Saturday, April 1, 2017

Winter updates!

Well hey there!  Long time, no talk.  Or listen, which is what you do while I talk -- because, after all, it is my blog.

It's been a productive winter!  For those of you who care to remember, there were a few things that were driving me nuts about this beast, which I mentioned in my last post.

Well, happy to say, I've fixed them all!  All 3, what an over-achiever!  And I couldn't be happier with the results.

First item on the list was a tarp system.  Easy-peasy.  Anchor on the front, a decent tarp, and a little ingenuity, and we have a simple, easy-to-pitch canopy setup.  There's a clever little bar that holds the tarp tight to the hinge, which means there's not much sag when you open and close the hatch.

No photos, forgot to take any.  Too lazy to set it all up again.  You'll have to take my word for it.  I'll set it up on the lawn sometime to give the neighbours something to talk about.

Next up -- those damn doors!  They leaked in heavy rain, and the hinges sagged when I put them on, which meant the latches dragged and the bottoms of the doors scraped a little on the frames.

Two changes here -- first, I switched to round-top screws on the hinges, which provide a little more room for adjustment than the stock flat-top.  Careful to use the same gauge thread, and a little longer, so as not to bung up the existing holes.  I was able to twist the doors up a little and get rid of that damn metal-on-metal drag:


Yup, those are hinges and screws all right.  But the little adjustment I was able to perform -- literally millimetres -- means the doors now open and shut like a dream.  Smooth and easy, no scraping.  Brilliant.

Next, an inner door frame, which provides an extra seal lip and also covers the last unfinished part of the trailer.  They came out looking quite nice:


Attractive and functional, carnival red to boot!  Looks and feels so much more finished on the inside now.  Here's the double seal that water will have to get through before it will dampen our enthusiasm:


Haven't tried it yet in the rain, but I'm sure it'll help!  It makes good contact with the inner door.  I think this extra layer will help a lot.

Last item -- the hand pump.  That hunk of junk is gone for good.  Worked for all of about 3 days, and I couldn't find another decent model.  Here's our new tap and the switch for the new 12V electric pump:


And the pump itself, nestled neatly under the sink with the other detritus:


It was an awkward but fairly simple gig to fit it all together.  It's fairly noisy because it's basically screwed to a giant drum.  I have urges to fix that problem, but I think I'll see how irritating it is in the wild first, then rank its importance on the long to-do list of my life.  But water comes out of that tap now, which is much better than before!

Come on summer!  I plan to spend it shaded under a tarp drinking warm beer and eating cold food.  Or ... however it turns out will be fine.

Next up -- glamour photos of the finished product!  Sometime.

Happy Spring!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Summer of Camping

Well, I haven't worked on this thing in quite some time.  That's a good thing!  I've been busy at work, but we all got out for an adequate number of family camps this summer anyway!  The Egg is everything I hoped it would be and, despite a few annoying details, I'd consider the project a success.

One small, quick  addition was the bunk-bed.  "A bunk-bed?  But there's no room in such a tiny space!"  Ah, but there is, if the bunk-bed is for someone quite tiny!

Here's the boy making his bed, literally:


And the finished product.  It was Terri's idea, after a couple of nights of sleeping on the same plane as a floppy fish who snorts and kicks in his sleep.  It allows our feet to fit under and Fin to have his own little hidey-hole, at least until he's taller than 5 feet.  At that point he can construct his own shelter out of stick and leaves or something:


In other times, the thin mattress could be removed and the bed can function as a table.  I actually really like it -- it makes much better use of the limited indoor space, and doesn't cramp things up at all.  Guess who else is pretty thrilled with this idea?


