Posted by: Steve and Bethany | March 18, 2009

FACTORY MODIFICATIONS

date; 3/29/09

After deciding on the bullet, our salesman at Northside Ford began looking around for a truck with all the appointments we desired, but after not much time, we became aware that because sterling had discontinued this line. What was out there was what was out there. In other words, no truck existed with all the interior options we wanted.  Northside was ‘very’ motivated to sell the one on its lot that we test drove, the only 4×4 model with the right frame length, so we agreed, with the understanding that sterling would provide factory parts & installation to bring this truck up to our needs, at additional cost of course.

Sterling modified the truck to have power windows, locks & mirrors & factory navigation, as well as a paint job (white just wouldn’t cut it).

Sterling also oversaw the aftermarket modifications of added keyless entry, an alarm that can be modified to include the camper door & window sensors when built, rear backup camera (also when built) & window tint.

The color – I understand sterling’s choice for white, white being the best color to paint over as a business paints the truck to match its logo or established color scheme, but our vehicle, being designed primarily for off-road use, needed a color that wouldn’t stand out too much, or show off to much dust & dirt. Black looks absolutely brilliant in this body, but shows off dust too much. This body could take red confidently, but red is hardly a natural color! The same with blue.  Beige would certainly meet both of those goals, but is just too bland for me. Bethany briefly courted army green (much to my boredom), but we then saw some other truck painted that color (I was off the hook). I then looked back at my current silver truck – hides dust (to a point, the tires show it off more) not too loud in the woods, modern look, silver it is.

Window tint – I know, kinda urban, but I’ve gone hiking several times, having left the truck parked alone in the woods, & I tend to design defensively (even my architecture) so I really didn’t want people to see inside too well. (I even debated removable steel cages that could lock over all windows for just such occasions, but I have to be realistic)

Standard seat – the factory standard vinyl 40-20-40 bench seat wasn’t really what I initially wanted, but after a little thought I realized I was planning on removing the middle 20% part to build a custom console/dog step no matter what, & the vinyl really is better for cleaning dog hair, this plus on a second inspection Bethany helped me see that the existing seat really didn’t look too bad!interior-007

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Posted by: Steve and Bethany | March 7, 2009

AFTERMARKET MODIFICATIONS

date; 3/31/09

Now here’s where we start getting down to it, some of these are just preferential, but some are absolutely core requirements for our expedition vehicle.

Wheels & tires –now I had mentioned that I wanted bigger tires, to increase my clearance up to the differentials, with no lift.  I also mentioned I would need to change out the dually rear wheels to single rear wheels, the reasons are as follows; dually tires are required for extremely heavy loads, dump trucks, flatbeds, tow trucks, etc. to spread the rear axle weight over four tires, & to safely distribute this load to the road, but in my case the camper weight will only be a couple thousand pounds. In a four wheel drive scenario, dual rear wheels don’t make much sense, first, the 2” gap between the tires is a prime location for a 3” or 4” rock to get lodged while on a dirt road, only to dislodge at 60mph on the highway, & there’s too much damage that can be done by this projectile to gas tanks, brake lines, propane tanks in my case etc. I prowled on line for weeks looking up ‘dually to single rear wheel conversion’ in every rearrangement of those words imaginable, only to learn, nobody really had a good, clean way to do it. Options out there on the 4×4 threads, were changing out the axle, as the dually axle is a little shorter than the single rear wheel axle, wheel spacers, some threads just said to put single wheels on & see what happens (but keep an eye on the bearings). I began calling local tire companies to see if they’d ever had to deal with this before, (I think these guys were the one writing in the 4×4 threads) fortunately for me, I called Bob Brown tires up in Portland OR. & made an appointment to bring the truck by on my next visit up to Portland to sign papers on the bullet. Once there, I crawled around the bullet with a tape measure verifying wheelbase widths with a Bob Brown salesman named Aaron who ended up being the best help imaginable to solving this problem. Aaron listened well & understood my problem; he then made one call to a company called Rickson Wheel Manufacturing in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

