Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Fascination

The Chamber of Horrors.

The Chamber of Horrors.

A fairly high wind today makes outdoor work more challenging than it needs to be, so I’ll cover what turned out to be one of the easier mods. Standard fare for a Four Wheel truck camper tends to be Thetford’s 260B, a 2-1/2 gallon Porta-Pottie. At about a hundred bucks, it’s the preferred way to go for camping use, as it can go several days before needing a dump station or a vault toilet where emptying is not prohibited. A very few folks enjoy skulking into gas station restrooms with their Porta-Potties to void their treasure hold. Thanks to the Defiant, I have extensive experience in the vagaries of locating dump stations and dealing with them. In the new rig, I’d like to see if it’s practical to avoid that process, and the adjustments to travel plans that it requires. I’d also like to avoid the limited service life that conventional portable toilets seem to have. I’ve used a Luggable Loo – nothing but a toilet seat on top of a bagged 5-gallon bucket – and liked the simplicity, but keeping one inside a tightly closed truck camper instead of a horse trailer would be a challenge.

For my needs du toilette, I finally settled on ordering a C-Head product called the BoonJon Shorty. The standard C-Head product is a form of composting toilet. If you keep a home or cabin where a compost pile is kept, the C-Head has a churn handle that is turned after every use. When churning becomes difficult, the chamber needs to be emptied. The C-Head diverts urine to a common 1-gallon plastic milk or water bottle, which avoids most of the odor creation process. Toss a little absorptive media in after each use, and odor is reputed to be very low. Some models can divert urine to a hose leading outside, or to a holding tank. C-Head toilets are also used in marine applications, since they can simplify dealing with human waste.

What I opted for is a version that does not aim for eventual addition to a compost pile. Thus, it is a “churnless” variant. My goal is to avoid dump stations, their logistic demands, and their expense. The price for my version, at well over $600, was really intimidating – until I figured out the annual cost to use a larger 5-gallon Porta-Pottie. I found that, once back on the road, I literally could not afford to not be using a solution that avoided dump stations. The practical payback time was less than a year, and the effect on potential camping routes, sites and timing was palpable. Yet the BoonJon is little but an upgraded $18 Luggable Loo. But I can’t stow or use a Luggable Loo inside the Granby, both from a space and odor standpoint. Many full-timers are able to get around the odor problem by urinating into a separate container, and saving the more precious goods for the Loo. Won’t work for me reliably. I opted for the C-Head.

Below the hinged deck, it's all business down in here.

Below the hinged deck, it’s all business down in here.

The opening to my cabinet is 18-1/2 inches wide and just 16-1/4 inches high, and I’m exceedingly reluctant to start carving it up. That opening size knocks out a lot of toilet options. Once past the opening, the cabinet is 23 inches wide and 18-1/4 inches deep. The BoonJon Shorty is 18 inches long, 15 inches wide, and 15 inches tall, which is just small enough to fit. It contains a modified bucket lined with a plastic bag that can be lifted out and sealed, come disposal time. A funnel at the front of the seat area captures urine automatically and drains it to a urine container.

The standard BoonJon is 3 inches taller than the Shorty, which allows the use of cheap 1-gallon milk jugs to catch urine, and there’s a window on the front of the unit to conveniently keep tabs on how full the bottle is. No such luck for the Shorty. That requires a special urine collection container (UCC), a smaller-capacity fabricated trapezoid that sleeves into the main body right in front of the bucket. Built into it is a float ball, plug for the fill hole, pivoting spout for emptying, and a carry handle. I don’t yet know what its capacity is – it should be less than a gallon, but it is much more space-efficient than a taller jug within the space allowed. As far as gauging how full it is, about the only option is to lift the hinged deck and see where the float ball is. The fill funnel built into the deck can push the float ball down for another use or two, but it obviously pays to keep tabs on levels. In case of a mishap, the body of the unit also serves as a containment tray that is easily cleaned out. Because the UCC is fabricated rather than molded, I ordered a spare to store away, in order to ensure no mishaps during my 7-month forays. Since the UCC is designed for marine use, the float ball and capped pivoting spout should handle rough country use without many surprises. These UCCs are new, so I am effectively the test pilot for this design. Who says I don’t lead an adventurous life, huh? Who says?

