“Wothahellizat” is a 38-year-old army truck. Rob and Chris Gray bought the truck in 1997 and spent three years turning it into Australia’s largest and weirdest off-road motor home. Then in 2007/8 they rebuild it into a smaller version (Wothahellizat Mk2).
It’s from the deck of this vehicle (yes a patio folds out from the back) that most of this diary is written, a 14-tonne editor’s desk!
Wothahellizat is fully self contained with enough food and water storage to spend weeks in the bush.
It’s six-wheel-drive with good clearances, so quite able to handle the rough stuff. However at over 3m high and 8m long there are a lot of places it doesn’t fit, so we have two mountain bikes, a trail bike, and a Suzuki Jimny 4×4 as well.
Here is the story of the building of our motor home, a vehicle that allows us to drive to some of Australia’s least accessible places and spend enough time there to get the good photos.
It all started around June ’97. Chris (my wife) and I are camping at Fraser Island and Carnarvon Gorge in Queensland. Several days of sitting around watching the kangaroos, shooing away the possums, bushwalking, a little photography and plenty of cider. Life could be a lot worse.
Fig 1. The troopie (75 series Landscruiser) at Carnarvon Gorge.
Chris says, “Why don’t we retire”. You could have knocked me over with a square inch of table cloth. Who’s stolen my workaholic wife and replaced her with someone who can utter such a sentence I thought. Now if I’d said it that would be a different matter, after all, I’ve been retired all my life. But for Chris to think of anything except work is just unheard of.
OK I’m happy to retire, after all I’m nudging 44 and had a gutfull of the rat race (Whether or not we can afford it quite yet is another story) but what will I do? Well if you’ve come here from my main site the answer should be pretty clear, landscape photography. Trouble is, Chris isn’t the least bit interested in landscape photography (or photography of any kind for that matter) so she needs to be comfortable while I’m out making those memorable images. For that matter I need to be comfortable in between sojourns. Also, to get good images I want to spend long periods (a few weeks maybe) in picturesque and often very remote places. These requirements call for a special kind of vehicle.
Enter the off-road motorhome.
Off-road motorhomes aren’t bought off-the-shelf, they have to be custom made so, as our finances don’t stretch to having someone else build the thing, I guess the job falls to me. After all how hard can it be :-).
We return from Carnarvon and promptly buy all the current “4×4 trader” style magazines. There aren’t all that many options when it comes to large off-road vehicals. An Isuzu, Mitsubishi Canter or MAN seem to be the most likely candidates but the Canter is too small, Isuzu only make 4x4s and the MANs are soooo expensive. We did briefly entertain the idea of buying a new Isuzu, but at $120,000 odd that idea hardly saw the light of day.
An old ACCO seem to be more our style but they are mostly worn out work horses with a life of toil behind them on some farm in central Queensland. A long way to drive to reject some run down wreck.
Then in the October edition of “Deals on Wheels” I saw it. What a beauty. I can’t believe my luck, it’s in Marulan, only an hour or so from Canberra. Better still, it’s owned by a fire brigade. Many of these old trucks have been hammered around farms etc. This one has spent much of it’s life being pampered by fire brigade blokes who not only have time to keep the truck in good condition but also have the incentive. When you’re fighting a fire you simply cannot afford to have an unreliable vehicle.
It’s November now, will it still be available after being advertised for nearly a month? I ring the fire brigade and am told that the truck is still there but another person is interested. He’s coming up from Wollongong this afternoon. “I’ll be there in an hour” I said and threw the phone to it’s cradle as I raced out the door.
Seventy minutes later (I lied, there’s no way to make Marulan in an hour) we pull up at the Marulan Country Fire Brigade shed to find that they have had a callout to an accident on the highway. We wait.
Eventually they return and the roller door opens to reveal the orangest thing I have ever seen. Boy is this thing orange.
The interior has been painted Mr Bean style, which is to say that they exploded a paint bomb inside the cab with the only concession to the orangness being a quick wipe of the instrument faces before the paint dried.
We go for a test drive, it’s rough as guts but kind of fun. Chris discovers that the windscreens can be opened and that feature sells her. It’s got a crash gearbox (no synchro), I get the hang of that fairly quickly but man is that gear stick hard to move, and the steering…
On returning to the depot we say yes on the spot. It seems that we are not the only ones with similar ideas. Of the three inquiries they had about the truck, two were from people wanting to build a motorhome.
Two days later my muscles are so sore I can hardly move my arms.
The truck is stripped of all its fire brigade livery (you think they could have left the flashing light) and one of the firies delivers it to Steve Roberts at Goulburn Truck Repairs. Steve will do the engine/gearbox conversion and stretch the chassis.
We attend the CMCA’s rally in Roma. What a sight. A thousand motorhomes in one place. We have come here to do some more research and to meet some other off-road motorhomers. At this point we have been picking brains and stealing ideas for about nine months. Our design hasn’t changed much in a month or two so we figure it’s about right. We do however spot a couple of things that cause us to make some small changes. The weather was abismal, this was probably a blessing as it caused me to think about wet weather aspects of the design (ie. where to store muddy gumboots).
To me this is the best way to design a motorhome, spend a lot of time observing other designs and asking their owners what works and what doesn’t. I guess you really have to build a few motor homes to get it just right (probably not even then actually).
We finally meet Peter and Marie (“Slineaway”, 4×4 Sline International) after talking on the ‘phone several times. We caught up again with Adrian & Carol (6×6 Thornycroft), they often attend Canberra bashes so we have got to know them quite well. We also met Steve Pantlin (4×4 Bedford) after many ‘phone conversations. As off-road motorhome owners (well we nearly are) we had a lot in common and all got on well.
We return from the Roma rally and drop in to check progress. Our Acco has been in Goulburn for six months now. It’s got a new motor (Perkins 6354 diesel) and gearbox and it’s time to lengthen the chassis. We arrive just in time to see the truck’s load being lightened. The weather is overcast and wet, just like Roma really except that it’s about 20 degrees colder. There’s a strong wind and it cuts right through me. I make a mental note to see if we can retire earlier than planned.
Steve calls in a crane and they remove the water tank…
…then the tray.
Finally the chassis is bare and I can get a good look at the running gear.
27 June 1998
I’m in Goulburn to register the truck. Steve had it passed yesterday, I just had to fill in the documentation and pay. And I do mean pay, a grand total of about $2200 for rego, third party insurance and stamp duty.Ouch.
I take it for a drive for the first time with the new motor. The engine cover hasn’t been fixed on yet and the noise is so bad it’s painful. On returning to Steve’s yard I misjudge the turning circle with the longer chassis and nearly clean up his fence.
28 June 1998
Steve delivered the truck to Bungendore today, only had to change down gears once he said, that looks promising (I’ve been worried that the vehicle would be under-powered, even with the larger motor). I’ll be able to start my lessons for the heavy rigid license now. Then it’ll be into the workshop and out with the welding, grinding, cutting, etc equipment.
It’s almost showtime.
20 July 1998
It’s license day. I need an HR (heavy rigid) truck license to drive the truck. Last weekend I did four hours training and today I do the assessment. There’s a new system of licensing in NSW. With the old system you did lessons then go for an all-or-nothing test with the Road Transport Authority (RTA). Very stressful. The new system is called Competency Based Assessment (CBA). Briefly this means that the bloke giving the lessons is also qualified to assess your ability to handle a large vehicle. This is a much better system because, unlike an RTA test, it’s not a case of “one strike and your out”. With CBA, if you make a mistake you just try again.
