Soon the fun begins

This is coming completely out of order but we hadn’t realized it wasn’t posted yet.

With most of the work done behind the walls it was time for carpentry.  This is the task I’m most comfortable with.  Because of that comfort I was willing to challenge myself and do something different.  But before that, we needed a plan.

The original floor plan was awkward and tight.  Speaking of awkward, it has just occurred to me after misspelling the word 3 times that it is an awkward word to spell.  We will be living in this trailer for at least the next 6 months, and maybe longer.  It needs to feel spacious.  It needs to function.  It needs to have kennel space for 4 dogs.  We need to be able to move about comfortably and pass each other without having to reverse into a more open area to do so.  Only 2 of our dogs reverse well.  At the same time, it needs to maximize storage.  So how do we achieve all that in a 190 square foot space?  Some things are sacrificed, that’s how.  Using Google Sketchup we laid out a few different plans that included a small dining table as well as a couch/day bed in addition to a queen size bed, large kitchen and large bathroom.

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With a plan we felt confident with we began.  I didn’t touch on this in the previous post, but it’s work that happened during the demolition stage, prior to the spray foam.  Most of the electrical components for the solar setup had arrived, including 3 massive panels.  38 ¾” by 79” to be precise.  These were selected without much planning.  We wanted to maximize our energy production without it being obvious we are driving a rolling power plant.  I knew we could fit 3 and no way could we fit 4.  As it turns out we couldn’t quite fit 3.  Not without making some changes that is.  The trailer had 3 roof vents on it; one in the bathroom with a broken fan and broken cover, one in the middle with a broken cover and damaged operating hardware, and one at the front with a broken cover.  The only way 3 panels were fitting up there is if we went down to 2 roof vents and moved one of them.  But that wasn’t all there was to do with regards to the roof.  Various brackets, antennas, satellite dish and other random items were fixed to the roof of the years and served no purpose other than to create work removing them.  For 3 days I drilled rivets out, removed screws, removed all the junk, patched holes, replaced damaged sheet aluminum, eliminated two vents, replaced one vent, and cut in a new hole to install a new vent in the kitchen area.  Being the only roof vent outside the bathroom, and without air conditioning, we put a 10 speed, 2 way fan in this location.  By the end of it I had patched 17 different locations on the roof, drilled out at least 300 rivets and installed close to 500.  I purchased a pneumatic rivet gun for this and it has got to be one of the most worthwhile tools I have ever bought.  I couldn’t imagine using a hand operated riveting tool for all of this.  I’d probably still be doing it between stints of physio for all sorts of issues I no doubt would have.

For the solar panel mounting I opted not to use the small brackets that were supplied and went about a bit different route.  I had concerns with the brackets for a few reasons.  The first of which was that they were meant to mount the panels on a wall or roof that isn’t going 120km/h down the road.  Secondly, I didn’t want the panels to be visible chunks on the roof of a fairly Streamline(d) trailer (see what I did there?).  I chose to run 3/16” wall, 3” aluminium angle front to back on either side to act as a sort of saddle for the panels to mount between.  To deal with water shedding, at each point of the shell frame that the trailer was bolted into I used a small piece of ¼” flat bar to act as a stand-off and effectively raise the channel that much from the surface of the roof.  One un-planned benefit of the 3” angle was that it provided some roof-line rigidity that helped to take out some hefty dents at a few bent wall/roof frame members.

Now back to the inside

I’d recently worked with cherry wood for a renovation project and really like the way it looked.  It has some beautiful marbling in it and the natural color demands nothing more than a clear varnish finish.  Having relationships at hardwood wholesalers made it an actual affordable option too.  I did some rough estimating on what would be required and went shopping.  The main ingredients for the build are 8/4 and 4/4 rough sawn cherry wood (mostly 8’-10’ lengths), ¼” cherry mdf core, 5/8” cherry particle core, ½” pre-finished poplar ply, 5/8” fir ply, 1/8” puck or rink board and .040 aluminium sheet.

The ceiling seemed like the logical place to start.  With roughly 38” of flat width before it starts to curve down to the walls we agreed that would be a nice place to run some cherry wood and break up the sea of white puck board that will be the walls.  Now when it comes to woodwork I can be a bit obsessive in the details.  And it started here.  The easy thing would have been to put up 40” wide sheets of cherry, 3 of them, and cover the seams.  But with our open plan in mind you would be able to see from front to back at once, so the ceiling needed to flow.  That is, the pattern of wood had to be consistent.  The sheets of ¼” had a repeating pattern on them which allowed one sheet to cut down into three identical strips.  What we have is 3 strips, a 14” (middle strip) and two 12” outer strips.  With it all cut and dry-fit it was back into the shop to spray it all prior to final installation.  3 coats of a satin finish, water based lacquer and it was time to install!