The UCC. You're looking at the front of it. To left is the pivoting pour spout. The white rod is the carry handle and right in back of it is the fill hole and a capped plug for it. The vertical tube on the right simply holds the plug ready for use.

The UCC. You’re looking at the front of it. To left is the pivoting pour spout. The white rod is the carry handle and right in back of it is the fill hole and a capped plug for it. The vertical tube on the right simply holds the plug ready for use.

Generally speaking, urine can be disposed of on the ground when camping in the boonies. Where this doesn’t make sense, the contents can instead be transferred to a sealable container for later disposal. Without composting, the legal way to dispose of solid waste is to treat each bag with some bleach and toss them into a sealable bucket, which can then be discarded. Also generally, a landfill will apparently not have a problem with treated individual bags in the waste stream. Thus any dumpster or public trash can is fair game, practically speaking. True biodegradable bags are necessary wherever waste is composted. The BoonJon Shorty can go quite awhile before the bag needs to be removed and discarded. There are other systems out there that use small metalized bags with special crystals, which are officially approved for use by the BLM and USFS, but their cost for a full-timer would be crippling. The BoonJon is not the “best” solution nor a universal one, but given my constraints, it is the most practical approach I could find.

Actually, for all that money, what you get is almost a work of art, of sorts. It’s basically marine grade in materials and workmanship. Kinda like the Grandby camper itself, it is seamlessly drawn together with the most suitable materials, with every edge smoothed and every corner well sealed. There are no lapses or defects, and it’s well thought out in every detail. Since there is no toilet bowl per se, there is nothing to have to battle with keeping clean. The urine funnel would best get a quick spray of something to cleanse it after use, like a shot of diluted white vinegar or bleach in a small spray bottle. The body appears to be ABS, and the thick deck HPDE or probably UHMW HDPE. It will outlast me. Its only liability is that it weighs just over twenty pounds dry, and picking it up can be challenging because of the general lack of handholds toward the nose. Space is tight enough inside it that any added handles would have to be carefully located as to mounting hardware on the other side of the wall.

Seat up, and you can get an idea of what's expected of you. The C-Head is a sit down-only device, guys, unless you just love wiping things and entire areas off.

Seat up, and you can get an idea of what’s expected of you. The C-Head is a sit down-only device, guys, unless you just love wiping things and entire areas off. Best keep the seat down, and the snap discourages lifting it.

Most so-called composting toilets assume that fan venting will be necessary in order to minimize odor. You add a hose from the toilet to outside, and install a pancake fan to push air outside. The advice for C-Head products is: vent only when shown necessary. Because installation situations are different, the builder advises to try the unit without venting. After all, as long as urine is kept separated from solids, and media such as coir, peat moss or sawdust is used adequately, odor tends to be relegated to a slight mustiness. The lack of a churn may complicate that. The C-Head is not airtight, but is reasonably well sealed, both at the deck and at the plate that fills the seat hole. It’s worth a try. C-Head advises use of a urine deodorizer like CampaChem for the UCC, and occasional rinsing out with vinegar to reduce scaling. If venting proves to be needed, a flex hose supplied with the unit can be used to vent to an exterior surface. In the case of the Intrepid, that is the propane canister bin just over the toilet’s storage cabinet, which is vented to the passenger side exterior. Passive venting there depends entirely on parking position relative to wind direction. Failing that, a 12VDC pancake cooling fan can be added to the inside of the BoonJon’s case to positively vent any odors outside.

That plate with handle, you don't want to lose.

That plate with handle, you don’t want to lose.