The assessment involves about six hours of driving in all kinds of conditions, both on the highway and in busy town centers etc. It went quite smoothly I thought, if you don’t count running out of fuel (well I had to learn how to prime a diesel anyway) and that street sign on the corner (nothing that a team of council workers can’t fix in a few hours).
By the end of the assessment I was knackered and thinking very seriously about spending the $5000 to install power steering in the truck.
When I get home there’s a message to ring Steve Pantlin. I got to know Steve at the rally in Queensland a couple of months ago. He owns a motor home.built on a 4×4 Bedford truck. Anyhow, it seems he has just crossed the Simpson Desert in his rig. He tells me of the trip, I’m envious and even keener to start building.
1 Aug 1998
I need to get workbenches and tools from my garage to the workshop and as it happens I have just the truck for the job. Bringing it home to our townhouse complex I park outside on the street
The next day I bring it up and park it outside my garage. It takes up most of the complex’s drive and makes it quite clear why we’re not working on the conversion at home. Fortunately Greg, a neighbour who is converting a bus and works for Comet, is home and he gives me a hand to load the stuff.
15 Aug 1998
It begins. The project of a lifetime, except I’ve only got a year. What more could a bloke want, a big workshop, a big truck and more tools than you can poke a torsion wrench at. I mentioned this to the fellas at work, not all were convinced.
I decide that the first job is to fitout the cab. After getting prices of $600+ for uncomfortable new bucket seats I find some very comfy old ones at the wreckers for $250. If this saving is scalable for the entire project we’ll be laughing.
After the first weekend the cab is stripped almost bare. I have to think a lot about sound proofing as I rebuild, it’ll never be quiet but at present it’s bordering on painful.
I know the truck is not exactly a thing of beauty and joy forever but that bull bar has to be the most butt ugly thing I’ve seen in a while. I can’t just get rid of it because it has rollers for the winch cable and re-engineering it would be too much work. I can however remove much of the offending steel.
Even the smallest parts of the bull bar are made of 10mm steel flat bar, what a monster. It took three evenings (cutting with a grinder until my arms got tired then moving to an easier job for a break and returning after a half hour or so) to remove most of the bottom part of the bar. It was only when I was nearly finished when I thought about using the oxy cutter. Isn’t it marvelous how the human brain works (or doesn’t work as in this case).
9 Sep 1998
Well there has actually been quite a lot happening. The cab has been totally stripped and rubbed down ready for spraying. This is a really tedious process requiring the welding of no-longer-required bolt holes (over thirty in the roof alone) to fill them in, then bog/sand/bog/sand, then putty/sand/putty/sand, until the panels are as smooth as a baby’s botty.
The gun turret has been removed (well it was either that or buy a machine gun to fit it) and a plate welded to fill the resultant 700mm hole in the roof.
The rear of the cab has been cut out to allow access through to the home. This required a framework to be constructed to give strength to the cab’s rear. I have welded captive nuts into this frame so it will be easy to bolt the rubber grommet/bellows thing (is there a name for them) that joins the cab and the home body.
The engine cowling was actually a combination of the bodged up cowling from the old motor, some cardboard boxes and plenty of gaffer tape. I have something different in mind so I have constructed the frame for a new cowling that is hinged so it will lift up for engine servicing.
I have finished the mounts for the new bucket seats but the seats are stored out of harms way for the moment.
The windows and doors have been dismantled. Most of the rubber seals are in real bad shape. Clarke Rubber have some moldings that should work as replacements.
Now for the hardest part of all so far. Deciding on the colour. (While we’re on the subject of colour, some people have asked why the photos hear are in black & white. The answer is simple, I only have a B&W scanner. I may be able to rectify this shortcoming in the near future).
This weekend it’s down to the truck wreckers in Wadonga looking for a grill, fuel tanks and assorted items.
1 Oct 1998
It’s been quiet for a while hasn’t it? Actually I was sick for a week or so and didn’t feel like working for another week or so. Anyway I’m back in the saddle now.
I really scored in Wadonga, two brand new (well they’ve never been used) twenty-year-old fuel tanks and mounting brackets from a D line Inter. At 320 odd litres each I think that will do for fuel storage. I should get a range of between 2000 and 2500k on bitumen. This should allow me to buy fuel where it’s cheaper, for example in Port Augusta, then not have to refill in the middle of the Nullabor where fuel cost a fortune. I guess there is some trade off between the extra consumption when carrying more fuel, but then another three or four hundred kilos shouldn’t make that much difference to a ten-tonne truck.
I also found a grill from the commercial version of the C1800 ACCO. I have the military version which didn’t have a grill but when it comes to modifying metal, we have the technology. Speaking of modifying metal, I’ve never done much metal work in the past. Just about everything else but I’ve always balked at metal work because I though it would be difficult.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
It’s so easy to work with metal that I’m kicking myself for years of missed opportunities. Items that would difficult or impossible to fabricate from timber are a breeze in steel. If you measure incorrectly or change your mind about the length of something, just weld another bit on. If you want to join two pieces you don’t have to make complicated mitre or dovetail joints to get the strength, just weld it.
I’ve become a welding fanatic, if you come down to look at the rig don’t stand still too long. You may find yourself welded to something.
12 Oct 1998
The wiring in this truck is a 26 year old nightmare, a problem just waiting to happen, and when it does happen you know where I will be, in the middle of nowhere and not a sparky (electrician) in sight. Also the Army had a lot of features for blackout mode etc. that I just don’t need and the truck now has a diesel motor with far fewer electrical requirements that the old petrol donk. With all that in mind I have decided to rip out all the wiring and start from scratch.
Adam is a young auto sparky, he runs a small business somewhat originally called “Adam’s Auto Electrical”. He comes well recommended so I assume he’s better at electrical work than thinking up business names.
He has started replacing the old wiring looms with new ones. It’s amazing how much smaller and simpler the new wiring is.
Meanwhile I’ve been looking into replacing most of the gauges with new VDO units. Take my word for it, if you plan going down this path make sure you’re sitting down when you get prices.
I’ve also been building the overhead consul. This will house items such as CB radios, rear view TV monitor, trip odometers and the like.
9 Nov 1998
Purple, bright purple, that’s the new colour of the truck. Oh I wish I had a colour scanner. As the house part of the motor home will be very large and grey we decided some colour was needed for the cab. It took about four hours to spray the undercoat and another five or so for the top coat. It’s not that the cab is very large, just that there are a lot of fiddly bits like hinges and window frames.
The first time I looked at a motor home project photo album I got to the point where the bus was almost completely demolished and commented that, at that point in the project, the owners must have a vision of the finished product and hold on to it. After all, they have taken a vehicle in reasonable condition and destroyed it. There’s something depressing about spending 10, 20 or 30 thousand dollars to create five tons of inanimate metal.
Well this is how I’ve been feeling to some extent. Fortunately, with a cab-chassis there’s less to destroy. Anyhow, with the application of new paint I finally feel that I’m creating something useful. The “it has to get worse before it gets better” phase is over, from here on it should only get better.
The electrical work is nearly complete. Enough to drive the rig out of the workshop to clean the months of accumulated metal filings and other muck. Just starting the motor again and driving a few feet is a psychological boost.
