The building story of Wothahellizat 2:
This is a brief description of the design criteria we have for our motorhome. There were three basic requirements, these being,
1. To be comfortable to live in for long periods of time (years).
2. Be able to boldly go where few motorhomes have gone before. Which is to say that it must be capable of getting off-road.
3. To be self sufficient and able to stay in wilderness areas for extended periods, days, weeks or even months.
Let’s expand on these a little.
If you’re going to permanently live in and run a business from a vehicle, then it has to be fairly large to be comfortable. Wothahellizat Mk1 was 34′ (10.5M) in length, this was extremely comfortable to live in but limiting when we got into the bush.
Therefore Wothahellizat 2 is smaller, approx 8.1 metres (26′) in length.
Many of Australia’s best landscapes are in areas that are hard to get to. There are two issues here,
• The roads are often extremely rough with washouts, creeks, boulders etc.
• Even if not that rough they are unsealed and usually badly corrugated.
Any motorhome that is to survive these roads for long must be very tough. The normal off-the-shelf motorhome is built more along the lines of a caravan and designed for use on bitumen. Their frames are often made of timber and the cabinet work is usually just stapled together. A vehicle made with these construction techniques will self destruct under prolonged outback travel.
When it comes to getting off road the normal motorhome doesn’t cut it either. With long overhangs, high gearing and low clearance they will bottom out on the simplest of obstacles. There are three things that give a vehicle off-road capability,
• clearance – the higher the better.
• traction – all wheels must be driven to spread the engine’s torque and reduce the possibility of wheel spin.
• gearing – when the going gets tough you must be able to reduce the vehicle’s speed to a crawl but also maintain engine revs. This requires extremely high gearing.
You only get these features in a vehicle designed for off-road use. Combine this with the stronger construction of an off-road vehicle and I believe they are the best choice for the job.
If you are going to spend time and effort getting to a remote spot it doesn’t make sense to stay for only a day or two. If it’s a nice place then you want to spend some time there, a few days or even a couple of weeks.
Do this in several places in a row and before you know it you’ve been a month or two in the bush with no supplies of electricity, food, water etc. Therefore the vehicle must be fully self sufficient for periods of at least a month. This means carrying enough supplies of all kinds. Let’s do a few sums.
Beer – I like a long neck (750ml bottle) of home brew each evening. As I make 30 bottles per batch I need provision for at least two batches, one fermenting and one for drinking.
Water – For outback travel you should allow 5 litres per day per person (we’ll forget about the beer for the moment). Add 5 litres for washing etc and we have 10 litres per day, x 30 gives us 300 litres for a month. We’ve managed to fit nearly 600 litres in seven tanks. What about showers? When the water is scarce we make do with a bird bath.
Power – Some people can live with a just light bulb. However I run a photographic business, this means regular use of phones, computers, printers etc. Gas fridges are not known for their reliability and have to be kept fairly level so we have a compressor style fridge. In fact we have three fridges although not all are in use all of the time.
Also, as mentioned several times, I want to be comfortable so I want to run electric fans (in the tropics we sometimes need fans for most of the day and into the night) and not be miserly with the lighting.
Fortunately much of Australia is blessed with sunshine, and plenty of it. Solar is a viable option for lower usage rates but cannot handle high usage. A generator is noisy and requires quite a lot of fuel. Batteries last a lot longer if they are kept “topped up” at near full charge, a generator is very efficient at dumping current into near empty batteries but not so good at applying small top up charges. Solar is exactly the reverse.
What’s the answer? In general we are totally self-sefficient with our solar panels and have been living off them since 2001, however we also have a 2kva generator for those times when the sun isn’t shining. For example we once spent a month under cover working on the truck, during this time we ran the generator constantly.
Tools – If you break down in the outback you don’t just call the AA, you fix it yourself. This means a comprehensive set of tools including welding equipment.
This all adds up to a lot of space/weight. Most motorhomes I’ve seen don’t even have enough storage for the 65 bottles of beer, let alone the food, water and myriad of things I haven’t mentioned. You need a large truck to be able to carry this amount of supplies.
Our ACCO has a GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) of just over 14 tonnes which is more than enough to carry all the above.
Some preliminary drawings of Wothahellizat 2. I’m sure things will change as the project proceeds.
On the left we have the kitchen bench with a sink at the bottom and three-burner cook top at the top. The mangle stores in the utilities area and swings out over the sink.
On the right are various storage compartments, pantry, fridges, beer etc. There is also a nook with a small shutter, this gives a little more bench space and will be used for coffee making. The shutter will provide some airflow to what is otherwise a fairly dead air area.
All “windows” are really openings with shutters and no glass. As with Wothahellizat 1 we are going for maximum ventilation and this version will have even more.
Bathroom & entrance
The 800-odd millimetre square area that on most motorhomes is just an entrance has several uses. Depending on what is slid out or opened up it is a shower, toilet, vanity, or kitchen bench, and of course an entrance.
All the gas and water systems are contained in this area, there is no piping of any kind leading off into walls to get to other parts of the truck. This makes things cheaper and simpler to build and a lot easier to maintain. There will be a large shutter on the outside that, when open, will allow easy access to everything.
Originally I wanted the electronics to be here as well but that didn’t work out so the batteries, inverter, gauges etc will now be in a compartment behind the left side of the lounge room.
Deck & motorbike
When driving the motorbike stores in an area that is either the front of the lounge room or the rear of the deck according to what’s open. The bike is in a compartment that lowers to the ground with the roof of the compartment becoming the floor of the rear half of the deck.