http://www.ricksontruck.com/

To put it bluntly, Rickson custom makes exactly that, custom wheels with offsets to achieve what I needed. I was going to get five new wheels (one front spare, because the front offset will fit on the back, but not vice versa) this would get me single rear wheels, that track exactly in line with the new front wheels, plus, as a bonus, because of this custom offset, I will be able to run up to a 35” tire, as opposed to the 32” tires currently on the bullet. This gives me the ‘lift without a lift’ I was looking for!  Increased clearance below the differentials, without raising my center of gravity too much. I then checked with sterling to make sure we could alter the speedometer to accept the new tire size –no problem. I then explained that we move around the country allot when camping, & would need a tire capable of good traction on mud & snow, but also give a great quiet ride on pavement,  Aaron then steered me to some Yokahama TY303A tires

http://www.yokohamatire.com/tires_commercial/ty303.aspx

Now I haven’t installed these wheels & rims on the truck yet (they are all custom orders), but I’m confident they will fit, track-in-line & perform as expected (I’ll keep you posted).

Winch & winch mount front bumper – knowing how we like to leave people behind, I insisted on a 12,000# winch both front & rear (the rear may end up a little smaller), and to increase clearance before the front tires, I opted for a Road Armor front bumper. This bumper is designed to conceal the front winch so as not to look stuck on the front of the truck. I went with the stealth base model (cow grills bother me!) & I found a local powder coating place that can match the new body color. I also chose the Mile Marker SEC12 electric winch. I chose the electric vs. hydraulic because if I find myself nose down in water deeper than I thought, with the engine stalled, electric can still get me out. The Road Armor bumper is also designed to house PIAA 510 series lights, so I got both driving & fog lights.

bumper-raw-001

http://www.roadarmor.com/site/index.php

http://www.milemarker.com/SE12000.html

http://www.piaa.com/controller.php?action=partSearch&part=510 

At this point I don’t know how wide or deep the back bumper will be, so I’ll hold back on that setup for now.

Brush bars, or nerf bars –  The truck was already just a little too high for Bethany to comfortably hop in & out while wearing tight shorts or a mini skirt (anything I can do to help maam!), and the larger tires will only add to this, so we got some Westin nerf bar w/steps, simple but effective.

Differential locks – at this time I plan on getting a front differential locker, making both front tires engaged with the tranny, the existing rear is a no-spin differential, so this should make all four tires power tires. I’ll know more once I actually take possession of the vehicle, it’s still in Portland right now.

Posted by: Steve and Bethany | March 6, 2009

THE CAMPER


date; 4/3/09

After a couple rounds of rough floor plan layout sketches, I’ve arrived at a good starting layout, once I have both the donor vehicle & the bullet on site. I’ll make my final dimensional decisions & draw the plan up in AutoCAD. I kept the basic layout of the four wheel camper, window on the passenger side, utilities on the driver’s side, because of my full time queen size bed half in the cab over- half over the dog beds/ dressers, I used up all my passenger side room before the wheel well, & this frame doesn’t have enough room behind the wheel well for a door, so the door stays on the back.

sketches-001

This frame has a 52 gallon fuel tank behind the back axle, hence, no room for the spare below deck, so it will be permanently stowed on the rear wall similar to the ‘turtle V’ vehicle, but somewhat recessed in, like the

Earthroamer XV-LT

http://www.earthroamer.com/tab_xpedition_vehicles/vehicles.html

Fuel cans, will also be permanently stowed on both side walls for 10 emergency gallons, also recessed in. I’ve devise a sliding dresser that will take advantage of a tough-to-use space, & act as a privacy wall between the camper & the cab when pulled closed. Dog beds will of course be raised up to the level of the cab’s rear window, allowing for some outside storage below, with full extension drawer pull sliders. Just inside the camper door, below one of the fuel cans, will be all of the electric & hydraulic controls, as I want to be able to reach these controls from just outside the camper. the extra width allows for some playfulness on the part of my cabinet making skills (the curves). I have decided, for maximum interior storage, to have a hang-mount propane tank below the floor deck on the driver’s side, & multiple battery & air compressor storage below the floor deck on the passenger side.