I’ve purchased a Jaycar closed circuit television (CCTV) and a tiny camera, this will be mounted in the overhead consul in roughly the same location as a rear view mirror would be. The Jaycar unit is quite cheap compared to a geniune vehicle reversing systems and I’m a little worried that it will self destruct after a while in rough roads. Time will tell but there is such a price differential that I think it’s worth the risk. I will probably mount it on instrument isolation mounts just to be on the safe side.
30 Nov 1998
Did I mention the truck was purple? Actually it’s “Jacaranda” but try getting anybody to call it that. Anyway it seems the colour is causing some interest. One of the blokes working next door stops every time he sees the truck and says “Tell me that’s the undercoat”. Someone from the business across the road was sent over to ask if that was the final colour, it seems there had been some discussion in the office about the matter. Two girls and a young man walked past one evening, there was some discussion among them then one of the girls yelled “Is it going to stay purple?”, “Yes” I replied. She turned to the young man, “See, I told you so” she said.
4 Dec 1998
Mobile again, the wiring is finished, the spray painting is finished and I’m keen to do some driving. I’ve boarded up the hole in the rear of the cab (so we won’t be sucked out by the vortex, a common problem with high speed vehicles), installed the seats, bolted in the windows and I’m ready to roll. I’ll take it home tonight as a short trial.
I start the engine and move the truck out of the workshop, hmmm, it seems to be idling a bit fast. Then I remember that the cowling was pressing on part of the throttle linkage. I was supposed to fix that. Not to worry, the cowling is hinged to allow access to the engine so I pack one of the hinges to raise it from the linkage. Let’s go home.
My first priority is to get some fuel, I’ve already run out once before and once is enough. I’ve still got the tiny fuel tank and no working gauge so I’m a bit paranoid about this. The fuel tank has a spout that extends from the tank for refuelling. I never really saw the point for this device but used it anyway. This time it refused to be pushed back into the tank. Luckily I had a tool kit with me and that kit included a hammer, a tool I once heard described as “A device used for changing the shape and/or position of an object”. That sounds like just the thing. I certainly want to change the spout’s position, and I don’t much care about it’s shape. A few minutes later the spout is safely inside the tank and I’m on my way. That’s a handy tool, I think I’ll be using it again before this project is done.
5 Dec 1998
It’s time to ditch the truck’s old tray, I’ve offered it to Steve as part payment for the work he did on the motor and chassis extension so we must drive back to Goulburn. I’m looking forward to being on the road, even if it is only for a few of hours. On leaving Canberra I spot what looks like a green 4×4 truck-based motor home travelling south on Northbourne Ave. There’s nowhere to turn and anyway we must get to Goulburn. Bugger, I’d really like to check out that rig.
The engine cowling is not finished and the noise is uncomfortable (actually I think Chris used the term “excruciating”), fortunately I had the forethought to bring two pairs of ear muffs. They’re bright yellow and don’t really co-ordinate with the purple of the cab but what the heck. We can’t hear the engine much now but also can’t hear each other, still that didn’t stop us yelling and nodding replies for a few hours. Who knows what I agreed to. Too late I realised that this would have been a good time to ask if I can buy that new colour scanner.
This vehicle sure draws attention, on returning to Canberra we drive down Northbourne Avenue and receive strange looks and smiles at each intersection. One couple appeared particularly dumb founded and I think I now realise why. They were struck by our appalling lack of fashion sense, yellow ear muffs and a purple truck. It just isn’t done.
So anyway we’re cruising down Northbourne Avenue when Chris tells me to turn right, “It’s a short cut” she says. Why the alarm bells didn’t set off with those words I’ll never know. Maybe they did but I just didn’t hear them through the ear muffs. I turn right, pass a street or two until she tells me to turn left. It’s a really tight corner and one I could do without after hours of driving. We pass several houses then the road sweeps left. We pass several more houses and come across a T intersection. Chris looks puzzled, “What road is this” she asks. “Northbourne bloody Avenue” was my measured response as I make a left turn and proceed in the direction from which we came.
On returning to the workshop I decided to see how badly covered in bugs the truck’s face was. Walking to the front I start to count them. As it happens there was 13. Not bad for several hours of driving, then I realised why there were so few. Have I mentioned how slow this truck is? It’s very slow. How slow? Well let me put it this way, the only place I’ll ever get booked for speeding is in a school zone…between the hours of 8 ’till 4. Anyway, it’s extremely slow and thereby hangs the answer to the bug-free truck face.
Most of them were going in the same direction as us.
I know this because I saw several of the faster ones pass by. The proof then should be at the rear of the vehicle, I saunter down and sure enough, it’s covered in splattered insects.
30 Dec 1998
I’ve been a bit slack haven’t I, still it’s the holiday season so what the heck. Anyhow I have done some work, most notably I’ve replaced the old manual handbrake with an air operated spring chamber.
15 Jan 1999
My plan was to start the body over Christmas but the mounts didn’t arrive in time and you know what it’s like in Australia at this time of year, everything closes down.
Meanwhile I’ve been building the overhead console. This will house the CB radios, stereo, rear vision camera etc and mounting brackets have to be made for all these. It’s very fiddly work and weeks have gone by with very little to show for it
The rear vision TV is too large to fit with it’s plastic housing so that has to go and I have to design and build a metal housing. Trouble is the circuit board is designed to slide into a non-conductive case, not bolt onto a steel plate. This proves too much of a mental exercise for the moment so I’ll move on to something else.
I feel there is a benefit to working on several parts of the project in parallel as often the best way to solve a problem is to forget about it and work on another job for a while.
23 Jan 1999
While picking up some steel I jammed my little finger between two pieces, right in that tender area at the top of the nail. It hurt so much I had to sit down before I collapsed. At first there was no external sign of damage and I couldn’t believe how badly it hurt. Before long however the top of the nail started turning black and the finger began aching.
Funnily enough having a painfull finger actually caused me to get more work done. Why?, because if I stayed active I didn’t notice the throbbing. Only when I was idle did the pain return.
By the time I left for home the second finger had gone out in sympathy with it’s injured peer. When I arrived my whole bloody arm was aching and the second finger actually hurt more than the one that was hit. Go figure!
30 Jan 1999
The bull bar is taking most of my time at present. Actually I hesitate to call it a bull bar, it’s so high off the ground maybe “camel bar” is a more appropriate term. Also it’s made from fairly light weight steel, more a nudge bar really. Not that I’d like to be nudged by it at any speed higher than tectonic plate movement.
While preparing the bar for painting I realise that this is a small milestone in the project. One of the last vestiges of it’s previous life as a fire truck was about to go under the orbital sander. The sign writing that pronounced to the world that this was “Marulan 4″ would be no more in a minute or two so I took a photo.
The bull bar is built on top of the existing bumper. I constructed the main part from three inch exhaust pipe and the two smaller side parts from one and half inch pipe. You can buy the angles from any exhaust shop but make sure you get mandrel-bent angles. When pipe is bent in some benders it is distorted on the inside of the bend and looks horrible, a mandrel bender can make the bend and maintain the pipes shape. perhaps a drawing will illustrate this better.
|Normal bend||Mandrel bend|
You can buy 90 and 45 degree angles and, of course, straight lengths. Some combination of these should suit your purpose.
Some people will tell you that this pipe is not strong enough but I feel that a bull bar is that in name only. If you actually do hit a bull and the bar is too strong it can cause more damage than if you had no bar at all. Especially if the bar is bolted directly to your chassis. It’s not unknown for the bull bar to escape from an accident unscathed buy transferring all the impact’s energy to the chassis. Result, a bent chassis. In my view a bull bar is really a device to keep smaller animals from writing off your radiator and somewhere to place you driving lights, bug screens etc.