The rear wall of the body opens both up and down to become the second halves of both the deck roof and floor. If the rear wall is not opened then we have a larger lounge room.
When the panels are open the rear half of the deck is protected from the elements because it is actually inside the body, although it to has shutters that can be opened if more ventilation is required.
The lounge room has a full height passage down the centre but the chairs sit on plinths about 300mm (1 foot) high. Inside these plinths are six 84ltr (19gal) water tanks giving a total 504 litres (112gals) stored internally with another 84 litres in an outside tank.
The rear wall of the room are glass bi fold doors, when open these provide 100% opening to the deck area, or if the deck is closed, opening these doors creates a larger room.
The bedroom sits over the cab and encroaches slightly into the kitchen area. It to has shutters all around for ventilation. There is only about 650mm (25″) of headroom but there is a huge hatch that opens the roof to the sky.
Sun 1 Apr 2007
After cleaning the rest of the workshop I move Wothahellizat under cover and we get to work. The first thing to do is set some home comforts up under the tarp so I bodge up a bench for our gas cooker. However the under-tarp area doesn’t have to be habitable for a few days yet as we can still live in the truck, so I lose interest in that job and start unloading stuff from the storage bins.
At around 2PM I get out the tools and remove the motorbike crane, generator cabinet and the gas bottles. That’s it, I have officially started dismantling Wothahellizat.
Mon 2 Apr
Solar panels and petrol tank removed. Peter walks his excavator to the top of the block to fell a couple of trees over a track that the trail bike riders use. It’s not even a track, just where a pipe was laid, but it looks like a very steep track and they can’t resist testing their mettle.
However they just cause a nuisance, ignore any signs Peter erects, and wind up down here in the yard. So he has decided to drop a huge tree across the track to dissuade them.
Tue 3 Apr
Peter has had Slineaway in Brisbane for the day and on his return I notice a tiny drop of oil on the ground. I point it out.
“Yeah, bloody front engine seal” is his response.
He is not impressed, this motor has just been rebuilt and shoehorned into the truck at great expense.
There’s nothing for it but to replace the seal, and this is a fairly sizable job.
Several hours later we have removed the bull bar, bonnet and radiator but the harmonic balance will not budge. No real surprise there I suppose as you normally require a special puller to get them off and we don’t have one.
It can wait until tomorrow.
Wed 4 Apr
Peter goes searching through the boxes of stuff and finds a puller. It’s not quite right but we can modify it.
After some mucking around we apply the puller, but the harmonic balance refuses to budge. Eventually we strip the thread in the puller.
We remove the puller to think about our options.
While looking at the job we realise that rather than trying to remove the balance we have in fact been trying bend it in two. You see when removing a harmonic balance the threaded part of the puller is supposed to push on the end of the crank shaft, however for reasons way too complicated to go into here, we had the threaded part pushing on the balance itself and the plate pulling on it.
Therefore we could a) bend a piece of steel 5 inches thick or b) strip the bolt in the puller.
We chose option b.
So now we have a busted puller and still can’t get to the seal. We rebuild the puller by cutting off the stripped thread, welding on a nut and adding an extra piece to make it match the end of the crank shaft.
Ten minutes later we have the balance off and the seal out.
It’s buggered alright. Peter orders a new one then goes into town. Meanwhile I return to my project and start cutting off the bin doors.
Fri 6 Apr
Usually when I do a fabrication job I have tools all over the place and spend at least half my time looking for things. So, in an attempt to be better organised, I am building a wheel-around toolbox and work bench. If I had to do it from scratch I wouldn’t have bothered, but I’ve managed to make it from bits I salvaged from the truck.
Only time will tell if it makes me a more tidy worker.
Sat 7 Apr
For days now we’ve been pulling things out of the truck but have not tackled anything that can’t be easily reversed. Today however, after tinkering with the removal of some wires, I decide to have a go at something a little more serious. So I get on the pop top roof and start removing the sheeting.
It turns out to be a larger job than I figured. After a couple of hours I have only removed two of the four tread plate sheets.
This is going to take a while.
The roof is actually two roofs. The inner layer is water proof (mostly and the outer layer is what’s known as a “tropical roof”. It is designed to cop the bulk of the sun’s heat and create an air gap between this heat and the inside of the house.
The battens you see in the above photos provide this separation, and to make sure there was no thermal path for the heat I made them of wood. This worked well, but some of the wood has rotted so I think I’ll be using aluminium next time. I just have to figure out how to thermally isolate the two roofs, because aluminium conducts heat like there’s no tomorrow.
Sun 8 Apr
We’re still living in the truck but we’ve really done about as much as we can do while with all our stuff in the way. It’s time to move under the tarp. I’ve set up four of our eight 6v batteries so we can run the 24v fridge and we made a bench for the cooker the other day, so all we need is the fridge, our recliners, and a TV.
The fridge is first and it takes us a couple of hours to extract, move, install, and defrost it.
Another couple of hours takes care of the recliners and the TV, most of this time is used trying to get a decent signal on the tele. As both the TV and the aerial booster are 12v I’ve rigged up one of the small 12v batteries from the truck. Trouble is it appears to be dead flat, showing only about 5v. This battery was used to raise the deck and last time I did that it wasn’t up to the job, so maybe it hasn’t been charging properly.
I’ve got a small cheapy charger so I decide to connect that to the battery while working on the TV. We just cannot get a good picture and later we find that there is a 50-cycle hum in the sound. I disconnect the charger and everything improves for a second until the battery dies.
