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Camper (mis)Adventures – Part II

2010 July 19
by shana

Things are not always what they appear to be.

During the past week as we have been testing my “everything works” camper that is “ready to go” I have been reacquainted with the concept of subjectivity – particularly in relation to the subject of language.

In the process of going over the camper and testing everything out before I hit the road, I have come across numerous things that would personally keep me from using either of the statements above in reference to this particular camper.

Let’s recap.

We have already visited the coupler/tongue incident. When I first looked at the camper, the former owner assured me that he and his son, who had owned several campers, had gone over everything and that everything was in working condition. Wonderful.

Maybe I should have insisted on starting all the appliances and filling the tanks with water before I paid for it and pulled it off into the sunset – but I didn’t. From outward appearance, everything looked like it was in pretty good condition for the age of the camper, aside from the tires which had irregular wear, and a spot where at some point in time, water had seeped in the wall in the shower. (oh, and the dining area light, fluorescent light, and awning which didn’t work – but those had been pointed out.)

When I started going over it back in Missoula however, it didn’t take long after turning on the propane tanks to smell a gas leak. The stove burners barely maintained a flame. And for the life of me and my friend, we could not get the hot water heater lit until my Grandpa gave it a try a day or two later. Oh, and one of the propane tanks was old and could no longer be filled and would need to be replaced.

Next, I hooked up the hose to the city water input. The camper had not been flushed since it was last winterized and was still filled with pink RV anti-freeze, so I set out to work on that as well as test all the fixtures. Water in: good. Faucets, shower, toilet flush: all work. Fresh water tank, pump, water heater: no leaks.

My Grandparents had come into town to help me get the camper whipped into shape, and my Grandma discovered that the shower had been left on and was spraying the door on the inside of the shower. That discovery was made by seeing water seeping onto the floor from under the door. They yelled to shut the water off, but in the meantime she had opened the door to shut off the water and had been sprayed all down the front of her by the shower head hanging above the toilet on what was left of the shower mount and pointed directly at the door.

The faucets were sputtering and not putting out much water: both the sink faucet and shower head gummed up pretty badly. After an attempt to clean them, I have decided a new shower head is in my future. For the cost, it just isn’t worth the time I have already spent on trying to clean it. Apparently the concept of “know when to fight, and know when to walk away” can also apply to small plastic bathroom fixtures.

But wait, it gets even better. During the process of flushing the tanks, water started to accumulate in the grey water tank… or at least the water that wasn’t dripping at a pretty good rate from the tank. Upon closer inspection, the piece that attaches to the tank to connect the hose to was loose. So loose, it may have fallen clean off if there weren’t a small metal strap holding it in place… sort of.

So, I head out to run errands with my Grandparents to pick up a bunch of little things to make everything work. We had to go to two places to deal with the propane tanks. Another to get miscellaneous plumbing parts, bolts, etc. and yet another to get the right propane hoses. Have you ever noticed how running a few “quick” errands takes forever? That was certainly the exhausting case this day.

When we got back to the camper, we started re-assembling everything. Mark, who welded the coupler and has generously let me park my camper at his house, helped us move the plate the propane tank sits on forward so the tanks would no longer hit against the camper. Then, they got all the new hoses, regulators, and bottles hooked up and tested. No leaks – yay! The burners held better flames – yay! We had taken the old battery box that was missing the lid off already, and replaced it with a new battery box and battery. The battery that was on it was a starting battery, and we had picked up a deep cycle battery that is better suited to this type of use.

I had also picked up a fiberglass repair kit to fix the crack caused by the propane tank. (Yet another home improvement project for the future.) I had also optimistically picked up a plastic repair kit for the grey water tank, thinking I could just reseal the joint and possibly secure it better so it wouldn’t jostle loose.