But no mod is complete without a major fail, and mine was not realizing that the BoonJon’s toilet seat projected a couple of inches farther forward than the body below it. Imagine my surprise when I received the shipment, popped the seat on, and tried to fit it into the assigned cabinet. No soap: the cabinet doors could not close. Not good. The BoonJon uses a residential seat and lid that has a neat cam lock to allow instant removal and cleaning. With the seat assembly removed, the unit just fit, and the assembly could stow beside it. Not optimal as far as convenient usage goes, or the lid hammering around in there during travel, but at least it is usable.

Builder Sandy Graves encouraged me to cut off the offending areas of the seat and lid, then paint the raw edges with white epoxy paint. Oh, my kingdom for a bandsaw or a tablesaw! Maybe even a decent coping saw. After thinkin’ on it for awhile, I eventually took my only real option, a hacksaw with a fine-toothed blade. A hacksaw has only so much reach, so I had to make two cuts that met in the middle. The so-called “molded wood” material is a hard resin that cuts and sands well. I do happen to have a type of sanding pad wheel for my high-speed grinder, 120 grit, and that quickly smoothed over my errors and chamfered the edges. Then I added painter’s tape and some kraft paper to prevent overspray, and hit it with the white appliance paint. After twenty four hours to thoroughly dry, the end result was a bit wobbly, but good enough for me. Color matching is spot-on. And the doors of the cabinet just fit around it and snap closed. If the Shorty were much taller or more squat, there would be interference from internal cabinet space trim or catch hardware. As it is, it cannot bail out of the cabinet, nor is there vertical height enough to allow it to tip over.

Voila! Squinting in dim light, the seat and lid cuts seem to match the deck's flat nose perfectly, no?

Voila! Squinting in dim light, the seat and lid cuts seem to match the deck’s flat nose perfectly, no? Okay then, step back farther…

I added a layer of thin self-adhesive cork to the wall to slightly ease the effects of travel vibration on the nose, and until I have time to come up with something better, some open cell foam discourages it from moving fore and aft. A stack of cut shipping cardboard underneath it serves as a platform to raise it just clear of the cabinet lower lip. It’s a bit grippy, which is not all bad, but the rubber feet on the BoonJon will eventually clog, and the cardboard will wear through. So I ordered, cut, and laid on a top layer of smooth black HDPE sheet. That makes handling the BoonJon much easier, and provides a cleanable surface that will last forever. The trade-off is that the unit easily slides fore and aft in the cabinet too, which should be remedied. C-Head offers a rubber hold-down kit similar to Jeep hood latches, but I will likely take a less aggressive approach, as long as the cabinet door latches hold out.

Once again, the end result.

Once again, the end result.

UPDATE: Maximum capacity of the UCC is 7.5 pints or 120 fluid ounces, which is 0.9375 gallon. That is enough to close the float. Working capacity is somewhat less, and could be considered to be around 0.9 gallon, or 115 fluid ounces. Considering the big chop in height, retaining that much of the 1-gallon standard capacity is quite an accomplishment!

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10 thoughts on “Fascination

  1. Evenin Doug. I use a 2.3 gallon flushable Porta potty in my truck camper. By using restrooms etc I usually have to dump it every two weeks. I have never had a problem finding a vault toilet, free dump station or full size portable toilet to dump legally in. Just carry a one liter bottle of water to rinse and handi wipes. Occasionally when at a regular dump station I hose it out thouroughly. I have been using this one for 10 years. Just add a couple drops of dawn dish detergent to the flush water tank to keep the pump seals lubricated. I use a reduced amount of RV Thetfords in my black water reservoir. I try to empty it weekly that way I don’t get caught looking for a place to dump it in a hurry.

    Happy truck camping!

    Bill

  2. Fasination? Lol. Great name for this post! 🙂

    Expensive Privy, but I can see why it should work better for you. I know I was tied to dumping every four to five days with my Thetford privy, but I now have a Thetford 10 gallon tank that I carry in the back of my van. I can fill it twice, but it becomes to heavy to get out of the back of the van. Just once, and I can stay out for eight to ten days now and of course, my costs at dump stations have been cut in half.