Looks like we’ll have to get 12v from another source.
Despite all the mucking around we have now officially moved out of the truck.
Mon 9 Apr
Today we tackle the deck, it has two main components, the roof and the floor. They are each pretty heavy and will need some form of crane to lower them.
We are parked under the workshop crane, but not directly under it so I would have to move the truck to use that. So I decide to use my block and tackle to lower the roof onto the floor, then take over with the fork lift and jib.
The deck roof has been removed, now it’s the floor’s turn. As I’ll be cutting the floor off while standing on it I suppose I should take some precautions, so I’ve put the jib in place to sling the floor before I cut the hinges.
There goes the deck floor.
The deck has all gone, Wothahellizat looks a little strange.
At 1:58 I shut down the inverter, it’s been running almost constantly since the 16th of December 1999 and I remember on that day feeling elated as I breathed life into Wothahellizat. Today, as I do the reverse, I feel a little sad. Still, it will be back, maybe the new version should be called “Pheonix”.
The rest of the day is taken up removing the inverter and power points, of which there are 21. That’s a lot of power points.
Tue 10 Apr
I found another three power points, that makes 24, I wonder if there’s any more.
Today my main goal is to prepare the lounge room for amputation. We originally intended to start the demolition at the front of the truck but, like a hyena eating a wildebeest, I’ve decided to start at the back end.
The windows and door are first, then I tackle the shutters.
The lounge room shutters are next.
And finally I remove most of the trim and wiring from the lounge room and cut off the stairs.
Wed 11 Apr
I plan to use the gas axe (oxy acetylene) to do most of the cutting but there’s a lot of timber surrounding the steel, this has to be removed first.
After quite some time completing the preparation of the lounge room I am ready to start cutting stuff.
The front is not as easy to cut as the rear because there is a lot of lining, cupboards etc.
While removing some sheeting from the roof I find Graham, our resident gecko. I’m really glad I found him as I’d been worried about the little fellow and missed him sitting on the wall next to me at night. I catch him and release him in the shed, hopefully he’ll have a nice life.
I drill a hole and sling the roof with a chain and a handy 3/4-inch ratchet.
Here we see the roof lifted almost clear of the truck. All that remains to do is drive away and lower it.
By the time the roof is off it’s getting dark and anyway it’s beer o’clock, so I’ll take a photo of the new open-air lounge room tomorrow.
Thu 12 Apr
As promised, here’s a shot of Wothahellizat sans lounge room roof. It’s starting to look a little sad.
In the morning we go into town, primarily to get an account with BOC (one of the people who supply gas for oxys etc). The rest of the day is spent removing some of the plumbing, the kitchen bench, drawer runners, and some more electrical wiring.
One thing we have noticed is that the truck is now listing heavily to the left. Presumably this is because much weight has been removed, but why has it not risen evenly? I measure all the springs and find that they have all risen a little but the right-hand rear has risen by over three inches, I think it’s because about a year ago we had the right-hand rear springs reset at the old weight and they are now rising more than the old springs on the left side.
It looks like we will have to reset some of the springs yet again when the new body is in place and everything is at its final weight.
Fri 13 Apr
I found another power point, but today is mostly about wires, seemingly hundreds of kilometres of wire embedded in Wothahallizat. I spend most of the day removing wire, but I don’t just rip it out, I’m trying to save as much as possible so I have to extract each length in its entirety if possible. I’m also labeling various looms so I won’t have to think too hard when it comes time put it all back together.
Here’s some more, and there’s plenty more where this came from.
Later in the afternoon we drive into town to get our TV from the repairers and to pick up some oxy and acetylene gas bottles.
When returning to the car I notice that we have a flat tyre, and there’s not a single tool in the vehicle as I’ve got them all in the workshop. We do have a jack and an electric rattle gun however and that’s all we need, but in future I must ensure that we have an emergency tool kit at least.
I climb to the roof, unbolt one of the spares, and roll it off. The bloody thing bounces half way across the nearby vacant lot, which must have distracted me because I lost my footing on the car’s bonnet and fell to the pavement.
I scrape much bark from my arm and leg and am lucky not to break anything.
Sat 14 Apr
Not much happening today, just slogging away at removing stuff from the interior.
Mon 16 Apr
Still gutting the interior. Meanwhile Peter is adding leveling valves to Slineaway’s airbag system so the truck sits more evenly. To do this he has moved into our part of the workshop and we have parked Wothahellizat outside, well mostly outside. Because the roof is no longer water proof I’ve poked the nose under cover so the bedroom doesn’t get wet if it rains.
A little bit of truck shuffling is required as we arrange who works in what part of the shed.
One reason we are doing this work to the truck is to cut down on both the number and size of our possessions because the more things you have the more things break down and the more agro you have in your life.
As if to reinforce this point of view Peter’s tractor broke down today. He only just bought it yesterday (secondhand) and did about two hours slashing when the hydraulics failed.
Now he has to either fix it, return it, negotiate a lower price, or whatever. All in all it’s agro that he doesn’t need right now.
Of course if you have no posessions you can’t really do much. I guess the solution is to find a happy medium.
Tue 17 Apr
Still slogging away at removing stuff from the interior. The truck is now a totally empty shell.
And this is where it wound up.
We planned to lift the body from the chassis today but Peter ran out of time and couldn’t drive the big fork lift up to the block. Hopefully we can do it tomorrow.
Thu 19 Apr
Off she comes. After trying to figure out how to lift the entire body using some combination of jacks and stands and blocks we decided it was all too hard, and that we would just cut off smallish pieces as we did the other day.