It had already been a long day, and my grandparents figured they should get on the road back home. After we grabbed a quick dinner, I went back to the camper and decided to tackle the grey water tank so it would have time to dry/cure before I needed to start using the water in the camper. When I crawled under the tank, I also noticed a crack on the side. Ok, no problem – I will just patch that up too. Mark got under there and looked closer and said there was a crack on the other side as well, and that we should just drop the tank off so that it would be easier to repair. So, sporting some safety glasses, I got down on the little mechanic’s wheelie thing and slid under the camper and started taking out screws. When we got it pulled off, it was painfully visible: the tank was nearly split in half. My little patch kit was not going to cut it, so I just packaged it back up to return to the store. Sigh…

After we had removed the tank, we noticed a leak under the shower/toilet. No. No – no – no. Luckily it was leaking from the shower drain, and not the black water tank. However, the plastic was old and brittle, and in the attempt to get the hose & clamp off the shower drain, both the metal bolt at the bottom and the hose connection broke off. Just broke right off. Can you imagine?

We looked up what it would cost to replace the tank and shower drain, and although it is not terribly unreasonable; with the time frame I am on, and the need to conserve money where I can – Mark suggested a work around. I now have a shiny new re-purposed 5 Gallon bucket I will be placing under the camper to collect my grey water. At least for now… until I have time to have it shipped from Minnesota and have extra cash. Bonus: I can store my sewer hose in it since the tube that was originally on the front of the camper for that purpose is also missing. Dual-purpose.

Thankfully (knock on wood) the black water (toilet) tank is not leaking. So, I sealed up the hoses going into the pump from the shower to the grey water tank, since they are currently rendered completely unnecessary, and to keep the pump from getting filled with junk. I have plugged up the holes where the hoses were for the grey water tank to inhibit little critters from becoming unwelcome house guests.

Mark helped me tear the modified shelves out of the closet so I can hang some shirts on the built-in rod. For some reason, it makes me feel better to hang some shirts… it just does. He took the grinder to the screws on the straps that used to hug the grey water tank to the bottom of the camper that I could not get off by hand or drill. He also cut a piece of aluminum to fashion a new door for my 110 plug that was missing, and helped me take off the awning that was broken and useless to me in the condition it was in. And then suggested attaching eye and hook bolts to the brackets to facilitate stringing up a tarp if I ever wanted to. Great idea Mark.

Apparently the tires were mis-matched, which contributed to the irregular wear pattern – so new tires for me. I also had the bearings packed, considering how questionable it was that they had ever been done. I had offered below the asking price to accommodate this expense, and it just barely covered it.

And then, hundreds of dollars more and many hours of time later, I have almost everything in working condition. Notice how I said “almost?” Because although a shiny 5 Gallon bucket may “work” for my temporary purposes, it is by no stretch of the imagination in “working condition” by the implied definition.

I could not tell you with certainty whether the people I bought this little camper from knew of all of its maladies and were trying to cut their losses, or if it was simply a case of being severely mis-informed on their part so I will refrain from making any judgments one way or the other. My thoughts however, are that I highly doubt they would have re-winterized the camper in June when they were trying to sell it, had they actually filled the tanks to test everything as they had said. Needless to say, (but I am going to anyway) this post is getting filed under the “Lessons Learned” category.

I have come to realize over the years that even in the worst of situations, there is always something positive that can be taken away from it, even if you have to dig deep. In this situation, it is not hard at all to spot what that is: all of the amazing and wonderful help that was rallied to  get this camper in usable condition. At times, my camper looked like it was at a pit stop in a NASCAR race. Ok – I don’t actually watch NASCAR so I don’t know if that is an accurate visualization, but I think it still gets the point across. Welders, ratchets, drills, grinders, wrenches, hoses, fluids, safety glasses, sweat, tires, gaskets, etc. etc. etc. And, possibly the biggest component in this process: the generous and good hearts of everyone who has helped me whip this little camper into shape. Gratitude is gushing from me like a leaky water tank… ok, maybe that isn’t the visually appealing analogy, but it is certainly a relevant one. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!

Camper (mis)Adventures –  Part I

Camper (mis)Adventures –  Part III (Soggy Dreams)

Camper (mis)Adventures –  Part IV: Frozen or Flame Broiled?

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. Keith Lenard permalink
    July 19, 2010

    Wow, Shana. Well. by the time you need to make emergency road repairs, you’ll be an expert!

    Good Luck and Bon Voyage!

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  1. Camper (mis)Adventures – Part IV: Frozen or Flame Broiled? | The Road Taken Project

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