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With ceiling panels on we could now begin to move down the walls.  We started with puck board butting into our ceiling edge and flexed it into the curved upper portion of the walls, securing it to the framework with rivets.  It remained quite rigid due to being pressed into the curve, so it only required fastening at the edges and maintained shape well.  This is nice because it means no visible rivets after all the seams were covered.  The install of the puck board is a 2-3 person job.  A good friend of mine, Spencer, was happy to help.  Like moving though, I provided the beer.  Piece after painstaking piece, we slowly worked our way back to the spot that the bathroom wall would be and down to the floor.

 

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With the walls done, it was time for the daunting part – the upper cabinet at the front of the trailer.  The old aluminum cabinet that was removed was not suitable for re-use.  Something new had to be made to fit into a curved roof and a curved front wall.  First thing was templating the curves.  I tried to trace out from the old cabinet onto cardboard but without being installed the old aluminum was too flexible and did not provide and accurate template.  A few hours later I had traced and trimmed and marked and trimmed and screwed up and started over, tracing and trimming, until I had tow templates that were a close enough fit to work off.  Another day later I had a cabinet box 80% built, ready to fit.  And fit it did, surprisingly well!  Now we could finish the cabinet (built out of the light ½” poplar ply) by gluing on ¼” cherry to the visible front and bottom, cut open some additional small storage spaces, and spray it.  Of course, mistakes were made, and we cut in the access to additional storage in the bottom of it.  The price of long days.  I still blame Spencer on this one because had he not been helping I wouldn’t have had the extra beer or two that evening prior to cutting holes in the wrong spot.  Fortunately, it was an easy fix.  Upon correction we figured it best to call it a night.

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The balance of the front area cabinetry went without many hiccups.  The bed frame, speaker boxes, and additional storage went together well.  Onto the rest.  The front closet I was dreading.  It was more cabinetry that had to fit into a curved wall.  I had picked up some steel studs that I planned on using for the bathroom wall a few weeks earlier.  After tripping on and knocking them over numerous times I finally had a use for them!  I used them to template the curve (which I should have done for the front cabinet) by cutting relief cuts every two inches from the point at which the wall begins to curve, to the end.  This allowed me to press the now flexible steel stud into the curve of the wall.  With a few pieces of lumber screwed in to brace and hold the curve I now had a very accurate template to trace onto my plywood.  It worked perfectly!

With the front closet built we took a step back and looked at our plans.  What looks great on paper doesn’t always execute the way you’d hope.  There was no way we could fit the kennel space and a day bed/couch.  So goodbye day bed.  The balance of cabinetry went without fuss.  I installed our new water tank centered over the axles and tight to the wheel well, which were insulated using 1” rigid foam insulation, glued down and taped at seams.  The batteries would sit in the same position on the opposite side.  The cabinet boxes were built, lacquered and installed, waiting for countertops to complete.

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On the opposite side we built 2 kennels as one structure with 2” x 2” solid cherry making the frame.  Puck board acted as walls, with vinyl lattice for sliding doors, sitting in track cut into the framework prior to assembly.  More lacquer.  The remaining space would allow for an extra large removable kennel.  We though it would have been nice to have another built in one, but having the flexibility with the space matters more.

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Now for the reading room, er, bathroom…

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This was a challenge.  Our original idea was to have this be what is known as a wet room.  Meaning the entire space can get wet and drains to a central location.  Picture a spa type bathroom or that of your local gym.  We had the idea based on our experiences in Bali, Indonesia where it seemed every bathroom was built in such a way it could simply be blasted with a pressure washer to clean everything.  In a perfect setup you could properly shower while sitting on the toilet, not that you’d ever need to…  Unfortunately, due to the location of the black water holding tank it did not allow for a central drain that was easily sloped to.  This meant the floor drain could only easily be a shower drain offset to one side where the shower was to be.  So, with that in mind, and to maximize our shower space to be comfortable to use, we had a local stainless steel fabrication shop create a custom shower pan with a curb and lip all around it to fit into the rear corner of the trailer.  This allowed us to enclose the remainder of the bathroom walls, as well as the shower walls with .040 aluminium.  More sheet stainless would have been preferred due to its scratch resistant characteristics but cost, and more so workability was a major deterrent and pushed us towards the aluminium walls.  The aluminium was easily scored, cut and bent without the need of a pneumatic shear or hydraulic break.  That’s not to say it was easy.  It was not.  Just when I thought I had things figured out did it become glaringly apparent I didn’t.  Not at all.  The corners were an absolute nightmare.  And I’m still not happy with how they turned out.  The reading room is probably the first place (and was the last place to finish) that I started to say “good enough” as we were getting deeper into Canadian winter and needed to hit the damn road and start this adventure!  There are still a few little finishing details remaining that need attention, but we have yet to hit warm enough temperatures to be able to actually use the water systems.  So in the words of a good friend of mine, “problem for tomorrow!”