Granted, all of this can change as I begin construction, if I find a better way, or come up with something that looks more fun to build!

sketches-0042sketches-005

Posted by: Steve and Bethany | March 2, 2009

THE DONOR VEHICLE

uhaul-002

date; 4/5/09

That’s right, it’s a UHAUL!

I’d mentioned before that I’m really good at making something into something else, or as my friend Shelly puts it ‘I make new shit out of old shit’! in architecture, I love getting an old worn down home and turning it into something totally unrecognizable, and although I certainly could start from scratch for this project, I really get satisfaction from taking something ugly & undesirable (sorry u-haul!) & not only make it pleasant, but take it over the top, to something wildly creative & charismatic, plus, I find I’m really attracted to the radiused corners & posts on the uhaul boxes & all the bolt head connectors (it’s got that tough ‘machine’ look .. or.. ..it will soon anyway). Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve been looking at various brands of box truck only to feel the most comfortable with the uhaul. In terms of its materials, the way it can be dismantled, the way I can cut down and alter the individual pieces, and the way I can fit it back together with my changes. I went to my local uhaul dealership to inquire about purchasing a 14’ box truck (fits on my 12’ frame). What I found over the next month or so of dealing with various sales managers in various locations, was every person I dealt with at uhaul was extremely helpful in working with me to get a truck for my application. I explained that I really didn’t care much about the truck itself, but I was extremely concerned about the condition of the box. I’m sure most people purchasing a used box truck are going to use it as a work truck, so the condition is not as critical, but in my case, being that this was going on a brand new truck, dents & nicks wouldn’t do.

As of today, I’ve narrowed my search down to two trucks, one that runs, but has had some roof repairs that I don’t know that I want to deal with, and one with a seized engine, but a box in as good a shape as I’ve seen.

One problem that will have to be resolved is that the bullet has a greater dimension from the frame up to the underside of the cabover. I have the ability to use the front aluminum posts that go from the cabover up to the roof to add to this dimension by welding them onto the lower aluminum posts, but I have no skils in aluminum welding, just steel. I plan on cutting the height down to just above the cabover, so those posts are available. I put a call in to a friend of mine, Randy, at Harvest Valley Specialties (e- mail harvestvalley@clearwire.net)

Randy has done multiple stainless steel projects for me over the years, with absolutely brilliant precision, mathematically & qualitatively. Fortunately for me, he welds aluminum also, so my concerns are gone, I told him we’d be talking in a month or so.

Another change will be the removal of the back door, I obviously don’t need a roll up door for this project, but I think the wall panels i cut off from the side height should get me enough material to use back here (minus the new door & a recess for a spare tire)

I also plan on cutting down the width of the whole box, roof included from 8’-0” down to about 7’-2” (I won’t know exact dimensions until I actually have all the parts & the truck to measure from) this will require taking apart the roof structure completely, cutting down the length of the ribs and reassembling this whole construct. I will have to add some reinforcing to this, as the roof will no longer be attached to the walls because of the pop up design. Similarly, I will have to add some reinforcing to the new top of walls, as they will no longer have the roof structure to contain them laterally.

Other changes will include a new frame below to change the existing full support frame connection to a 3 point frame to allow for flexing in off road situations, creating wheel well cutouts to allow for the new larger tires & clearances on the bullet, and a new steel back bumper/threshold design to allow for the new back wall/door assembly & for the flex of the box at this point.

Another aspect I’ve secured, is a place in my neighborhood I can park this vehicle while I build it, technically it will be built in my driveway, as I don’t have room on my steep site for a large shop, and I know once I start, I will be working on this obsessively, nights and 3 days a weekend, but I don’t want to park it in the street in between times, fortunately for me, scott & Lisa, neighbors who know my obsessive ‘project’ history, were nice enough to let me park it on their vacant lot right down the street.

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