Here's an update from us after weeks of nothing!
The custom designed composite FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic) RV habitat that we ordered a few months ago finally arrived on October 19th. We have been flat out since then working to get it assembled in dwindling temps and buckets of rain most days here in Vermont. The Fall was pretty but wet. We managed a couple more bike rides with my mom and one more Adirondack hiking weekend with Joe & Suzen. Since then we've had some really stressful days but all is going pretty well and it feels like things are coming together, no pun intended.
Before it arrived, we hustled around getting everything ready. This included moving the truck into the space that we rented from a couple of my old classmates, Darren & Pat. They have a Quonset hut in N Thetford that is nearly perfect for our project and they have been so gracious in letting us use it. We packed up the summer camp we'd established on our land when most of the autumn leaves had fallen and even Jon was a little sad to see it all end. Despite lots of work this summer on the truck, the setting was beautiful and I was so glad to get to spend time in our little camper. We'll most likely put it up for sale next Spring so someone else can use it. Meanwhile, we are enjoying staying with my parents now and sharing a lot of meals together and fun evenings. They have been very patient & supportive of our endeavor despite all the drama. We'll be headed down to our boat in the next couple of weeks.
Moving the truck into our new space allowed us to keep working on it despite the rain and we set up a bubble of plastic that could shroud the camper box in anticipation of cold temps and the need to heat it for adhesives to cure. While waiting for the box to arrive, Jon welded on a rail that encircles the subframe to further support the habitat as well as provide a mounting point for understorage boxes that he intends to build this winter. He also ran new cabling for the batteries, we carpeted the interior of the truck cab (I now know that the carpet is where the new car smell comes from!) and I cut out new rubber mats to protect the carpet. We moved a pile of tools in and purchased more to aid in the build of the box. There is a lot of thought that needs to go in to bracing each piece as you assemble it in order for the panels to cure in the right position. Because we didn't want our camper to look too square, Jon designed in a lot of angled corners to soften the edges of the exterior and give us a little more space inside as well. The manufacturer doesn't supply extrusions for these angled corners so that meant that we needed to fabricate a dozen 8 ft sections ourselves. We decided to make these out of fiberglass, which took 11 gallons of resin and several days of work laying on the glass. Mixed in 3/4 cup batches, I mixed I don't even know how many batches about 3 minutes apart and together, we layed up all 12 of the profiles. We then filled and sanded out as many imperfections as we could (I never dreamed I would know so much about Bondo) and Jon sprayed them with matching paint for the truck but it was just too cold and humid for the paint to come out right. So what do you do? You sand it all off again! Now we are going to just install the profiles and paint them once we are south. I plan to brush on a 2 part yacht paint.
We installed 10 spring mounts to the subframe that will help stabilize it on the chassis once the box is on and we are moving around. Jon did all the brain work & difficult bracing of the nuts but it is a 2 person job so I became the one operating the air impact wrench. It definitely sounded like a mechanic shop in there!
The way it works with Total Composites is your order goes into your own sea container. This container is shipped from China and then trucked to your address and you unload it within 2 hours. A week before the ship arrived we got another invoice from Total Composites with an additional 10% tariff that went into effect September 27th, making it 16% in all. Thank you trump! I don't know who this is helping but it isn't us.When the ship arrived in Boston we got a call that the trucking company they'd arranged wouldn't deliver to a residential address (this was all arranged previously) so there was a period of scrambling to find a trucking company that would. This delayed things a few more days and gave us a few sleepless nights. My sister Ann arrived for a family visit just in time for the truck to arrive carrying our camper box. It felt so funny to have such a huge truck come to deliver our container. Needless to say, after she and my family helped us unload the truck, we would only get together in the evenings for the entire time she was here because we started doing very long days at the shed getting this thing going at last. We did manage to celebrate the 3 October birthdays, Jon, Ann and my dad. Jon turned 50 and I haven't heard much complaining from him so I guess I'll have a go at it in February.