Throughout the summer, we got out for 6 trips, spent 15 nights in the egg, and drove it a total of about 1500km.  It was an unusually rainy summer, which leaves the Egg sorely wanting for a reasonable tarp setup.  We did our best, like this arrangement outside of Revelstoke, but it really needs something quick and permanent:


Whatever they're cooking, it looks exciting:


The glow-in-the-dark skeleton jammies were fun, until it became obvious that they frightened the wearer more than anyone else.  At least he's got a great bunk-bed to be terrified and grumpy in:


Time for the yearly kid-and-dad camping adventures!  Here we are, enjoying the apres-labour-day peace and quiet in the Shuswap:


That's right!  That's Captain Matt Smith, of the sister project Silly Goose.  The boat turned out tremendously, and I'm a little miffed that I don't earn the title "Captain" after all my hard work.  Here he is, adrift on a windless day, but sailing nonetheless:


Gathering firewood in the Silly Goose was a great chore for the short people:


And here's fathering, in a single image.  The kids are around somewhere:


Night-time brought s'mores and a Lord of the Flies type of organisational structure amongst the kids and a fort in the woods.  There was sugar spilled in the Egg, which failed to impress:


But here's what it's all about:


That's my child hidden in the bushes, reverting to the life of a savage:


The last trip of the year was the best one, I think.  Exactly what the Egg was made for -- a quick overnight in late October, when the campsites were empty and the weather would have been cold on a tent.  It was an easy, quick overnight, and it was everything I'd dreamed:


Burning some Egg scraps and roasting things:


A nice end to a camping season!


There are still a few things that I'm hoping to fix.  God knows when I'll have the time:
  • It needs a decent tarp system that doesn't rely on nearby trees and doesn't take and hour to set up
  • The inner door frame still isn't done.  Further, the door seals are not what I'd hoped (though the hatch seals are excellent) and the inner frame could overlap some and help solve the problem.
  • The little hand pump tap gave up almost right away, and didn't do a great job when it did work.  A 12V one has been ordered to replace it.
But it works!  And we had fun!  Now to spend the number of hours using it that I did building it ... hmm, could be awhile ... !


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Success!

In the end, all it takes to fix an intermittent electrical problem is to painstakingly replace every component in said electrical system until you finally stumble on the thing that was causing the heartache and head-hurt in the first place.

What was the magic?  LED tail-lights.  Seems that our precision-manufactured Toyota Matrix has only enough juice on the tail-light circuit for its own bulbs, never mind a few extras.  The added strain of 4 more bulbs, 2 of which were meant to blink sometimes, was far too taxing for its delicate constitution.  This strikes me as strange, because even regular bulbs don't use much power compared to other car-powered electrical things, like, I don't know, engine starters.  How about a little more amperage in that circuit, hmm?

Anyway, the LEDs draw less power, which I guess was what needed to happen.  So, Hooray!  And if anyone needs some electrical components, most of which presumably still work, you know, get in touch.  I've got piles.

Net result -- we got to go camping!  Here's the hatch of the Egg, performing just as it should do:



Here are a couple of dirty happy boys chowing down on whatever they found in the hatch.  Looks like one of them got into the coffee:



The wet weather pointed out the much-needed addition to the Egg -- a rain and shade canopy, which is currently in the design process.  We spent a fair bit of time in the rain on this trip, much of it fiddling with tarps.  I'm planning to rig a simple system to extend a cover in a variety of directions.  Pending.

The rainy weather on both of the Egg's first 2 trips have been an acid test for the sealing system.  I'm pleased with the results.  The hatch is water-tight, while the doors score about 9/10.  I think adding an extra inner frame, planned since the beginning, will help considerably by keeping the mattress out of contact with stray drips.  Pending.

This trip was primarily to go to a mountain bike race a friend and I were entering in Golden.  I was working there for 2 days prior, so I towed the trailer down with the truck.  My partner took the truck home when we were through, and Terri and Fin came over with the car.  When we were done camping for a few nights, we did the inaugural tow with the car towards home.

For those of you who know BC, Roger's Pass, between Golden and Revelstoke, is an intimidating hump for any large load, and I wondered (fretfully) how the trailer would tow and track on the journey home.  Things were fairly sluggish on the long climb from 700m to 1300m, but we kept up with bigger trailers towed by bigger trucks.  It handily descended and made its way through the windy road from Revelstoke to 350m Salmon Arm without incident.  Here's photo evidence from the top of the pass:


Fin seems concerned about the connections.  Who knows, maybe he should be:


Overall, the fine combination tracks well (no sway, no effects from passing large trucks), brakes well, and recovers easily from bumps.  It's sluggish, as expected, but it's by no means the slowest vehicle on the road.  On normal terrain, it keeps up with traffic just fine, and looks pretty good doing it.

