I know my progress posts are slow coming, but I really wanted to be able to show something for your patience, and until recently there wasn’t much to report.
Deconstruction goes really fast. Putting it all back together is achingly slow.
I got a little hung up once everything was torn out, because I wanted to test all the tail and marker lights before I covered all the wiring back up. But without a tow vehicle close at hand, there was nothing to hook up to. At some point, my neighbor took pity on me and volunteered to come over with his battery and some test wire, so we could hook it up and see what shines.
Luckily, the brakes and turn signals work great. Not so lucky but also not surprising, 3 of the 4 clearance markers were not working.
Not to worry, VintageTrailerSupply.com to the rescue. (Tip: if you are a stock buyer, now would be a good time, as I fear I will be giving them most of my salary for the foreseeable future.)
Once the new lights were installed, and poor Scott had to come back over to test them again (I pay in chocolate chip cookies), we were back in business! All the lights work! Halleluiah! Now… on to the inside stuff, finally!
For this construction part of the experience, I knew I was going to need a lot of time to plow on through, so I took a week of staycation and spent most of it in the camper. I started Friday night, with the purchase of foam insulation board.
I made one pass at the pink roll fiberglass insulation, but it expands rather quickly after you unroll it, so it doesn’t stay tight inside the studs, making putting the wallboard over top tricky. So back to Lowe’s I went for foam board. (P.S. Lowes is blue, Home Depot is pink. They are basically the same product and the exact same price.)
Foam insulation board is sold by the 4’x8′ sheet and comes in different thicknesses. I chose 1″ thick, because it fit nicely in the framework. Each board has an R5 value (that has to do with the insulating value, if you care) and was $17 a sheet. It took almost exactly 2 sheets to do these 2 walls. (I was kind of proud of my layout skills.) It cuts super easy with a utility knife and you don’t have to be a wiz at measuring or cutting because wedging it into the space if it’s a smidge tight actually helps hold it in place. Win.
This actually didn’t take very long, about 4 hours including breaks. Good thing, too, because this was one of those 90+ degree days and Gracie was getting a bit hot. Interesting tidbit, though… before I installed the board, I put my hand against the aluminum on the inside of the camper. Towards the bottom of the wall, it was about room temperature. Towards the ceiling were it was taking direct sunlight, it was at least 30 degrees hotter to the touch. Yes, you need insulation. Unless you want to hang out in a giant Easy Bake Oven. That’s up to you.
I was worried about how to do the ceiling panels overhead without them falling down while I was working, until the walls go back up, but that ended up being a pretty easy fix. Because they wedge in pretty tight, and they are so light weight, gravity didn’t really play much of a factor. On the panel with the most curve, I used 2 narrower pieces to catch the curve, and added a couple of small nails to hold it against the siding.
Once all the siding was in, it was time to tackle the walls. It took me a minute and some frantic Facebook trolling to figure out how to make templates for walls that are not straight. The side walls of the camper have a pretty significant curve to them. But my trusty compass was the answer (thank you geometry and Tim for the tip), and I was able to trace the curve (more or less) onto poster board. Then some trial-and-error and a lot of painter’s tape resulted in a template that was pretty damn close. From what I could tell at that point. (foreshadowing)
Once I was happy with the paper templates, I traced them onto cardboard, so I could dry fit them onto the walls. Now I had cardboard templates that were easier to work with.
From the cardboard, I was able to trace the 2 curve wall sections onto the plywood. Oh, we should probably talk about plywood for a second. (yeah, that doesn’t really excite me, either). The interiors of most vintage campers are constructed with 1/8″ birch plywood. It is beautiful, and exceedingly hard to find around here. Even the lumberyards didn’t have it and weren’t sure where to order it. Besides, even if I could find it, it is REALLY expensive, and wouldn’t match the 60 year old panels I’ve already got. Since there is no way to match them and I’ll have to paint the interior anyway, why spend that much money? So instead, I opted for 1/8″ utility board. The 1/8″ is really important, because the back wall of the camper curves significantly from the floor to the ceiling. It’s gotta bend. It’s about $5 a 4’x8′ sheet. I needed about 3 sheets to do these 2 walls. The bigger problem was getting them home. Luckily, I have a beautiful helpful friend with a van who came with me to Home Depot, helped me load them up and bring them home. It was over 90 degrees by 10 am. We were a mess. But we got it done. Thank you, Tracy!
