Home > Uncategorized > Reviving an old camper – part 1

Reviving an old camper – part 1

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A while back I mentioned that we had bought an old camper and were in the process of “refurbishing” it.  We had taken the proceeds from selling our old conversion van that was too small for our family, and was able to buy this 24 foot camper.  Great deal – only $700!  Well, 4 months and many hours later, we’re still refurbishing.  Or maybe more like rebuilding.  We realized that it needed a little work when we bought it – the floor had a soft spot near the back, and there was a place in the ceiling that looked like it had gotten wet.  Not a big deal – a few patches, some new plywood here and there, a little silicone caulk to stop the leaks.  Little did we know……

When we got it home we parked it for a day or two.  Taya and the twins went out one day and looked it over a little closer.   She texted me this picture while I was at work.  <groan> I realized that the floor in the bathroom was completely rotted thru to the tin underneath.

Again – probably not too big a deal, just rip up and replace the rotten plywood, and patch together the joists if need be.  Maybe a little more work than we originally thought, but nothing we couldn’t handle, and it shouldn’t be super expensive to repair.

She sent me another text – “We want to start ripping out the ceiling where it looks like it was leaking – that OK?“.  I sent her back “Go for it“.  Little did we know what was to be found……

About 30 minutes later I got this picture with another text “Doesn’t look good lot of rot“.  I realized at this point that this was a bigger project than I thought at first.  But hey; we’re a big family, when we pitch in together we can accomplish a LOT.  Another text came thru “Floor under kitchen area really bad“.  I was starting to get a little depressed.  Did we get taken?  Did we waste our money?  Was this something we even wanted to fool with?  Should I just haul this thing off for scrap metal and try and recoup some of the loss?  <sigh>

Another text….. More bad news? “Is it ok if we tear the kitchen out – pretty bad under there“.  I texted back “Hold off until lunch so I can look“.  I really didn’t want to see the damage, but it would at least give me an hour or 2 to think about what to do.  At lunch time we talked.  Taya said she was worried that I would think this was too big a project for us, and want to haul it off for scrap.  But our family has done lots of crazy projects together – this would be another chance to work together and accomplish something else “impossible”.  Guess it’s true that after you’ve been married long enough you can start reading each others minds <grin>.  And she’s a huge encouragement when faced with these projects that seem to take on a life of their own.

We figured we needed to gut the whole interior, as we weren’t even sure what worked, and what didn’t.  This would allow us to revamp everything inside to fit our needs, not try and cram us all into a floor plan meant for half the people.  Yikes… I’ve never gutted a camper before.  Houses, yes…. Barns, yep….  Campers, not even sure how they’re put together.  “I guess that’s the best way to go…..”

For the next couple days, I would get the occasional text with pictures attached as she and the twins wreaked destruction within the walls of the camper:

“Wow this been wet a long time”

“Ian really likes demolition”

After tearing out the ceilings, walls, kitchen, bathroom, bunks – basically everything down the the studs and metal skin; it looked like a tin can with rotten wood holding it up on the inside.  So this is how a camper is put together….wow.  Unfortunately we don’t have any pictures of this step, but you can try and imagine it.  Kinda depressing.  The next part to tackle was the floor.  As part of the cleanup of the demolition, Taya mentioned “I swept up some sawdust that used to be the floor”.  Yep – the floor in the bathroom was so rotten it could be removed with a broom.  I started poking around, and found the floor joists were rotten, as well as the plywood.  We needed to start at the base and work our way up.

Lots of prying, removing old flooring and rotten plywood, down to the joists.  The older boys and I pulled up the old fiberglass and bagged it up.  Next we pulled up the joists.  Since we needed a place to stand while we worked, we only tore up a section at a time, then replaced and moved to the next.  We laid new pressure-treated 2×4’s for floor joists; careful to place them on the metal supports of the frame and screwed them together.  In between the joists we stuffed Rock Wool insulation; since it doesn’t absorb moisture.  On top of that we screwed down 3/4″ tongue and groove OSB.  We didn’t bother gluing it down, as this is going to be a stationary trailer; after it’s initial voyage to our future farm.  I did manage to squeeze in 1 blurry picture of the first section of flooring we got laid down.