A few fellow campers asked about the Egg, but in a "where did you get it" context.  I'm realising that, from a distance, the thing looks factory-made.  That feels nice, but also means it's less of a conversation piece than I expected.  That's fine -- conversations are often easy for me to start!

There are things to improve, but the Thunder Egg is now substantially complete and ready for the remainder of a summer of camping.  I'm pleased with what we've done.

Dare I call the project a success?

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Launch delayed, fixes in progress, weigh-in results

Further to my last post of almost 2 months ago, image this disappointing little scene:

We were all set to go -- literally.  The camper and car were packed, Fin had buckled himself into his car seat early in anxious anticipation (or perhaps worried that he'd be forgotten).  We had food, clothes, camping supplies.  Everything was ready for the grand maiden voyage.

I'd heard that a good trailer owner always checks the lights before pulling away.  So I did -- with trailer hitched to car, I snapped on the 4-way flashers.  I found, to my immense dismay and irritation, that the trailer lights, carefully checked weeks before, now remained dark.  The running lights worked.  An hour of checking and fiddling yielded no results.  The trip was called off, and we had a sweet but anti-climatic "camping" dinner on a blanket in front of the living room fire.

Oh, this *$@#'ing thing.

Two months later, those same lights remain dark.  Well ... in truth, there are major qualifications to add to that statement.  At press time, it's been decided that the root of this evil might in fact be the car -- since, suspiciously, the lights all works like a damn with every truck the Egg's been hooked up to.  In fact, here's a photo of the whole works in action just this last week:


It tows like a dream (as you'd hope behind a full-size pickup), performs admirably in driving rain and general wet weather, and performed all duties as hoped and expected.

I spent 5 days living in this time-consuming project of mine while working on a large field job in Roger's Pass.  It didn't quite fit in with the other slightly larger RVs:



Terri and Fin came up for a night, and, despite an excitable little boy, we all even got a little sleep.  My sense is that we'll be able to fit in there as a family until Fin is ready to either sleep in the fold-flat car back or pitch himself a tent.

Here we are in all our campground glory:



The old Egg even functioned as a mobile command centre for downloading and processing field survey data:


So it's been on a trip, a wet and demanding one at that, and it performed admirably.  What's the problem?

The problem is, those damn lights won't work with the CAR!  Not at all!  And everything (everything) has been checked and double-checked!  I've checked grounds, converter boxes, wiring routes, and harness specifications.  It's been on a trip to the mechanic.  I've spent long hours researching causes and solutions.  In every sense, it should work, but it doesn't.  The running lights work, the flashers and brake lights don't, but the problems go away completely when hooked to another vehicle.  The car may turn out to need a dedicated circuit to handle the extra lights.  The standard "T connector" technique commonly used for car towing may not work with this one.

And yes, I did check the grounding wires.  And the bulbs.  And also the converter box.

Another possible snag regarding car towing came today, when I swung by the dump to check a final weight.  The Egg tips the scales at just over 1300 pounds, which is significantly more than estimated.  It was carrying close to what it would while heading out for a camping trip, but it's uncomfortably close to the car's maximum towing load of 1500 pounds.

I've got access to a truck through work, which is a blessing.  Even once the lights are fixed by the hand of God himself, it'll be needed for rugged or high-elevation trips.  However, it comes loaded with gear, and the first priority is to be used for work.

The point of the project was to make a car-towable camper.  I'm not sure if that objective has really been totally achieved.  Once I get this car-vs-trailer-light issue fixed (and I intend to), we'll see how the trips down the highway and up the hills really go.  Perhaps the next trip to the dump will be for a different purpose!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Final testing before launch!

Here's someone who likes camping trailers very, very much:


If there was ever any doubt about all the hard work being worthwhile, it's extinguished completely when my little man insists on reading bedtime stories in the camping trailer.  He's very proud of it, and he's excited about it in ways that he's not about even really flashy new toys.  He knows that I made it for all 3 of us to share, and that it's a special thing made just for fun and adventure.

Later, concerned that it might have a ghost, he went to sleep in his own room.

This little project is almost substantially complete -- not done, not really, there are still some loose ends to tie up over the summer or when I find the time, but they're not essential things. I might even change my mind about some of them once it's been out for a weekend or two.  It's ready to use, and that's what matters.