But then Peter said he could bring his big forklift up to the workshop, and the rest is history.
Wothahellizat’s body on the ground.
It’s good to get the body off, firstly it will allow us to get the chassis in for shortening earlier, secondly it will be a lot easier to dismantle at ground level, and thirdly, without the truck underneath I don’t have to worry about sparks or molten metal damaging something important.
For the rest of the day I busy myself removing the old body mounts, battery cradles, winch cable etc.
The overhead crane makes this job a lot easier, but the item to be lifted has to be directly under it or I can dislodge the wires from the drum. I do the front body mount then it’s time for the rear. Unfortunately the truck is not parked square to the shed, so while the front mount was under the crane the rear one isn’t.
As I’ve already unbolted the rear mount, and the same bolts hold a cross member that the axle is connected to, I can’t really drive the truck to realign it.
I remember being in much the same predicament when I put the mounts on. I also remember telling myself that under no circumstances should I move the truck until at least a couple of the bolts had been inserted, and then promptly starting it up and driving it from the workshop.
The resultant torque, when applied to the half-connected axle, moved the cross member and it took me hours to realign the bolt holes.
This time however I have access to a fork lift. Despite being rated at only 1-tonne it lifts the rear of the truck with ease and I relocate it a foot or so to the left, right under the crane.
It’s amazing what you can do with the right tools.
Sun 22 Apr
For a couple of days I’ve been cleaning up the chassis, ready to have it shortened by Dave. As the fuel tanks are located where the cut will be they have to go, but how will I drive it down to Dave’s workshop?
I suppose I could just rig up a jerry can or something but I’ve decided to temporarily mount one of the tanks behind the cab. It will be out of the way there.
Obviously the design is still evolving, and today we decided to ditch the slide out idea. Let me explain. There are three issues we wanted to address with the new design, weight, size, and complexity.
Weight – At 14-odd tonnes Wothahellizat1 was no lightweight. We want to reduce that considerably.
Size – At nearly 11 metres (approx 36 feet) Wothahellizat 1 was a big boy. This was great as far as living was concerned, but a real limitation in many situations.
Complexity – With many opening and closing “things” all powered by winches, hydraulics, and motors of one kind or another there was the potential for many breakdowns.
In an effort to tackle the size issue we added a slide out rear section. This reduced our length to 7.5 metres (24 feet) which was great, but it was at the expense of complexity and weight. A slide out requires a fair amount of engineering, can be difficult to dust and water proof, and adds a lot of kilos in extra steel.
In reducing one problem we added markedly to two others. So the slide out has gone.
The trouble is that’s where I planned to put the motorbike, and if we add the 800mm to the body (the required amount to house the bike) we will be over the 60% overhang allowance.
Solution, chop off some of the chassis tail.
I plan to have the motorbike lower from the rear of the truck which of course means that there can be no chassis in the way. With the chassis at its current length the body would have to be correspondingly longer which would a) make the truck longer than we want, and b) breach the 60% overhang rule.
With this done we should be able to keep the length to 8.1 metres (26 feet) with no complicated slide out.
Mon 23 Apr
I took the truck for a short test drive today. It goes like stink with no weight and the steering is really light. So you would think being really light is a good thing eh?
Well yes and no.
The track into the workshop is quite steep and it’s a gravel road. With no weight on the rear axles I find it very difficult to get traction and in fact have to reverse down one of the hills and shift into 6×6 drive to spread the torque over more wheels.
Even then I have to almost idle up the hills as any application of power causes the rear to start pig rooting (axle hopping).
Thu 26 Apr
I finally ordered my steel today, $2000 and about 400kgs worth. I’ll need more I suppose but had to order something so I can make a start.
Actually I’ve stuffed up a tad because I should have had the steel ready to go when the truck went for shortening on Tuesday. If it arrives tomorrow there’s no harm done because I’ve spent my time servicing tools, building a welding trolley etc, but if I don’t get it until next week I will have wasted the weekend. It won’t be a total waste as I can do some dismantling of the old body, but really my time is better spent building at the moment while we have use of the workshop. Dismantling can be done at any time.
Chris booked her flight to the UK today, she should pick up the tickets tomorrow.
Fri 27 Apr
I’m at a little bit of a loose end today, still no steel so I spend most of the day working on the motorhome design which is probably for the best as I figured out a few things and that should make life easier later on.
While fossicking around the shed I found some rollers and though “Hmm, they look like they could be useful”. However I could not think of just what they would be useful for.
Later, while thinking about nothing in particular I spotted my cut-off saw. If you’ve ever used a cut-off saw you will know that you have to support the length of steel you are cutting at the same height as the bed of the saw. In the past I’ve just found some objects of approximately the right height, like a piece of wood.
But the right way to do it is to have rollers you you can easily manoeuvre the steel to and fro while it’s supported at the correct height.
Now where have I just seen some rollers?
An hour later I have knocked up three portable rollers that can be placed on the floor in line with the saw.
Chris picked up her ticket today so it looks like she’s really going. It’s been 27 years since she emigrated and she’s keen to look up a few old haunts. Meanwhile I’ll slog my guts out building a motorhome. That’s OK…no really, it is.
Well alright, so I bought a $5000 camera instead of going overseas, we all have our priorities
Sat 28 Apr
The steel arrived late in the afternoon, too late to do anything except stack it, so I spend the day working on the design for the body/chassis mounts and repairing the tyre that went flat the other day. It turned out to be a hole in the tube.