Trailer is done enough, time to go! (still some electrical and plumbing details I haven’t covered, but those are a bit more technical and will require a more in depth post that will put all but the most interested readers to sleep)…

The real work begins…

Anybody that has done any do-it-yourself type of renovation or construction project will relate to my next statement.  Everything is more work than you think it will be.  Of course, there were aspects that went incredibly smooth, but even those took more time than expected.

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Pre-gut Video Tour of Trailer

As far as the condition of the trailer goes; remember when I said at first glance it wasn’t that bad?  Well, subsequent glances really started to contradict that statement.  A few pieces of the aluminum sheet that lined the walls were loose.  They were bent up and dented so the intention was to replace them, and now that we owned the trailer we could remove said panels and look in behind the walls.  What hid there was nasty.  Mice had made a home.  And I learned that mice will shit where they sleep.  With one panel off we could see the mice and their shit carried on behind the next one, so down it came too.  And the next one, and the next one, and the next one.  It became apparent very quickly that we would be gutting the trailer shell completely.  Haz-mat suits and masks were donned and the demo began.  The cabinetry was removed as well as appliances, water tank, water heater, furnace, shower and so on.  You get the idea – everything.  Everything was cleaned and treated with a kill all type spray to which I can’t recall the name of.  Typically, demolition work in a home can often be done with a few basic tools (Sawzall, hammer, big pry bar) and brute force.  Aluminium trailers are nothing like that.  Everything, and I mean everything, is secured, joined and fastened using rivets.  Lots of rivets.  Did I mention that shit loads of rivets were used?  I could happily go through the rest of my life without touching another rivet.

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With the walls all stripped and the trailer empty the next logical step was to repair the floor.  Fortunately, there were no rivets used on the floor.  But that is not to say that the floor wasn’t a royal pain.  It may have been one of the most difficult components to repair.  And now, with all the cabinetry removed we could see the condition of the entire floor.  Sitting for years, not covered, with broken roof vent covers allowing in all the elements it is not how I would suggest one store a camper they intend on using again one day.  All around the perimeter, there were soft spots and signs of rot.  The original 5/8” plywood all had to go.  We began that pain-staking process.  5 feet at a time a process of steps was followed and repeated.  The original construction of the trailer before any indoor buildout went as follows; build frame out of steel, lay thin fiberglass insulation across the top of the frame, cover the frame with plywood and screw down, drop upper shell onto plywood and secure upper shell through plywood and into the steel frame below.  So here lied the problem.  We did not have the means to lift the upper shell off the floor.  Many professional restorers will do just that.  And it makes sense because it really would be easier, if you could.  But we couldn’t.  5 feet at a time we removed the plywood, chiseled and broke it out from where it sat under the walls, supported the walls while we cleaned up everything below, including a squirrel’s winter stash.  I hope he’s doing ok.  The squirrel that is.  He had at least 2 lbs of sunflower seeds stashed below in the floor and I think he may have been sleeping there.  He certainly didn’t shit there.  I like squirrels.  Mice, not so much.  After a week or so we had the floor replaced with new 5/8” plywood, new r20 insulation below, and repaired a few broken welds that tied the cross supports onto the main front to back frame rails.

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With the floor mostly done and a flat surface to stand on again it was time to look at electrical and plumbing.  Just like a regular home, these items need to be completed before any walls are closed in or new cabinetry is installed.  Fortunately for me, I’ve met some great people through the years that were both excited and willing to help with the aspects I’m not well-versed in.  Electrical and plumbing would be what I’m referring to.

Fraser, who own NextGen Automotive and is a shop neighbor came through and did all the wiring except for the 120V wiring.  Starting with the exterior, all marker lights (18 I believe), which were a mix of numerous assorted styles as they’d been slowly replaced over the years, were replaced with new LED lights.  The original taillights were disassembled, cleaned up, repaired and re-installed.  All wiring associated with those lights, the trailer brakes, a new break-away kit, and the harness was replaced and re-wired with a new harness to connect to the pickup.  Cory, from Rooter Man, also a shop neighbor, came over and replaced the old propane lines and installed new regulators for the tanks as well as shutoffs prior to each appliance (water heater and furnace).  And I did the 120V wiring.  In a later write-up, I’ll detail all the electrical components and a review of their performance after we’ve had some time to use everything.

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With the “behind the walls” work is done we were ready to start finishing the inside.  But first, insulation.  The trailer appears to have been spray foam insulated from the factory.  Impressive for 1973.  I feel though that it was less about insulation and more about providing rigidity to the aluminum walls.  It worked.  It held up quite well over the years but was thin in many places.  We called in a spray foam company to top up the spray foam and try to fill the 2” thick walls as best as possible.  And of course, that didn’t go smoothly either.  We were experiencing slightly cooler than ideal temperatures so the foam didn’t set quick enough.  It pushed all our wiring outwards instead of setting around it.  It ran and pooled and cured in grapefruit size lumps, most of which would have to get cut off.  I need a beer break.

Soon the fun stuff begins…