The old Egg has a mattress, and tie-downs for all the equipment.  It has a tongue box with a battery mounted, and the spare fastened underneath the frame.  It has running lights, and it's all cleaned up and ready to get dirty again, but this time with dirt from the outside, not from my dusty old shop.

It's even been for a trip around the block!  Contrary to my deepest fears, it tows quite well indeed.  It isn't jumpy like the empty frame, and the car can handily tow it up and down some very steep hills near our house.  I can feel it, like the car is a little sluggish, but it's not bad.  I think it's well within the capabilities of the vehicle.  It handled minor bumps and a very tame dirt road just swimmingly.

I'm waiting for the final part -- draw catches for the hatch -- to come in on order to a local RV store.  If they arrive this week, we'll be able to take this egg out on the weekend!  At the moment, unfortunately, they are about a week overdue.  These two catches are literally (not figuratively) the last essential pieces to add.

You can imagine how patiently I'm waiting ... !

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The end is near

I mean this in a much more positive and light-hearted way than the guy waving the sign down at the corner does.

Look where we are now:


The hatch went on smoothly a week or so ago, which was kind of a nice surprise.  Sealing the doors was a bit of a struggle, but I think I've got it done now.  It was tough to get the right tension, so the seal was getting "squished" a little without needing super-strength to open and close the doors.  I had to adjust the latch to "give" a little more.  The hatch still had a perfect 1/8" gap, just enough for the right seal without pushing too hard.  I'm waiting for the final "closers" to come in the mail.

I could happily go without caulking for the rest of my life, but I realize this probably isn't an option.  I've done kind of a lot of it recently.  I dislike how easy it is to make a smeary mess, though I'm getting better at keeping everything in a straight line.  Damn to the 7th circle of hell the people who allow those little air bubbles to show up in tubes of caulk, splattering my nice neat line all over!

Ahem.

Here's the hatch again, all white and majestic.  The fenders are fresh, as of today at around 2:00.  They were quite easy, apart from having to take the wheels off to access the cramped screws at the very back lip:


Overall, it's becoming quite a handsome little trailer, biased though I may be.  It's got quite a formal "black and white" look to it, with some silver and chrome accents.  Not much of the look was thoughtfully planned, but I always take credit for any happy accidents.

I repainted the trailer frame too, because it got a little rusty driving home 2 winters ago in the salt and sand.  I think the paint was quite new and soft then.  I expect it would have stood up a little better if it had cured for 6 weeks or so first.  But I wasn't going to wait all that time, was I?

I'll say this for the standard "anti-rust" spray paint -- it sure it easy to use!  I roughed up the surface a bit (all the spars underneath too: I spent a fair bit of time on my back), washed it, masked off the clean white trailer with cardboard, and sprayed away!  You can recoat in 5 minutes, and 2 coats does it nicely.  I was left wondering why I didn't use spray for the rest of the trailer too.

I know spray paint is considered an environmental catastrophe, but I do wonder.  Today's paints don't have the CFC agents of yesterday, and one major plus is this: you get to use all the paint.  It doesn't skin over and go bad in there like it does in a can.  I'm often left with half a can of paint after many projects, and if I don't use it right away for something else, it's toxic waste.  I think I should be able to keep the 1/2 can of spray paint I have left for as long as I want.  I tried filling the void space in my paint cans with propane to limit contact with oxygen, but it didn't help much.  I'm sure my 1/4 can of Brightside is unusable by now, as is the 1/2 can of primer and the 3/4 can of interior blue.

Oh, stop ranting.

Being finished all this stuff means other things can happen, like putting all the peripherals back into the kitchen:


You can see a bit of the sealing technique here -- a rubber gasket along the outer edge, pinching onto a right-angle aluminium rail.  The rail encourages drips to flow along it to the bottom, where there's a gap for water egress.  This is different from the doors, where there is a wooden rail to pinch the seal sideways, like a car door.

Ooh -- and there's a light in the hatch now!



In fact, there is less and less that really needs to be done!  I'm installing tongue box and battery now now, and there is a small amount of this blessed caulking left to do.  I need to install the spare tire somewhere sensible, hook up the trailer running lights (I recall one of the signals didn't work a year or so ago, so that may be a fiddle) and do some other odds and ends.  This will leave us "substantially complete" ... or, similar to how a manufacturer might sell the thing.  There will still be curtains to make, some small tweaks and customizations ... but it's getting close!

