else, it’s less fun for me than it used to be!

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