The habitat dimensions are 17 feet long by 8 ft wide and 7 ft tall. The panels are relatively lightweight but well insulated & strong with 2 inch foam on the 2 long sidewalls and 3 inches on the floor, ceiling, front & back wall. The floor & stern wall are reinforced with wood & steel making them both bulky and heavy whereas the side panels are bulky, fragile but not overly heavy. And so we began gently muscling these panels around. We bought 2 dollies at Harbor Freight and we keep remarking that these are the most valuable things we've bought for the build. It amazes me the things we've been able to do just the 2 of us with these dollies. And when we couldn't manage something ourselves such as turning the heavy floor once we'd successfully jacked & slid it both up onto the subframe to mark the bolt holes and then back down off of it again, we called up Darren & Pat to come give us a hand. It is so hard to be in a position where you're stopped from any more progress because you simply cannot lift & position something without the help of others. On those days, the absolute highlight was seeing them show up and make it look like nothing to heave those panels around so we could get back to work. We are very thankful for them.
We started with the floor. After we marked out 58 bolt holes, Jon had to drill them all out on the underside of the floor through the steel. It got to where I would push on his shoulder blades with most of my strength while he was drilling so that he didn't have to press as hard himself. His shoulder hasn't recovered but I think his right arm is bigger than his left! Once the holes were drilled, we rolled the floor into the bubble on the dollies and jacked it up onto pallets. Then we started glueing on the extrusions and up went the side panels. You use a lot of adhesive in large sausage tubes and once you start, you have to be speedy so it won't start to cure while you're working with it. Much care is needed to line everything up perfectly so that all the pieces will mate together and then brace everything so it stays where you put it. We run propane heaters to keep the temp up and every time one or the other of us goes back to refill another tank the guy says "you blew through all that already?!" I think he gets it now.
Several days into the assembly Jon went to install a cargo door in some down time and discovered that the hole wasn't cut properly. The radius was incorrect and you could see light through each corner when holding the window up. This is a little unfortunate because he has the most perfect interior all planned out for us and the only solution is to install a larger door now. So a new door is being sent by Total Composites but the interior design will have to be adjusted to accommodate it. We continue prepping panels, cutting extrusions to size, applying adhesive, raising the various wall pieces and adjusting the sizes and shapes of the bracing. There is so much to do. As the pile of extrusions started to dwindle and the box is taking more shape, we discover that we are missing an integral piece that we need to install the the back wall. It is the only piece of that size & shape so there is no mistaking that we didn't get it. Before the box arrived I had requested a packing list so that we could check off everything that was in sea container to be sure it was all there. However we were told that we didn't need one so it was very hard to visualize every piece that would be needed. Not to mention, when the box arrived there had been a misunderstanding. All of the aforementioned angled pieces that we had to make the dozen profiles for were not cut on the panels. The factory only cuts 90 degree corners. So Jon had to cut all of these himself and make the angles perfect so that the box would go together which worked out fine but initially it was a shocker and it did cause a lot more work. It also makes a big mess. This gave us a few more ulcers. The missing part causes another delay as no matter what, it will take time to get it. Every day that we don't have it the temps are lowering and it will be more & more difficult to bring the temp up with propane heaters to what it needs to be to for the adhesive to cure. But we will manage it. Not to mention, we need to get back to N Carolina to paint our boat and set up our winter home down there. Oh, and find a workshop to fit out the interior too!
After tons of research, Jon decided that we will use lithium batteries for all of their advantages, not the least of which is being lightweight and taking up much less space. While the habitat feels big right now with no bulkheads in, it is still a small space to live in and we have a lot of stuff to store in it so every inch matters. We received the batteries the other day and they look really nice, nothing like the wet cells we heave around on the boat. Seems promising.
We finished installing the windows today, will do the door tomorrow and this all feels good. The boxes are dwindling and there is more space around. The windows & doors are from a company called Tern Overland in Arizona and they're nicely made. Nice people to work with. They have built in screens & shades. While there are negatives to having lots of windows such as security, we both felt we wanted as much air & light as possible especially given our boating lifestyle with so much outdoor time. I'm really excited about them and think Jon has designed a wonderful home! Its hard to get a full pic of the profile of the box we've built because of the confines of the bubble. We've taken to eating our lunch in there to stay in the warmth of it. We have a few more hurdles to jump over such as moving the habitat onto the truck once completed and bolting it down but it is all a process and we are moving through the details. Everything has to proceed in steps so one thing hinges on the other. But for now, nothing major can really proceed until we get the missing piece and no one cares as much as we do about it so we have to wait it out. It will be good to get down to the boat and settled in and then hopefully only have to count on ourselves for a bit as we get rolling on the interior. Its easier and less stressful. I bought a bedspread the other day because all its been is wood, bondo, resin, tools and adhesive for so long. I can't wait for the first night we can sleep under it. It will mean that this project will be pretty much done!