You can see the metal skin of the camper behind the old fiberglass there.  The foil on the left and right sides is the insulation that is over the wheel wells of the camper.  The one on the right side flopped around a lot, we found that the framework of the wall was so rotten that there was almost nothing holding the wheel well in.  You see the light shining thru at the top of the picture, just right of center?  That’s where the metal skin was pulling away from the wood, because it was so rotten there was nothing for the screws to grab anymore.  We had a lot of repair work ahead of us.

After a few weekends, we got all the flooring replaced.  Altogether it took 5 sheets of OSB, 24 8 foot treated 2×4’s, 2-3 packs of Rock Wool insulation and a couple boxes of screws.  I no longer had to worry about ending up in the grass when I walked. I could jump up and down on the floor and it didn’t move a bit, not even a squeak – I weigh just shy of 240#, so it’s plenty sturdy.

Now that we had a stable floor to work on, we could begin work on the framework for the walls.  This was the part that had me a little worried.  If I took out too much, or the wrong piece of framework I was afraid that the whole thing would come crashing down on us.  So I studied a few more online sites, and watched a couple more YouTube videos.  It didn’t look as hard as I was making it out to be, so I grabbed the sawzall and started cutting.  Turns out the large majority of the wood was so rotten that it just crumbled to dust in my hand.  Wow…  Sadly I didn’t get any pictures of this work; but basically it went like this – cut a rotten piece out, find something solid to attach a new piece to, and repeat.  I used an air-nailer to tack the pieces in place, then ran screws in for more structural support.  Some areas were much worse than others, but I checked each and every piece of wood for soundness with my pocket knife.  If the point sunk in more than the tiniest bit, it got replaced.  Instead of buying 2×2’s I saved about $1 per board by buying 2×4’s and ripping them down on the table saw.  I lost track of how many boards we actually replaced, but after about 4 weekends, we got all of the walls done.

After doing the walls, we moved on to the roof rafters.  Since most of the water damage appeared to be from a leaky roof, about 1/3 of the rafters needed to be replaced.  Because of the bow of the roof, I couldn’t just stick a 2×4 up in there, each rafter had to be cut and contoured with a jig saw.  I had 1 rafter that I was able to pull out in mostly one piece, so I used it as a guide to make a template out of new wood.  We replaced about 7 or 8 rafters this way.  They slipped into place, then I would tack them with the air-nailer and then put a couple screws in for support.  We got all the rafters done in 1 day.

The whole time we were working on the floor, walls and ceiling we kept the camper covered with a giant tarp.  I knew there were some pretty good leaks in the roof, so this was the next problem to tackle.  The majority of the time we’d been working on the camper, the weather had been pretty cold.  Now it was beginning to warm up, so we should be able to seal the roof.  We were blessed with a nice 70 degree day, and no rain for 2-3 days.  I picked up a 5 gallon bucket of the silver tinted (heat reflective) tar, and Taya climbed the ladder and started rolling it on the roof.  She covered almost the whole thing, then I put a second coat on.  That stuff sticks to everything it gets near – hands, clothes, hair, the ground…  and it eats thru rubber gloves too.  Taya found that out by personal experience – gloves are not gonna be much good if you’re trying to keep your hands clean.  It does wash off with paint thinner and elbow grease though.

After a few days of drying, it was time for the big test.  The weather forecast was calling for rain.  Would it leak?  Would all of our hard work get all wet?  It didn’t leak.  Not a drop.  Just for good measure, it rained for 3 days, but inside was as dry as can be.  Ok – time to start putting up some walls….

Taya and I went on a date to the hardware store (I’m so romantic) and started looking at different materials for the walls and ceiling.  We narrowed it down to 3 choices – paneling, shower wallboard, and drywall.  We talked about plywood, but for the walls it would be super expensive – 1 sheet of luan plywood was around $30.  The paneling was around $10 a sheet, but it was dark, and very 1970’s looking – plus it’s flammable.  The shower wallboard was a better option – it had a bright white shiny finish, and was about $13 a sheet.  But it too was flammable.  That brought us to – drywall; fire resistant, we can paint it easily – but kind of a weird choice for a camper, as it’s pretty heavy.  But again, this camper was only going to make 1 voyage, and then be parked.  So drywall it was.