I also put together some tools for the car and loaded some spares because tomorrow I’m driving Chris to the airport then spending the day in Brisbane, so it makes sense to have at least a rudimentary tool kit.
Sun 29 Apr
We’re up at the crack of dawn and drive down to the airport. Contrary to my expectations the check in procedure is painless and before we know it it’s time for Chris to walk through the gate.
I hang around for a short time just in case she remembers something she left in the car or whatever, but I’ve never seen the point in waving at a plane, so I head off.
I confess to a little pang of wanderlust, I haven’t been overseas since 1980 and would love to both see some new things and revisit some old haunts. Specifically I would like to spend more time in the English countryside and with the Kenyan wildlife.
Twenty minutes later I’m parked outside the rather ritzy house of Steve and Madeleine, some ex-Canberra friends of ours. As usual the Cruiser looks well out of place in this up-market suburb.
Steve and Madeleine have just purchased a block of land in an even ritzier development and we drive out to have a look. By suburban standards it’s very nice, which one would expect at $320,000 just for the block. All-in-all they look like spending $7-800,000, phew are we ever out of the city real estate market for good.
Mon 30 Apr
Apart from wanting to catch up with friends, the main reason I’ve stayed in Brisbane is to drop off our inverter at the service agent.
It’s a 3300w Trace inverter/charger, a fantastic piece of kit but it weights over 50kgs which makes it difficult to package for transport. For this reason, even though it’s had a fault for several years, we haven’t bothered getting it fixed.
Now however is a golden opportunity as it’s been pulled out of the truck anyway and we’re not very far from the service people.
I get back to the workshop and rearrange things ready to make a start. I also have to do some more designing as even things that won’t be built for some time can affect the placement of steel beams right now.
Late in the afternoon I have to make another decision, what to cook for tea? Chris has pre-packaged about three months worth of meals, many of which are cooked and just require heating (she does spoil me), but I haven’t batched-it for years and am used to her just presenting me with food.
It’s Marie about to throw me a lifeline. Peter and Marie leave for their six-month trip in a couple of days and they have to use up the food in the fridge.
“We’re having a roast tonight, do you want to join us?”
Is the Pope Catholic? Does a wombat poo on a rock? Do I want a roast dinner?
Later I get back to the design process then hit the sack early. As I lie in bed I conclude that I have a workshop, my tools, my plan, and my steel. It’s about time to build something.
Tomorrow I’ll start construction, and yes a wombat does normally poo on a rock.
Tue 1 May 2007
Finally I’m cutting steel and actually building something. It’s been about three months since we decided to go down the rebuilding path and it seems like ages ago.
The basic frame laid out on the floor. The cutout section in the foreground will house the spare wheel and an extra tyre.
Peter takes Slineaway on a final test drive before leaving on the big trip tomorrow.
Having spent ages measuring the truck before it went away to be shortened I now find that I don’t trust one of my measurements, specifically the height of the cab from the chassis rails, so I drive down to Dave’s to re measure.
When I get there I see his lads busily drilling holes to remount the axles, it looks like the work is coming along nicely.
Wed 2 May
Peter and Marie leave today.
lineaway is packed and ready to go with the Kia “toad” hitched up behind.
A close up of the toad, note the lift-and-tow arrangement and a second spare truck tyre on the roof.
Peter and Marie have gone so I’ll have the place to myself for a while, but not for long. This weekend some friends of theirs are moving in while they are between houses. With three kids and two dogs I guess I won’t be getting much peace.
Thu 3 May
Working on the floor frame today.
The finished product. I still have to do the chassis mounts, but that’s about all I can do on it until I get the truck back.
Fri 3 May
You can run but you can’t hide. As I’m sure you are aware Chris is currently enjoying herself in England, and being as that’s as far away from Glasshouse Mountains as you can get without coming back again, she won’t know what I’m up to right?
Not in this high-tech world.
I get an email today, “What did the truck need from Harvey Norman Computers?” it read in part.
It seems that she’s been browsing the credit card statement.
“An un tethered computer cursor control and command peripheral device” was my answer.
Well just about everyone uses one eh? I bet you’ve got one in your hand right now.
After years of tripping over cables every time I get out of my chair and have to put the laptop aside, I decided it was time I bought a cordless mouse.
Note to self: Use cash next time.
Sat 5 May
I’ve been working on the frame for a few days now and it’s coming along nicely. As always though what seems like it should happen in no time at all takes a lot longer.
The frame it just a stack of RHS (box section steel) welded together so it should be simple. And it is, but this isn’t just any old box, every part has to be welded in just the right place because they often connect to something I’ll be doing in a months time.
This takes a lot of thought and working on the computer, all of which takes longer than the actual construction.
Also everything has to be square and there can be a lot of time spent ensuring that this it the case, including the manufacture of two giant set squares that I use to clamp a piece of steel in place for welding.
Note that the roof is curved, or at least angled. This is harder to do and initially I was going to make it flat as I did with Wothahellizat 1. At the time we thought we would be driving every couple of days, so if the roof held some water it didn’t matter because it would only be for a short period.
In reality the lifestyle was even more relaxed than we figured, it was quite common for us to sit somewhere for weeks, and if it rained on the first day we had water sitting in pools for all that time.
To make matters worse, because of the solar panels and tropical roof it was almost impossible to sweep the water off.
A gabled roof should fix that problem, and I may even include down pipes that feed into the tanks.
Tue 8 May
With the last motorhome I remember that once I got the main frame members in place I thought I was nearly finished and ready to clad.