Hard to believe.  It feels like I've been out there for years.  In reality, I started major work in November / December 2014 -- so by end of May (expected completion) it'll have been about 18-19 months.  Of course, there were about 3 months of planning, design, and minor prep before then ...

Oh, hell with it.  I didn't do it to save money, and certainly not to save time.  I did it to build it, to show it off, and to have fun camping in it.  I even said so, right in my very first post.  I may have gotten carried away with some things, but I think I've stayed pretty true to the original goals.

I'll do a few posts coming up, after completion.  I'll skim through the whole process in photos, just a quick summary of the last 1.5 years.  I'll go through what I learned, what I'd do again, and what I certainly wouldn't.  I'm not one of these people that is going to build another one of these -- one is enough, thanks -- so I may as well pass on what I've learnt.  I'll go through the tools that I've needed, the ones I wished I bought, and few I never used.  And finally, there will be some glamour shots!

Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Done the paint!

After much sanding (yes, we've all heard a lot about that), painting, cleaning, and wandering around in a haze of organic chemical fumes, the paint is done.  3 coats of it, with sanding between.  Totally, gleefully done!

This is the standard view, that I'm honestly kind of "over" myself.  It doesn't look much different in photos than those ones I took of the primer previously ... but in real life, it's shiny, slick, very pretty.  It didn't quite come out looking sprayed on, like a body shop would do, but it's good.  You can tell I did it at home, but not on first glance:


If I want to, and it turns out to be worth it, I can polish and wax it someday.  But that's not critical for camping this year, and my guess is it's going to get get pretty scratched and worn anyhow.  That's part of using these things.

The paint went on well, once I learned what I was doing.  The Interlux Brightside is a nice paint, but it's "old-school" -- read that as, "you can really bung it up if you're even a little bit of a sleepyhead".  I found that I really needed to stay on top of it if I wanted it to "flow".

"Flow" is not some lousy hippy rubbish!  Glossy exterior paint like this needs to flow after brushing, so it fills in the brush marks and leaves a nice smooth finish.  Like the hippies, you need to add chemicals -- in this case, a little of the approved brushing reducer -- so the paint doesn't start to dry too soon.  Too much, and it'll drip and run, too little and you get sporadic ridges and overlaps which are accentuated by the high gloss.

I was using a "roll and tip" method -- spreading a small area evenly with a little roller, then lightly brushing to get rid of bubbles and texture.  It was hectic work, but I'm happy with the results:


Now that painting is done, lots of other important events can happen!  Like all that aluminium that I cut -- that can all go on, sealed under with caulking:


How handsome!  And on the trailer door frames too, and then we can drop the windows in, and ... 

Crap ... what?  But I very carefully made sure these cut-outs in the doors were the right size.  Why do the windows seem TOO BIG ALL OF A SUDDEN?

* Makes grumpy trip to hardware store to buy another belt sander *

Don't ask what happened to the first belt sander.  Belt sanders and I have a minor violent history, and I can honestly say I'm a bit "toolist" against them.

After sanding for what seemed like days (but was indeed only hours) the windows fit, kicking and screaming, into their prescribed holes.  I really have no idea how those holes got smaller.  I didn't think that was a thing that holes could do.

At any rate, it was a simple matter after that to put the doors on.  Thankfully, no black magic had affected the roof, and both the fan and skylight went in without incident.

And look!


That was worth the wait!  It's neat to see those doors in place, all gleaming and, erm, door-like.  Adding a little hardware sure makes it look like a real camping trailer ... which of course, it is.  Almost.

Here's how it would look if you were a bird:


And here's that very handsome door again.  The other one is in too, in case you were worried I'd forgotten:


The paint is done, the doors are installed, and so on to the hatch!  There's some tricky aluminium there to do, which is next on the list.  This will be the part that presses into the seal.  It needs to be bent around the curves, then sanded and filed to just the right height.

After that, there are some little fiddly things, like installing the running lights, giving the trailer frame a couple of coats of paint, sorting out where to put the spare tire, and a bunch of minor installation.

See you soon, campgrounds!  * knocks on wood *