    I hope it works well for you!

  3. aha! That is the exact commercially available model that I though would fit in the Grandby without incurring cabinet butchery. It was either that or a DIY toilet to fit the space.

    Thank you for this installment of my fantasy camper build. Did you ever consider anything from Coyote/ Phoenix when you were doing your research? They are so good at customizing the camper to your specs.

    Chamber of horrors – brilliant, I love that too.

    On the toilet model that you chose, I like the poo bucket size and the lid with handle (I will have to make one for my own toilet), but that pee bottle looks ridiculously cumbersome and complicated. Mine is just a simple open top bottle with funnel which gets dumped every morning and before every move, then rinsed. Long term odors have not been a problem. With past pee pots, an occasional soak in baking soda water got rid of the smell, but I will have to try the vinegar.

    One thing I have noticed as my use of the toilet for #2 is very occasional – make sure that you keep your coir/ peat moss moist, as it does not cover up the smell so well when it dries out.

    Now I will be on the lookout for your real world usage reviews of this toilet.

    Happy packing!

    • I kinda figured this post would give you a mini-thrill, Ming, since the C-Head is what you had favored since long ago. I did research Phoenix Pop-Ups, and then went by their display since they are the only true custom builder of size. I was not impressed by the workmanship, but then again, they aren’t working from jigs in multiple runs. They are okay, but if I could find what I want in production somewhere else, I’d go somewhere else. If I couldn’t, I’d go to them. Just my take on them, nothing more.

      Vinegar seems to work for reducing mineral deposits and keeping things clean in general, but we’ll see. The UCC is relatively complex, but not cumbersome to handle at all. Consider that its taller brother boasts of using an empty 89-cent water bottle instead of molded custom containers, so the shift to this seemingly complex container in a space just 3″ shorter simply says something about its design goals. Since most C-Head products stay buried in the bowels of a boat, assigning the limited available urine container space to a repurposed coffee jar or Tupperware bowl means a huge capacity loss. That container must make its trip up to the deck as seldom as possible and as uneventfully as possible, so max space usage and max pour and spill control are the priorities. As is, the thing does everything but wrap around the bucket to maximize volume, slides out much easier than grabbing and controlling a bottle, and cannot spill on the way outside. If you order the same model, I have no doubt that you could deduct $35 and delete it, then begin the hunt for something that works better for you. This issue prompted me to go out and measure the raw capacity of the UCC, and it’s 7.5 pints, or 0.9375 gallon, or 120 fluid ounces. Dropping only a cup isn’t too shabby for something that much shorter. Working volume would be somewhat less, since the goal is not to wait until the float plugs the fill hole. Let’s call it 0.9 gallon.

      Thanks for the tip on humidity, as that can be an issue down here. Looks like that handled lid will need to keep more inside than odor!

      • ah yes, that pee container makes a lot of sense given the boat usage scenario.

        Too bad about Phoenix campers. I guess I’m stuck with FWC. ATC looked good for a while with their openness to customization until I saw their roof with its dozens of screws piercing it, just waiting to spring a leak over the months of rain we get here, leaks that would saturate the fiberglass insulation very nicely.

        • Well, that’s the thing about ATC – they are essentially a duplication of FWC products, but cost less because they lag a few years behind in features and materials. Not everyone feels that recent updates are essential or necessary for what they want to do with it. The one-piece roof was a biggy for FWC because it required a sizable investment to eliminate one problem that tended to surface once the unit got old and the sealants failed. It’ll be awhile before ATC can match that, if ever. But what they can do is alterations that FWC can’t afford to without interfering with production schedules. Pick your poison. 😉

  4. oh, and I forgot to say, good surgery job on the lid!

  5. Very informative. I learned a lot about travel potties. Thank you.

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