Speaking of bug screens, there is a channel welded at the rear of this bar which will allow me to slide in a bug/stone screen but remove it easily for cleaning.
Another feature of this bar is the sideways pointing lights. I drive a fair bit on narrow fire trails and some time ago I got sick of trying to peer into the gloom around sharp corners while I had a thousand watts of driving and spot lights beaming into space. On this bar I have two broad-beam fog lights (with white lenses, not yellow) mounted, pointing outwards, at 45 degrees to the direction of travel. Hopefully this will solve the afore-mentioned problem.
Here are some pics of the bull bar, firstly some detail of the finished bull bar, just before painting.
And then after painting.
It’s a light grey hammer-tone although it may not appear so on the screen.
I find that it’s possible to produce a very professional looking piece of gear with a little care and some hammer-tone paint.
The finished product drying after being painted.
TIP OF THE WEEK. Go out and buy one of those new-fangled auto dimming welding masks. These masks dim and clear instantly with your welding and either free a hand to hold the job or save you trying to shake the lens down with violent head movements. They’re not cheap, starting at about $200, but well worth it. The salesman said that once I’d used one I would never return to the old-style mask. He was right, I’ve been using it all day and it’s a bloody marvel.
3 Feb 1999
I’m busily trying to get the truck back on the road so we can take it to the Canberra CMCA chapter’s rally next weekend. The rally is in the bush and I thought it would be a good shakedown trip for the work done so far. Mind you it’s still a cab chassis so we’ll have to take the 4×4 as well so we have something to camp in.
I’ve built one of two cradles to hold the house batteries. These cradles hang from the chassis rails on either side of the drive shaft however I don’t have much room and I’m a bit worried that the movement of the axles may cause the drive shaft to hit the cradles. One reason for taking it on the trip this weekend.
5 Feb 1999
It’s Friday night and I’ve finally got the truck ready for it’s first real outing. I fire up the engine, drive just out of the workshop, apply my new maxi brake and get out to listen for any unwanted noises. There’s the distinct sound of escaping air from one of the new fittings, a half turn with a shifter fixes that. The mirrors became misaligned when I added some stabiliser bars to them so they get re-aligned. Hmm, looks pretty good.
Climbing back into the cab I slip into gear and start up the driveway. It’s quit steep and the engine lugs a bit but makes it up easily, must be cold I thought. On reaching the road I go to change up a gear and realise I was already in third. Man this thing’s got more pull than a herd of elephants.
I really just want to drive ’round the block to make sure nothing falls off, and get some fuel. Pulling into my favourite service station (the nearest one with easy access for trucks, I guess you start to think more about this sort of thing when driving such a large vehicle) I pull the knob that is connected to the cable that is connected to the lever that is connected to the shut-off valve that stops the motor. Nothing happens, the motor keeps running just fine. I push the knob and pull it again, still nothing. Bloody hell. The valve is on the other side of the engine so I have to get out and climb back in to manually shut it off. So far not so good.
I fill up and return to the workshop. Tomorrow’s outing is looking unlikely. On lifting the engine cowling I see the problem. The cable is similar to a choke cable with a knob which is connected to a wire which is enclosed in a sleeve, when you pull the knob the action is transmitted to the other end of the the cable where it pulls whatever is connected to the wire. In this case however, the wire’s sleeve is not clamped tight enough to stop it from moving, therefore when I pull the knob the entire wire/sleeve combination moves, instead of just the wire. The end result is that the the cable simply changes shape and does not transmit the pulling action.
This cable has been a pain from day one, it’s really difficult to connect, imprecise in it’s feel, and now it seems, is unreliable. The truck will not be going on tomorrow’s rally so I pack up and go home.
6 Feb 1999
After going to the wrong part of Micalong Creek (it’s a very long creek and we went to the wrong end resulting in about 100k extra dirt-road driving than anticipated) we finally catch up with the other members of our chapter on the cool, willow-lined banks of the creek near Wee Jasper.
It’s interesting to note our response to this bout of geographic embarrassment. In the past I would have been really pissed off about not checking the exact location and Chris would have had a go at me as well. This time however we both figured “what the heck, the worst thing that can happen is that we enjoy a weekend in the bush by ourselves”. We were self sufficient so it didn’t matter where we camped.
I know the general layout of the land and suggested that we drive west and head up any track we find going in a northerly direction. I reasoned that this would probably get us to the right area, but if not, who cares?
This incident tells me that we are slowing down and ready for the full-timing lifestyle.
Anyway the first track to the right did take us to Wee Jasper (at the other end of Micalong Creek) and we met up with our CMCA friends. Mark & Gail had their almost-finished “Hobohome” there,
with it’s garage for a mini-moke under the bed at the rear of the bus. This proved to be something that everyone wanted to see.
We set up our humble camper. Actually, for a 4×4 we have a very well setup vehicle
it’s just that, by motor home standards, it’s a bit spartan. I confess to much envy when I look at what can be done with big rigs. I can’t wait to get ours to a usable state.
8 Feb 1999
I’m going to do something about that blasted engine cut-off cable. I’ve seen solenoid cut-off valves before and decide to install one. I soon change my mind however when I get a price of “about $300″ from the local International dealer. Sure I could probably get a third party unit or a cheaper one from the wreckers but there has to be a quicker/better/cheaper way. And there is. All I need to do is move a lever on the side of the motor. I reasoned that any form of actuator should do the trick then remember the solenoid actuators used to retro-fit central locking to older cars.
These actuators are cheap and readily available from Jaycar, a chain of electronics shops. After work I buy one and set too fitting it. After welding an extension to the existing cable bracket I screw the actuator to the extension, connect a spring to the lever and connect the actuator to the spring with some fencing wire (now I ask you, where would we be without fencing wire?). I jury-rig some wires and apply power, the actuator pulls, the spring stretches and the lever moves. It looks good. I start the motor and repeat the process, on applying power to the actuator the motor stops almost instantly. I repeat the procedure a few times then declare the new setup a goer. I insert a button in the dashboard hole where the cable knob was, tidy up the wiring and the job’s finished. Total expense, $15 for the actuator, a dollar or so for the spring, an inch and a half of fencing wire and about two hours of my time.
20 Feb 1999
It’s one thing to be intelligent, but you also need to be able to manipulate things to make use of that intelligence. Humans and some other animals have an opposing thumb which allows them to grasp an object. We were also blessed with reasonable quantities of smarts(?), and have reached the point where we are building all sorts of neat gadgets.
After buying a new hi-fi system it’s very convenient to have an opposing thumb that allows you to turn it on, and this is the main reason dolphins, despite being fairly intelligent, aren’t big in the hi-fi business.
Bu what’s this got to do with building a motor home? Well, while building a metal plate for the engine cover, I had to cut some odd shapes and this required holding the grinder in awkward positions. While reaching around the plate to do some of the grasping I referred to above I had a brief loss of attention, and ground the end of my bloody thumb off.
At first it didn’t hurt but shortly after it began to throb and within a day or so it was very tender and I couldn’t use the thumb at all. I finally realised the importance of an opposing thumb. Now if my anthropology teacher had just done me a favour and ground the end off my thumb all those years ago I would have had practical experience, and done much better in class.
While talking of digits, the fingernail I jammed a while ago finally died and fell off. I’m devastated, that finger nail played a key role in my daily nasal cleansing routine.