Next up… man tools! Just kidding. If you were unaware, there is no such thing as man tools. Unless you are talking porn, which we are not. These are *power tools*. There is no mystery here. They don’t use muscles, they use electricity. And I had to explain that to someone recently. So don’t make me say it again. Away with mysogeny. Bring me my power tools! And you had better not make them pink, or I will throw something heavy in your direction.
This is the part that has made me the most nervous so far… cutting the plywood. A.) I have not used a jigsaw before. B.) I don’t entirely trust my template skills. C.) I really don’t want to have to make Tracy haul back to Home Depot to get more plywood if I do this wrong. Please don’t do this wrong.
Here’s what I have learned about using a jigsaw if you have never done it… (if you have, you can skip this paragraph). *Get a new sharp blade, with a high number of teeth. I used a scroll blade. *Secure your wood tightly to the table. This is tricky with 32 square feet of floppy board and makeshift equipment. I clamped it to my tiny work table on 2 sides, and used 2 sawhorses at various angles underneath. More sawhorses would have been better. I used what I had. *Don’t forget your safety glasses. *Keep the footplate tight to the table *Squeeze the trigger and go.
Ladies, if you haven’t done this before but you can use a sewing machine, you can use a jigsaw. It’s basically the same concept, but you are taking something apart instead of putting something together.
I was holding my breath when I hauled the first piece into the camper to test fit, but…it worked!!! I was so relieved. It made the rest of the pieces go much easier. Until I got to the ceiling panel overhead.
In theory, a 4’x7′ piece of plywood should fit precisely from the top of the back window, curving up the wall, and tuck neatly against the remaining ceiling panel. I tested it with a piece of scrap wood. See? It fits. Now, extrapolate that to a 7′ wide sheet of plywood, put it over your head, bend it against the wall and fit it snugly against the ceiling. Without it A.) crashing on your head. B.) snapping back from the curve and smacking you. C.) falling out of one side while you desperately hold it with your head and try to get the other side in place. Guess what? It doesn’t work that easy.
This is where I called in reinforcements. Cue the 17 year old boy. (Also, I took 1/4″ off the length of the board, so that we had a little wiggle room and it didn’t need to fit so tight.)
4 hands, 2 heads, and some muscle later, and ta da….
I believe my Facebook post said “Curved walls, bitches.” I may done a celebratory dance as well. The key to the whole thing is pushing it tight against the curve in the wall. That helps bring the edge in line with the other ceiling panel. We had the left side in, but the right side was fractionally off and wouldn’t lay against the ceiling. Ian leaned into the wall for one last push, and SNAP! It came in line. I love that kid.
Now back to that earlier, foreshadowing… if you look closely at the left picture above, you will see that the top of the wall has some gaps at the ceiling line. It turns out it is exceedingly hard to make templates when neither the wall or the ceiling are in place, and you are trying to guess with paper the way it will lay with plywood. I guessed a bit wrong. Thank God for trim and paint. That’s all I will say anymore about that.
I was standing in the camper tonight and realized that even with 2 months of work (sort of), I am still only getting back to the way it looked when I started. I’ve been fixing stuff, but not improving the look of anything. YET. It’s taking a lot more than I anticipated just to get back to zero before we can move forward again. Sigh… But that’s ok. That’s pretty much the same story every other camper rescuer tells. “I didn’t think it would be this much work.” But it is.
Moral of the story, if you are looking to buy a vintage camper, if it is 60 years old and they tell you it doesn’t leak, it does. It just does. Accept it and move on. It will be worth it in the end. Right?