Weeks later I was still adding braces, gussets etc. As they say, the devil is in the details.
It’s the same this time, although about 100 times faster. I had the basic frame up a couple of days ago, then decided to concentrate on the lounge room area.
Three days later I’m still concentrating on the lounge room area.
One reason I’m just working on the rear of the body is that I still don’t have the truck back and the front part of the body is very dependant on the placement of the cab, spare tyres, winch etc. and I don’t trust myself to do this work from my measurements. The rear however is pretty independent and I don’t think I can go too far wrong there, even without having the truck as a reference.
Wed 9 May
Today I’m adding some W bracing to the frame. W bracing is the best method I know to make something strong, and it’s quite unbelievable how much difference it makes. In Fig 1a we see the rear of the frame with no bracing.
Fig 1a, b .
In this state it is quite easy to bend it out of shape with even just a gentle push of my hand. And if I push and release quickly it will vibrate for ages.
The addition of appropriate bracing (Fig 1b) totally transforms the frame into something so rigid there is no discernable flexing with even large amounts of force applied.
In Fig 1c you can see that I have created two huge trusses (the red areas), one horizontal and the other vertical, each over a foot wide. This has only added a few kilograms to the weight of the body and tendrupled (that’s multiplied by 10, I’m sure it’s a word, and if not it should be) the strength.
It’s the vertical bracing that does most of the work with regard to stiffening the frame. The horizontal bracing is mainly to support the body in between the places where it’s mounted to the chassis. Especially the deck which cantilevers about 1.4m (55″) out from the rear mount.
Thu 10 May
Today I’ve been working on the kitchen bench and adjacent “utilities” area that will hold most of the plumbing, tools, toilet, hot water system etc. This is a complicated part of the body because there is not much room and a lot to fit in. It’s a very three-dimensional jigsaw that my computer design can only partially depict, and my brain is having trouble with as well.
I spend all day with the laptop on a bench next to the job going through a “consult design, compare to reality, scratch head, cut a piece of steel, tack it in place, scratch head again” loop.
While I’m packing up for the day I hear a vehicle at the gate and Hagred doing his best junkyard dog impersonation at the intruder.
I take little notice. But then my phone rings. “Where are you?” asks the caller. “Standing next to my phone” I reply, “who is it?”.
“Never mind who I am, where am I?” The penny drops and look out the workshop entrance towards the gate to see my purple truck.
It’s Dave, he’s delivered the truck with his brother behind in a 4×4 to drive him home. That’s good, I was wondering how I was going to get it back by myself.
It’s going on dark and I can’t really see the truck well, so we have a beer while Dave casts his experienced eye over my efforts with the body frame.
He doesn’t offer an opinion, is that good or bad?
Dave leaves and Mick my neighbour comes home. He drops around to my side of the shed for a chat. He owns a large engineering workshop and is about to start building an off-road motorhome for his father in law.
He knows a lot about fabrication but I don’t think has built something like this, so he’s been talking to the guy who occupies the shed across the road from his business in the Caboolture industrial area. The fellow used to own an off-road caravan manufacturing business but now just does fit outs. In fact he will be doing the fit out of the vehicle Mick is building, and has been advising him about the body construction. Apparently he reckons Mick should use exactly the materials (steel sizes etc) and construction methods I’m using.
While preparing dinner there is a show on TV about rebuilding an old English barn. The job entailed a lot of engineering to create a modern fit out inside a 200-year old barn. The structural engineer was relieved when the curved steel girders all fitted together. “We can design things but we never really know if they will work” he says.
I know exactly how he feels and I’m glad the experts have the same problem. When I worked in the electronics game it was common to spend six months or more designing circuitry on paper and computers, with no concrete evidence that what we were designing would work.
It was a very nervous period when systems were first powered up, and always a cause for celebration when they passed the smoke test, ie. they didn’t catch on fire immediately.
Building a motorhome is a similar experience, you work for months (years in the case of Wothahellizat 1) without really knowing if what you are doing will meet expectations, or even work at all.
Fri 11 May
Phew! I do a few quick measurements on the truck and the new frame and they appear to match, thank goodness for that.
Trouble is, now the truck is back I find myself presented with so many possible jobs I don’t quite know where to start.
I can put the decision off for a while though because today I have to do something that all men hate. No not a visit to the proctologist, although that does run a close second. I’m referring of course to shopping in a supermarket.
You see Chris has gone away for three months, and in a case of monumental bad planning she neglected to leave me enough of some important supplies to last the entire period. Specifically bread rolls, apples, and chocolate.
Now bread and fresh fruit is one thing, but chocolate?
Sat 12 May
Oh boy, my favourite job, drilling holes in chassis rails. I’ve decided that my first job on the truck should be to hang the fuel tanks, mostly because this affects the body design as follows.
The front of the kitchen has to be stepped up to allow the spare wheels to be hung just behind the cab.
I can’t hang the wheels until I know exactly where the right-hand tank is located.
Therefore I have to hang at least one tank before I can continue with the body framework.
Which brings me back to drilling holes in the chassis rail. This is a pain in the backside job, however I’ve modified my technique to make it easier.
In the past I would drill a pilot hole, then swap to a drill bit of the required final size. So, for example, I would drill 3mm hole then a 12mm hole.
The trouble is that the second of these holes required so much material to be removed that it takes forever, bluntens the drill bit, and requires a lot of force to be applied to the drill.
I now go up in stages. For the aforementioned 12mm hole I will drill say 3, 6, 8, 10 and finally 12mm. This way no one operation has to do much work and therefore I do five easy jobs instead of one easy and one really hard job. Of course there’s some bit swapping to be done, but I feel this is way preferable to my old method.