TIP OF THE WEEK. Don’t grind the end of your thumb off.
27 Feb 1999
I’ve been doing a lot of upholstery lately. It started as a somewhat hit and miss affair as I tried to wrap the material around corners etc, making cuts in what seemed to be the right place until it fitted. I decided there should be a formula for doing this and set out find it.
Well it didn’t take long and I’ve illustrated the technique for wrapping fabric around a rounded corner of a plywood panel.
Start by cutting the material much larger than the panel and gluing them together. When dry, trim the material down to about 30mm larger than the panel. Cut the corners, fold and glue all the straight sides. The results should now look something like the photo below.
Trim the side of the remaining tag to be roughly parallel then divide the tag into four equal sections (more or less according the the radius of the corner) by placing three marks as shown below. Remember to place the marks out from the panel to allow for the panel’s thickness.
Now cut three Vs into the marks.
Fold the resultant triangular pieces in and glue them.
There now wasn’t that simple?
6 Mar 1999
Tomorrow the truck’s on show at the Motorfest exhibition. The cab’s looking pretty much finished, so I thought I’d go for a run. I’ve been working real hard over the past couple of weeks, trying to finish the cab, and I’m due for a bit of fun.
I take the truck down to the lake, do a bit of bush bashing, have a swim and generally relax with my new toy. It’s great to be able to actually USE the thing for a change.
The truck obviously liked the outing as well and couldn’t resist a big smile
30 Mar 1999
I can’t believe it’s been so long since I did any work on the truck. I did want a week or two off, but it’s been about a month now. At this rate we won’t be leaving this year at all.
I decided to get my arse into gear, I’ve ordered a rubbish skip and cleaned up the last six month’s offcuts and general crap. I’ve also ordered the steel for the body.
2 Apr 1999
The steel arrived today. 1.5 tons worth, and they can only dump it outside the workshop. I have to get it inside somehow and they are all 8m lengths. Most of it is 75x75mm which, while heavy, I can drag inside. But there’s five 152x76x5mm lengths. I thought I’d be able to at least lift one end and drag them but not a chance. By cutting some pipe and using it as a roller, I managed to get one inside, but I was totally buggered and decided to leave the other four lengths outside for the time being.
The size of this stuff reminds me that I’m undertaking an engineering exercise much more serious than I’ve done in the past. I start to doubt my ability to pull this off, but then the old self confidence kicks in and I’m happy.
I think this illustrates one of the most important attributes required of anyone contemplating building a motor home. Of course you have to know how to weld, saw, drill and be proficient at a thousand other tradesman-type skills but most of all, YOU HAVE TO BE CONFIDENT. Once you let too much doubt enter your mind you’re done for.
12 Apr 1999
I’ve had to buy a chain block before I do myself a nasty trying to lift these beams. Anyway I’m about to weld the components into assemblies which will certainly be too heavy to lift.
Above we see the rear cross members sitting on the chassis and the main front cross member suspended above.
I couldn’t resist being a bit arty when I saw these colours, too many years as a photographer I guess.
The mounts I bought a few months ago turned out to be the wrong size. After a month or so of doing little or nothing on the truck I finally get my arse into gear and get keen to do something, and I’m delayed by this stuff-up.
There’s not much I can do without the mounts, but I can use the time to measure the chassis flex. I’ve been told it flexes a lot, I think I have allowed enough clearance in the design, but let’s find out.
14 Apr 1999
There’s a construction site at Queanbeyan I scoped out a while ago. It has several ditches and piles of dirt, just the thing to give the truck a bit of a work-out.
I started by backing the rear end up the side of a slope.
Then I placed steel rods across the chassis rails, one at the rear and the other just behind the cab. The yellow lines extrapolate these rods to give a clearer idea of the chassis flex. Measuring the angle I came up with 10 degrees. It actually looked much worse in reality. This info will be placed into my CAD package to check the design.
Then I ran one of the front wheels up on a ledge, this gave a similar reading. Note that, at the back, the far rail is higher than the near one and can easily be seen. They cross over somewhere near the centre where the near rail becomes higher and obscures the far one.
Remember that these chassis rails are massive and DOUBLE, each rail is actually two huge channels, one inside the other. Any body mounted directly to these would also flex resulting in broken cupboards, wall panels etc.
Next I wanted to get maximum articulation of the rear axles. This was easy, I just continued driving over the ledge at an angle until one wheel was up and the others were down.
At this point the front axle is on the bump-stops on the left side. The rear left wheel is just barely touching the ground. This info will be used to make sure I have enough clearance above the wheels.
Just fooling around.
Next I wanted to see how it went crossing a gully. There was a small gully on the site but it really wasn’t much of a challenge. Here we see the truck at the top looking like something from Jurassic Park.
I drove across the gully while a friend took some shots. It looked steep from the cab but as you can see is a bit of a non-event as far as testing approach and departure angles goes. Still, try even this simple trick in a normal motor home.
All in all I was very pleased with the way the truck handled. In six-wheel-drive-low-range it just walked up anything I could find.
24 Apr 1999
So what does all this mean. Below is a scale drawing showing a cross-section of the truck chassis, wheels, fuel tanks and lower part of the body. No obvious problems here, plenty of clearance between the components.
Now let’s apply the ten degrees rotation to the chassis and everything directly attached to it.
Oops, the fuel tanks hit the bottom of the body. The main cross-members are high enough, it’s just the extension of the body that’s a problem. This was intended to bring the body line a bit lower to hide the workings of the chassis etc. Obviously this won’t be possible.
I could move the tanks closer to the front where the body and chassis are tightly connected and there is less movement between them but the spare wheel already occupies that location on one side. I could hang the tanks from the body instead of the chassis but I’m trying to minimise the weight on the body.
The easiest option seems to be to raise the sides of the body in the area over the fuel tanks.
Here we see the original design with the body stepping up just before the wheels.
And here is the modified design with the body stepping before the fuel tanks.
Let’s back up a little now. As you can see in the first three drawings at the top of this page the body only appears to be mounted at one point, well it’s actually mounted at three points so let’s go over the idea behind his.
If you have two flat objects tigthly mounted together and you bend one of those objects what will happen to the other one? It will either bend as well or the mounting points will break. With a motor home body we have the same setup, both the body and the chassis are usually flat objects and they must be connected for obvious reasons. Unfortunately the chassis WILL flex. It’s the old “irresistible force and immovable object” scenario, the chassis is the irresistible force and we’d like the body to be the immovable object. Something has to give.
One option is to let the body flex as well and on many body types this is valid, trouble is with a motor home we have cupboards and doors and things that won’t take kindly to being twisted.
When I started designing this I got to thinking about my camera’s tripod. It struck me that, no matter what terrain it was placed on it was always steady. Think about it, a four legged stool is always rocking whereas a three legged stool will be firm no matter what the floor is like. This is because you can always draw a flat plane though any three points, but not any four points. As is happens, when I started talking to those in the know, I found that this is indeed the method used for off-road vehicles.
Let’s look at some drawings. In the first we see our two flat objects connected at four points. Let’s say the top object is our motor home body and the bottom one is the truck chassis.
So far so good. Now let’s apply some twisting to the chassis, as stated above two things can happen, the mounting points can break…
or the body can bend.
However if the body is only mounted and one point on one end, and that point can pivot, then the chassis can do what it likes without affecting the body.
Note that the chassis is connected, and considered stable, at the front, this is arbitrary on my part. One needs a reference point and the front is as good as the middle or the rear. This reference is where the body will be firmly mounted to the chassis. This brings me to another point.