We picked up fiberglass, drywall and 10 pounds of screws, and got to work.  The twins traded off helping me hang the walls, I only got a picture of Ian helping – Austin really did help.  The side walls went up fairly quickly, with some cuts for windows and the wheel wells.  The end walls were a little more difficult because of the weird angles, but we were able to piece them together.

 

The older boys have spent several days spackling and sanding while I’m at work, and then we would hang some new drywall.  We have about 1/3 of the ceiling hung at this point (sorry no photos yet), and should have it finished in a couple days. After finishing the ceiling we’ll finally have a space we can figure out how to lay out the bunks, the composting toilet and the kitchen.  We saved the old sink from the demolition, and my Mom gave us the propane stove from their old camper.

I’ll post another update when we have more work completed, and let y’all know how things turn out.  Thanks for hanging in there thru this kind of long post.  I’ll have a wrap-up of materials we used, and a final cost in a future post.

Until next time……

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Dave
    April 9, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Great job! It is a lot of work, my brother did his camper last year, not a complete tear down. It’s nice to start with a clean slate, that way you can design your own layout.keep up the good work

    • April 10, 2015 at 4:00 pm

      Hi Dave – thanks for stopping by. Yep – it’s a LOT of work. Biggest job was figuring out the jigsaw puzzle of the framework, and how to rip out and replace the rotten wood. Everything else is like building a shed or something. It just takes time. One of the reasons we decided to totally gut it was so we could redesign the floor plan. There’s 9 of us that will be sleeping in this, so the original design just didn’t suit our needs. This will allow us to do exactly what we need.

  2. jamro1
    April 9, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    You missed a great opportunity to place hidden storage areas in your camper. if you enclose the framework under your trailer with sheet aluminum you could make hatches inside under the floor for storage of food, weapons & ammo.

    • April 10, 2015 at 3:58 pm

      Jamro1 – thanks for stopping by. You know, I never even thought of that. The framework already had an aluminum skin – that’s what hold in the insulation. I never even thought of putting hidden storage in. Good idea, wish I’d thought of that.

  3. Son of Liberty
    April 9, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    Unless you allowed for movement in the joints I hope you never plan on moving this camper. Otherwise your joints will crack if you used the ‘spackle’ on the gypsum board joints. Gypsum board is also much heavier than an inexpensive 5/32″ paneling – but I’m sure you figured that part out by now.

    Blessings,

    Son of Liberty

    • April 10, 2015 at 4:19 pm

      Hi Son of Liberty – I realize that we’ll have plenty of cracks after it’s one and only voyage – a 5 gallon bucket of spackle will take care of that. Once we move it, it won’t go anywhere after that.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. John Brown
    April 10, 2015 at 12:41 am

    I hope your frame was steel and not aluminum. Treated lumber should never be used with treated lumber. Get job otherwise.

    • April 10, 2015 at 4:24 pm

      John Brown – thanks for the heads up about aluminum and treated wood – the local Lowe’s store has signs posted all over about what not to use on treated wood. Don’t think it mentioned aluminum, just “no galvanized”. Fortunately we put the wood on the steel beams of the camper, so no worries there.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  5. David
    August 21, 2015 at 1:00 am

    Thanks so much for documenting your camper makeover experiences with the world! I enjoyed reading about your processes. I had bought a travel trailer about a year ago, but fortunately have not had anything like this happen to my trailer. I am handy like you are and enjoy reading up and obtaining more knowledge for any future projects. Thanks again!

  6. keebler
    August 23, 2015 at 11:20 am

    I have a TT just like the one pictured ,except for the AC. mine has (4) vents on the roof.. I replaced the vents first to stop leaks (internet) started stripping it out -added/made NEW arched roof beams so water rolls off now, added a few wall wood ( studding)? plus added New SS screws on the outside to strengthen it. a lot less flexing too & ratteling. Hopefully I might get more done when the weather cools off. I plan to replace all the wiring & lighting to Mostly 12 volt (Led’s). good luck to any one doing the rebuild a older TT,
    Keebler.

  7. February 1, 2017 at 8:07 am

    Old camper needs extra care as it becomes old its roof become weaker Roof Repair Materials Connecticut gives new bond as new but you have to be very careful about old roof.

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