I am also having to make adaptor plates because the new location of the tanks requires the hangers to be placed right over some existing cross member rivets.
Plus I’ve had to move the brake booster 55mm towards the rear, which will require bending of the steel brake line. I have the bending tool, but so far I cannot get the line off as the flare nut on one end refuses to loosen. I’ll soak it in penetrating oil overnight and try again tomorrow.
Mon 14 May
I got the flare nut off but some of these brake lines are in bad shape and I may have to rebuild them. Plus I’ve decided to move one of the two brake boosters to the other side of the chassis, this will put them both on the same side and leave a large area to place a tank.
I drive down to QHF (Queensland Hose and Fittings) to buy the necessary lines and fittings. The truck has “air-over-hydraulic” brakes, which means that compressed air is fed to the booster when you press the pedal and the booster actuates the hydraulic braking system. I have to buy both the air lines/fittings for one side of the booster and the hydraulic lines/fittings for the other.
They can sell me the air stuff but are not allowed to sell the hydraulic stuff because that’s “secret braking business” (my quotes) that can only be performed by a qualified brake person.
What a load of crap.
They give me the phone number of a brake guy and I leave with just the air fittings (I didn’t tell them these where also for brakes, as air-over-hydraulic is a old style of system I guess they didn’t twig to that). I may have to pay someone to do the work which I’m not happy about.
On my way home I drop into Dave’s (the friend who shortened the chassis) and tell him the story.
“What a load of crap” he says. He loans me his flaring tool and orders some 5/16th steel brake line for me.
I return to the workshop and fit the air line, then drop back to Dave’s after lunch to pick up the roll of hydraulic line.
Not long after I have the booster reconnected, hopefully we now have brakes, there’ll be some air in the hydraulic side of the system but things should work.
Moving the booster leaves a large area on the left side of the chassis (bottom of this photo) in which I will hang the grey-water tank.
Tue 15 May
After adding new brake lines yesterday I suppose I should bleed them. The trouble is I’m not quite sure how to do that when I’m by myself. Normally one person pumps the brake peddle while another opens and closes the bleed valves.
I realise however that I don’t really have to do the whole system just the two lines I installed, so I open the downstream end of the lines and insert them into a length of PVC tube.
The tube has a loop in it that I prime with some fluid, this should act as an air lock.
Bleeding the brake lines
I jump into the cab and pump the brake peddle. I can’t see what’s happening but the fluid level is going down in the reservoir, up in the container on the floor, and there’s no puddles of brake fluid in places there shouldn’t be, so I guess it’s working.
Now that I have brakes I can drive the truck again. I take it outside so I can get access with the forklift to put the fuel tank back on its recently installed hangers.
Thu 17 May
Apart from the two 300-litre (66gal) diesel tanks we also have a 100-litre tank for petrol. This supplies fuel for the motorbike and the generator and is one of the original tanks from the truck. These ACCOs had two such tanks and, with a reported fuel consumption of 2-3mpg, it’s a wonder they managed to get anywhere.
This morning I installed the hangers for the petrol tank. As you can see in the photo below the tank is much smaller than the adjacent diesel tank, so I will use the space for storage, fuel filters, pumps etc. We did the same in the last truck and I still have the compartment so I will reuse that.
In Wothahellizat I hung this compartment and many others from the body, however I am resisting the urge to do the same here as I want the two things, ie body and chassis, to be as separate as possible.
I’m low on the correct bolts to finish the job, and anyway it all has to be painted yet, so that’s as far as it will get today.
I spend the remains of the afternoon dismantling the piece of chassis we cut off the other day, I need the cross member from it and it’s riveted onto the two pieces of chassis so it takes a while to cut the rivet heads and punch the rivets out with my air chisel.
Once the cross member is free I experiment with the best placement at what will be the rear of the chassis when I cut off the extra 1.5 metres.
Fri 18 May
I have to go into town today to buy some things and while driving along I see the Salvation Army complex. “That’s right” I remember, “I need some rags”.
I pull over and walk inside. Sure enough they sell “bag-o-rags”, I choose one and am waiting to pay when a down-and-out type approaches me.
Now I look fairly rough on a good day, but while I’m working I’m particularly unkempt. Which may explain why he informed me that pumpkin soup is on the menu next Tuesday, presumably referring to the Salvos soup kitchen.
Well it may get to that one day, but hopefully not for some time.
Sat 19 May
I’ve been putting off working on the rear of the chassis for a couple of days, mostly because I have to flame cut some holes in the chassis rails and I’m a little nervous about doing so.
The holes are required because I need to insert two halves of a Hammerlok through the chassis so they can be welded on both sides. What’s a Hammerlok?
These Hammerloks are incredibly strong and make good recovery points, ie. somewhere to attach a chain if you get bogged and have to be towed out.
A Hammerlok inserted into the holes…
…and protruding through the other side, ready for welding.
I power up the generator so I can use the three-phase welder and weld the Hammerloks on both sides of the chassis rails.
That done I can now trim the rails to the correct length. Even though they are double rails, ie one inside the other, they can easily be cut in a minute or two with the oxy, or twenty minutes with a grinder. However oxy always leaves a messy cut (in my hands anyway) which needs a lot of cleaning up with a grinder. So I may as well use the grinder in the first place.
It’s amazing what a 9″ grinder with a cutoff wheel can do and the final cut is very clean, just needing a little touch up to remove the sharp edges.