As mentioned above, the difference in angle between the front and rear of the chassis was 10 degrees. I measured the front and rear because I decided to mount the body firmly at the front end with a pivot at the rear, therefore I had to allow for 10 degrees. It seems valid however to place the firm mounting in the centre with two pivots at each end. In this case you would have two lots of 5 degrees rather than one 10 degree angle to contend with.
So much for the theory but how does one actually implement this three point mounting?
19 May 1999
So how does one attach a body to this heaving platform we call a chassis. I guess there’s a thousand ways and I also guess I chose one of the more complex and expensive ones but here goes.
We’ve already determined that the body should be mounted at three points, but those points still have to flex a little, you can’t just weld the body onto the chassis. There’s also the question of vibration from the road, it would be nice to reduce this as well.
My first thought was air bags, why not mount the entire body on three air bags? Well the answer to this question is “cost and complexity”. I spent quite a lot of time designing an air bag system before I decided that it was getting too complicated. As the air bags have no lateral stability a lot of torsion bars and levellers are needed. It all got too much and probably beyond my engineering ability.
Next I started looking for rubber mounts. I found a few options and settled on some rubber “donuts” made in England (available from Shock & Vibration Technologies in NSW). These mounts are designed for off road equipment and large trucks. Sounds just right.
The mounts come as two rubber pieces that clamp either side of a steel donut, see below.
My version looks like the drawing below. We’ll cover the front body mounts first then look at the rear mounts in a later diary entry.
Note the extra snubbing washer, I decided that it would spread the load more evenly than if the rubber was in direct contact with the RHS beams. The above drawing is a side elevation and the large rectangles are 6×3″ RHS beams. The drawing below is a front elevation (appologies to those with small screens).
This rather large drawing shows the two mounting points of the front mount. These points are as close to the outer edge of the body as possible. Note that, at this end, the body is quite tightly bound to the chassis, it’s at the back that the flexing has to be allowed for.
The supplied steel donut is round and quite unsuitable for mounting directly to anything so it must be fixed into a more suitable plate. As this is 32mm thick I decided to get a local engineering firm to do this for me. This is the drawing I supplied.
The photo below shows the resultant plate bolted in place. Note that the donut has been welded into the large hole in the plate with the result being a large plate with a small(ish) hole.
I decided to bolt the plate rather than weld it so future removal of the body would be easier.
Here we see the support cross members placed in position on the chassis.
These in turn are welded to some fish plates which are bolted to the chassis rails as per one of the drawings above.
Here’s the finished product with support plates and rubber mounts inserted. The body will sit on top of the rubber mounts. Note that this photo was taken several days later, The mount did not just drop on, it took hours to make it fit.
20 May 1999
Quite a lot of the work on this project involves drilling fairly large holes in steel. Anyone who has tried this with a hand drill will, I’m sure, have found out what a pain it is. You have to apply a lot of pressure to the drill while keeping it square in both directions and hoping the drill doesn’t grab.
After a couple of holes you’re getting tired and then the drill grabs and half tears your arm off. This tires you even more but you persevere. Then the drill grabs again. And you’ve got another ten holes to drill.
There must be a better way. Well there is, it’s called a magnetic drill. These drills clamp magnetically to the job and allow you to slowly crank the drill into the steel until it’s through. They also cost about $2000.
I’d been thinking about this for a while and putting off some jobs because I couldn’t stand the thought of drilling holes in the chassis rails. Then I got to thinking that it’s easy to drill steel in a drill press. It’s pretty difficult to take the truck to the drill press but what about taking the drill press to the truck? Well my press is too large but the thought sent me down the following path.
I bought a $50 “convert your drill to a drill press” gadget, stuck my drill into it, G-clamped the whole contraption to the chassis and, voila, my patented “drill-o-matic” chassis drilling thingy.
In the following photo we see the drill in position and ready to drill.
While in this photo we see the drill swung out of the way to give access to the job.
The system works great. It’s a little bit of a handful when the G-clamp is loosened but easy enough with practice. It’s very easy to apply pressure to the drill and to swing the drill aside to change bits, for example after drilling a pilot hole and inserting the bit for the finished hole.
While on the subject of pilot holes etc, I found it very convenient to use two drills and swap the entire drill rather than just the bit. If you don’t have a second drill then maybe you should buy one because, almost certainly, your current drill is not really suitable for drilling largish holes in steel.
If I remember correctly the rule-of-thumb for drill speed is 9000 divided by the drill size, so for a 14mm hole you should use a speed of about 650rpm. Even two speed drills only go down to about 900rpm but, more importantly, they don’t have enough torque. And you can’t use the electronic speed control because this reduces the power considerably to the point where the drill will stall constantly.
The answer is available in the form of some new drills from Bosch and Metabo (probably others as well). These drills have what is called “triple reduction gearing”. This means that the drill speed is reduced further than with normal drills and that this reduction is achieved with an extra set of gears. This gives us the slower speeds required but equally important is the fact that the reduction is mechanical not electrical, this gives a massive increase in torque at the sharp end.
I bought the Metabo because it has a clutch and because I’ve used a Metabo drill for years and it’s been very reliable. Remember, when looking at these drills, not to be confused by the apparently low “power” in watts, it’s torque at the front end that matters, not how much power the motor consumes.
Mounting the fuel tanks Originally I planned to have someone else mount the fuel tanks because I was unsure of my ability to properly drill the chassis. However, with my new drill-o-matic I’m brimming with confidence. Justifiably as it turned out.
Seen below is a shot of me hard at work drilling one of the 16 holes required to hang the tanks. Note the strain involved in this back-braking job.
Fortunately four hangers came with the tanks, but I had no straps. I had four cut from 1mm steel at 50mm wide so all that was left to do was attach a method of mounting to the hangers. What is needed is a bolt that passes through existing holes allowing a nut to be tightened and pull the strap down tightly on the tank. This is pretty simple but remember not to weld the bolt directly to the strap, it’s too thin and I think would shear in time because the strain would be placed on too small an area.
To spread this strain around I welded a small piece of 3mm steel to the strap and then welded the bolt (minus head) to this thicker plate, as shown below.
A diagram of the tank mounting appears below. The red arrow indicates a brace that I have not added yet but will have to. At roughly 400kgs for each full tank I think there will be too much stress placed on the hangers, especially when off-road. Also it seems that this is a good place to put the black and grey water tanks and this brace could perform the second function of supporting them.
Here we see one of the mounted tanks complete with new straps. Note the use of padding between the tank and the strap.
All up this job took most of the day but that included buying a new drill. The tanks aren’t connected yet, that’s a job for another day, but I needed them in place because I’m about to start on the body and I wanted to know the exact location of the tanks.
22 May 1999
During the course of this project I’ve bought hundreds of bolts and will probably buy hundreds more. A typical example of these bolts is the one shown in the following photo. It’s a half-inch high-tensile bolt.
And very nice too, but to paraphrase Crocodile Dundee, “That’s not a bolt…”
“…this is a bolt”
What a beauty, 13 inches of high tensile steel just ready to bolt something. So how much does one of these suckers cost I hear you ask. The recommended retail is over $80 each but I got the “whole box” price because I bought four of them (there’s only five in a box) of about $25 each.
Still expensive but hey, $25 is just money, a big bolt is a thing of beauty and joy forever.
23 May 1999
What a frustrating day. I could launch right into the story but before I do let’s go back a few days.
A week or so ago I made up the mounts that connect the body to the chassis. At first I was going to get someone with a larger welder to weld the plates because they are 12mm thick and, I felt, too heavy for my small machine. However it was Saturday and I was keen to get something happening so I welded the mounts myself. The photo below shows the completed rear mount.
I was pretty happy with the welds for a while but when I had a good look I realised that there was not enough penetration into the parent metal. They may have been OK but the whole weight of the body sits on these mounts and they had to strong. It was a bummer, but better to do it right than fast.
On Monday I organised for a local welding firm (Can-Weld) to go over the welds with a machine capable of putting some real heat into the metal. This meant I had to grind out the existing welds as much as possible, bang goes a whole day.
A few days later the Can-Weld truck arrives, the driver eyes off the front of the truck then enters the workshop
“You a boiler maker are you mate?” he asks.
“Bloody good job on that bull bar”.
Well that made me feel better. Anyway he decided that it would be easier to do the welding back at their workshop so we load the mounts into his truck and he leaves.
A few hours later the truck reappears, this time with the boss driving.
“I just had to see this for myself” he said, “Bill told me about the truck and the boys were impressed with the engineering on these, not bad for a back-yarder”. I was feeling better all the time. We unloaded the mounts and chatted about the project. He wished he could do something similar, but with two young kids and a new business…
He left promising to bring his wife back in six months, maybe she would get interested if she saw a finished motor home.
Anyway I’m getting to why I’ve had such a shitty day. While sitting with a coffee admiring the great welds I noticed the side plates looked bent. “Nah, they couldn’t be” I thought. Further investigation revealed that they were indeed bent and that the reason was the new welds.
The welds had applied so much heat to the metal that it had bent.
The bottom of the side plates was nearly 10mm narrower than it was before, and it was already a tight fit. This is a common problem with welding and it’s usual to apply some temporary stays to hold the pieces in place until they cool. I guess I just didn’t think it would be so severe. It was time to go home so I left the problem for another day.
Well that other day was today. I started by deciding I could coerce the thing to fit. The rear mount uses four bolts that also hold a chassis cross member which in turn holds two torsion rods that connect to the axles. I removed the four bolts and made a mental note that, under no circumstances, should I drive the truck with the bolts removed.
I winched the mount onto the chassis and spent the next hour or so trying to make it fit. Have you ever tried to fit ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag? It doesn’t work and neither did my attempts. A stood a while considering my options. I could probably get another weld run along the other side, this should pull the plate back, but it’s Sunday and I want to get this thing finished. I finally decided to grind the inside of the plates until they fit over the chassis.
It will be easier to grind if I tilt the mount up but as I try to do so it overbalances and falls on my wrist. That hurts.
I attached the winch and lifted the mount to a vertical position then realise that this could be a long job that will be more easily performed at floor level. I lift the mount clear of the chassis, hop into the cab, start the engine and move the truck out of the shed. As I apply the brakes I hear a “clunk”.
Didn’t I say I shouldn’t drive without those bolts. The action of braking had applied quite a lot of torque to the axles, this had transferred to the cross member via the torsion bars and, because nothing was connected, everything moved. The bolt holes no longer lined up. It took an hour or so to winch, lever, bash the cross member back into position. This time I insert a couple of bolts to hold things until the mount is in place.
Finally I’ve got the mounts on the floor and am ready to fix them. Here we se the two mount assemblies being worked on to make them fit over the chassis.
I decided to grind the rear mount’s fish plates as they are fairly short and would be difficult to bend. The plates on the front mount however are quite long so I spread them with a jack and apply some heat with the red spanner (oxy).
I winch the rear mount back above the chassis, line it up and lower it. It’s a tight fit but looks like it will work. It took a long time but I eventually got it in place, thanks to my latest tool acquisition, a “percussion applicator” (see photo below).
The front mount follows, it’s a real tight fit but eventually it’s on. I hope they never have to be removed. Below we see the completed rear mount all nicely “cold gal’d” and ready for the body.
I started work at 10am this morning and, effectively, all I’ve done is place the mounts onto the chassis, inserted sixteen bolts and tightened them. It should have taken about half an hour but but I’ve been working all day. I’m pretty pissed off but at least the project is further ahead than it was this morning.
For a novice truck body builder these setbacks are just the nature of the beast, you just have to minimise them and not get upset.
24 may 1999
A few tips I’ve picked up lately.
Chain slings Eventually you will have to get a chain block because the various items that need to be lifted just get too heavy. So there you are with your nice new chain block but it only has a single hook, not very usefull for lifting real-world objects.
What you need is a set of chain slings, but if you go to have them made up expect a bill for more than $300. As usual, and being the tight arse that I am, I went looking for another way and came up with drag chains as used by four wheel drivers. These are usually rated at ten tonnes and have a clevis hook at each end. At about $70 each (you need two) it’s not an enormous saving but they are very usefull for other things as well.
I rigged them up as per the following diagram.
Here we have a very versatile slinging arrangment. You usually use the longer lengths to either hook directly to an item or loop the chain through it and hook it back to itself with the clevis hooks (clevis hooks are designed to hook over a link of the chain and provide a secure connection).
If the chain is too long for a given size of load it can be easily shortened by hooking the shorter end to an appropriate point on the longer end. As shown below.
Temporary slinging points Because of their shapes many objects don’t lend themselves to being lifted by a crane. After stuggling with the rear body support assembly I decided there must be a better way. You see it’s very inconvenient, and sometimes dangerous, to have one or two hundred kilos of steel suddenly slip sideways because the chains being used to lift it slid from their designated position.
The answer is to weld some temporary slinging points to appropriate places on the item to be lifted. It takes a few minutes but will make your life much easier and safer.
By slinging points I mean some loops made from pieces of scrap round bar. Cut two lengths about 150mm long and bend them in half at a rightangle.
Remember that the resultant “eye” (right arrow) must be large enough to pass a clevis hook (left arrow). The next photo shows a sling point on a long beam and a typical method of slinging where the clevis hook is passed through the sling point and hooked back to the chain.
And here we see the beam being lifted. Try that without some firm slinging points
These temporary slinging points can be quickly welded to an item then cut off when the job is done. Of course they can be used many times.
26 May 1999
The mounts are finally on so now it’s time for the fun stuff, building the body. I already have the main cross members made so they just need to be dropped on. That’s pretty much how it went down. They are too heavy to lift so few drive foward, winch up, drive backward, winch down cycles are required.
The next thing to do is weld the first uprights onto the rear cross member. Note the use of a large jigging square (top arrow) and a magnetic protractor (lower arrow).
The jigging square can be knocked up from some scrap angle and is invaluable as a clamping aid. If you make one don’t complete the square right into the corner, this allows you to place a small tack weld or use it on an existing structure that already has a fillet weld.
The first two uprights are in place. Now we are actually starting to build a motor home body
Next I place the two main body rails in position
From here on things went so fast I forgot to take any photos.
27 May 1999
It’s quite amazing, months go by with little obvious change in the truck, then within two days I have half a body in place. This is very gratifying work. It’s hard going because the items I’m working with are very heavy, however you really get a feeling that things are moving along.
Some tools of the trade.
That will have to do as we’re heading off to Queensland tomorrow for the Townsville rally.
20 jul 1999
After the Townsville rally I got really stuck into the construction of the framework. Within a couple of weeks I had the majority of the main structural part in place so I wheeled it out into the sunshine to get a good look.