Sun 20 May
Today I painted the winch pulley block, petrol tank, and straps for the diesel tanks. Then I attach all tanks properly and generally tie any loose wires, airlines etc, and refit the temporary tail lights, all in preparation for driving down to the local quarry where they have a weighbridge I can use to weigh the truck.
Mon 21 May
It’s throwing it down, way too wet to take the truck outside as some of the chassis is still rubbed back to the bare steel and it will rust if left in the rain.
So instead I take the Cruiser into town to pick up some steel I will need for the spare wheel holder and new shockie mounts.
Then I work on the generator and compressor storage compartment.
It’s pretty obvious why we need a generator I suppose, but what’s with the compressor? I can easily run air tools from the engine’s compressor, so why have another?
Once, while approaching the top of a hill, the engine failed because of a fuel blockage. With no engine you have no compressor, therefore no compressed air except what’s in the receiver, and every time you apply and release the brakes you loose pressure until there’s none left and there’s no brakes.
This gets a little scary.
So I want a backup compressor that’s independent of the engine and have bought a small unit that will run from the inverter and be able to be turned on from the cab.
And speaking of receivers, to hang the new storage compartment from the chassis I have to remove the receiver because it’s impossible to reach in between it and the chassis to fasten bolts. It’s held by two steel hoops with threaded ends that pass through the chassis and are tightened with nuts.
Unfortunately, two of the four threaded ends snap off with just a small application of force to loosen the nuts. So now I have another job, to fix the broken ends by welding bolts to them. And while I’m at it I may as well do the other two because they will probably snap next time.
And what exactly is a receiver? Well, if you’re enamoured with electronics it’s similar to a capacitor, if you play with plumbing it’s much like an accumulator. But if you’re not inclined towards either of the above persuasions it’s a large tank that stores air. It has two purposes, firstly, unlike the compressor that just plugs away providing small quantities of air for long periods, the receiver can provide a large amount of air on demand for short periods. Very useful when braking for example. Secondly, as noted, it provides a source of compressed air if the compressor fails.
Tue 22 May
I really want to get the truck down to the weighbridge today but there’s a problem. With the air receiver out, the truck cannot be driven, but I don’t want to put it back in because, as mentioned before, that makes it impossible to hang the storage compartment.
The frame of the compartment is almost finished so I suppose I could just work on that and drive down tomorrow. But I’ve had a bright idea to increase its size and that will take more time, also, there’s something inherently wrong about a system where you have to remove A before you can get to B. I know it often has to be that way, but if possible I would rather not.
So what’s the problem? With the receiver in place I cannot get to the back of the chassis to tighten two of the bolts that are required to hang the compartment. What I need are “captive nuts”, ie nuts welded onto the chassis so I don’t have to get a spanner onto them when tightening the bolt.
But you are not allowed to weld to a chassis, I know I did at the very back, but there’s no load there. The location I’m working on now is right near a spring hanger and that’s a high stress part of the chassis.
So the answer is to weld the nuts to a plate and bolt the plate to the chassis. And while I’m at it I’ll reverse the answer and weld bolts instead, this way they will protrude from the chassis and give me something to rest the compartment on as I’m fitting it. Often a big help when you are working by yourself.
Note that the retaining bolt does not have to be very strong as all it really does is stop the assembly from falling off when there’s nothing bolted to the “welded bolts”.
The captive bolts protruding from the chassis. Note that I’m using an existing hole at the bottom, no point drilling any more than I have to.
Now I can put the receiver back, but it still has the broken threaded ends on the hoops. I’ve cut the heads of four appropriately-sized bolts, but how to align the bolts with the hoop’s end?
Usually, when welding two round pieces of steel like this, I will just place them in a vice. It’s a bit of a juggling act though, especially with small pieces as you need about five hands to hold everything in place while you tighten the vice. Time for a different approach.
I find a piece of aluminium channel and clamp both pieces to it.
Close up of the jig used to align the two pieces.
This automatically aligns both pieces of the job and is dead easy to do as I can deal with one piece at a time when clamping. Obviously I can’t weld all the way around, but it doesn’t matter as once I’ve welded some the job can be removed for completion.
Note the beveling of each end (where the two pieces meet), this allows the weld to fill the resultant V shape so when I grind it back flush there’s still some weld left to hold the pieces together.
Normally I clean (or dress) a weld when done, but only as much as required and I usually just take the top off to flatten it a little. In the above case the strongest option is to do nothing and leave as much material in place as possible. However it has to pass through a hole in the chassis that is the same size as the thread.
Now things are back together I can drive down to the quarry to weigh the truck.
Ten years ago the truck came in at 5.5 tonnes as a cab chassis, we didn’t weigh it ourselves and assumed that it was done after the chassis was stretched.
So, given that it’s now shorter, it should weigh less. The readout on the weighbridge says 6 tonnes (13,200lbs). Now that’s a surprise.
It does have two extra fuel tanks now but they wouldn’t weigh that much, so I can only reason that the old 5.5 reading was before stretching. As the current size is one metre longer than standard, and we have the extra tanks and a few other bits, this would explain the 500kg.
Not that it matters, it weighs what it weighs, it’s just that I am hoping to come in under 10 tonnes (22,000lbs) when finished, and that only gives me four tonnes to play with. The GVM of the truck is 14 tonnes (30,800lbs) so I don’t have to worry about being overweight, but we want to be as light as possible.
On my return I continue with the generator/compressor compartment.
Stay tuned for Part – 4 (Coming soon)
We won’t Spam – That’s a promise!