With the rig outside I could stand back (across the road) and finally get a view of it without any distorted perspective caused by being too close. This shot, taken with a telephoto lens, shows the truck and body in proportion and should give you a good idea of the finished shape and size.
The next day Adrian and Carrol dropped in on their way to a rally at Belangalo State Forest. Their vehicle is a 6×6 Thornecroft which they have just taken to Fraser Island. Adrian is contemplating replacing the cladding on the van with aluminium checker plate as the normal caravan-style siding is too easily damaged in the areas that vehicles like this tend to go. He’s waiting to see what mine looks like before he takes the plunge.
One of the hazards of using power tools. This blade shattered as I was cutting some RHS and threw me to the floor. Fortunately the floor wasn’t far away as I was kneeling on the ground at the time, but what if I’d been on top of a ladder?
While we’re looking at grinders I have to say that this is absolutely the most useful tool you could own. When it comes to working with steel, if you can only afford a single tool make sure it’s a large grinder. If you can afford two tools then the second one should be a small grinder.
I do just about all cutting of steel, no matter what size, with my 9″ grinder and a cut-off wheel; while most grinding is performed with the 4″ grinder. Occasionally, say when a spot is difficult to get into or I have a lot of grinding to do, I will swap over and grind with the 9″ or cut with the 4″.
I also own a 14″ drop saw and seldom use it.
Once I had the basic frame up I realised that I had a hell of a lot of welding yet to do. Until this point I had been lugging the welder to and fro but this is hard work and I felt it was only a matter of time before I lost my balance with 30kg of welder under my arm.
I’ve seen workshops with extendable booms that hold the welder and allow it to be easily swung into position near the job. I reasoned that something similar would save me a lot of grief. Realising that most welds were within a 1.5m radius from the centre of the frame I knocked myself up a small beam trolley from some scraps and four bearings.
This trolley was designed to straddle a 50×50 RHS beam with I hung from the roof of the frame as shown below.
Here is a detail shot of the setup.
Note that the work lead is clamped to the beam; this gives you a wide range of movement before you have to re-attach it. But why not just clamp it to the beam trolley and let the current return through the trolley?, then you would never have to re-attach the clamp, it would just follow the welder.
The reason can be seen on the face of the beam in between the ends of the clamp. See that small black spot? That’s where the current has arced while I was performing a weld. If the clamp had been connected to the trolley that arc may well have occurred at the contact point of one of the steel balls in the bearings I’m using for wheels. If this happened often enough the bearing could become rough or even seize.
Here we see a main join and one of the gussets I weld into all major stress points to spread the load (right arrow) and a grinding marks where a temporary stay has been removed. You’ll get used to welding all sorts of temporary bits in place to hold things square or level or whatever while you weld them.
22 jul 1999
In small ways our new lifestyle is already beginning. The other day I was browsing the 4×4 magazines in a newsagent. There was a couple of articles that seemed interesting, one in particular caught my eye, it was about off-road driver training for trucks (actually for people who drive trucks). Not long ago I would simply have forked out the $7 or so without a thought just for that one story and the phone number included. This time however I decided to memorise the number and save myself $7.
On the home front there have been some small changes as well. I’m a pretty big milk drinker and can be very particular about the taste. However we will not be able to store milk for the weeks we plan to be out of touch with civilisation, so what to do?
Ultra High Temperature (UHT) milk has been around for years. It’s processed in such a way that it can be stored for months, unrefrigerated, as long as you don’t open the container. It sounds like a good idea but you know what many of these things taste like.
Anyway I saw no viable alternative so we bought a litre of the stuff. I tried some in coffee, not bad but most things are when disguised in a cuppa. Then I tried it on cereal, pretty good, a little different but still good.
We had been running real milk and UHT in parallel just in case the UHT didn’t work out and I when I wanted a plain glass of milk I’d use the real stuff. Then came the acid test, we ran out of real milk. Could I drink a straight glass of UHT? I am happy to say that the answer is yes, in fact it’s bloody nice.
These are just two of the thousands of things that we will have to change in the way we live as we pass from being DINKs with plenty of money and no time, to semi-self-funded retirees living in a motor home on a limited budget.
23 jul 1999
We’ve been scouring the kitchen magazines (and buying them I’m sorry to say, not quite weaned off magazines yet) looking for ideas for the interior of our creation. We plan to do things a bit off-the-wall and haven’t really found anything stranger that what we already have in mind. Nevertheless part of the process included doing the display home thing. A few years ago I was right into real estate and loved spending time in these immaculate show homes. But times change.
The main show home setup in Canberra at present is called “Dream Street” and it’s just chock-a-block with beautiful houses. We spent a couple of hours inspecting them looking for inspiration, without luck. Where once I would have admired the spacious family room, I now saw only two hours cleaning every week. The massive back yard simply looked like an afternoon’s torture behind a lawn mower; and in the impressive brick facade I could see nothing but an even larger mortgage and years of toil in a crappy job just so another bank can declare a 3 billion dollar nett profit.
Dream Street eh? Well I guess we all go through phases in our lives and in each of those phases the dreams change. This was no dream street for me, more like Nightmare Alley.
I returned to the workshop and attacked the welding of the motor home’s frame with renewed vigour.
When I got home there was a message from Steve, he’s just been across to West Aussie via the Anne Beadel Highway.
24 jul 1999
I rang Steve, it seems he had an interesting trip. The “Highway” is really about 1400k of bush track of which about 1000k is very overgrown to the point where he was forcing his truck through the foliage for most of the time. The poor old Bedford 4×4 suffered many injuries including,
all clearance light torn off,
roof vent torn off,
house access door buckled,
most windows broken,
cladding severely scored,
front left spring broken,
solar panel removed before the trees did it.
And that’s just what I can remember him telling me about. Steve said he had heard that I intend to clad the truck entirely in aluminium checker plate, “Bloody good idea” he said.
Right from day one I designed the truck to have NOTHING protruding from the body and to protect everything that was breakable. This has made the design far more difficult. All windows had to be shuttered and we must be able to cover the solar panels when required. The aerials must fold down and, as far as possible, all crannies and gaps between body parts have to be filled somehow, because, sure as eggs, a tree branch will get jammed in there and cause a problem (Adrian and Carrol’s vehicle has a gap between the solar panels and the roof, guess what caused them to get hung up with a tree on Fraser Island).
I now feel justified in deciding to got this way from the start.
31 jul 1999
Just steady work adding bracing to the frame. It’s quite amazing how much steel bends as a single beam and how stiffer it gets when braced. This is very tedious work, whereas erecting the main parts of the frame is satisfying because you see a lot happening, this bracing is time consuming and you don’t see any great advances.
Here we see the bracing for the cab-over bedroom…
and the lounge room.
The lounge room bracing is VERY strong, maybe a bit over the top but this section of the body cantilevers for more than three metres so it’s under a lot of stress. In the next photo we see part of the storage area under the lounge room floor.
I know it’s expensive renting a workshop but I wouldn’t build a project like this any other way. Firstly, when I get tired I simply turn off the lights and go home. Secondly, on rainy days like the one shown below, I can just keep working regardless.
It’s not always raining though so sometimes I work on the truck outside on the drive. In this shot I have placed some ply to simulate the walls, just to see if the drawings match reality and make sure the finished space won’t be too claustrophobic.
Now that I have a floor (albeit temporary) in the lounge room I decided to sit for a while and pretend I’m up north somewhere warm.
Stay tuned for Part-2 (Coming soon)
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