Back in the 80s I had a pickup truck camper. It was a nasty affair that I paid $500 for and think I got took!
(Representative picture…no digital pictures exist of my old camper)
On the back of a Chevy K20 pickup I hauled that thing all over hill and dale. Took the kids to Florida, Hersey Park and on many hunting and fishing trips. The back roads of Maine on various hunting and fishing trips twisted it so much it simply started to fall apart. Low hanging trees really took their toll. After a few years, I took it to the local dump and simply pushed it off the back of the truck…..A bulldozer laid it to rest….
Fast forward 30+ years and it’s time for another Truck Camper.
A few years ago I bought the last truck I hope to ever buy.
2006 Dodge 4X4 with a 5.9L Cummins Diesel. So far, this is easily the best truck I’ve ever owned! I’ve had a dozen GM products and a few Fords. But I never owned a Dodge. This truck is just ready to turn 200,000 miles and other than simple maintenance items it has been zero issues. Talk about power! Simply amazing how fast this truck is. I installed a “Juice With Attitude” and it eats 5L Mustangs for breakfast!
A camper for this truck would need to meet a few requirements:
Light weight….. I don’t need anything fancy. Just me and a buddy or me and a couple young grand-kids.
Fold Down style…..Need to get under those tree branches.
Toilet and Shower…….My last camper didn’t have either and I think this will be a great addition.
Plans are to use it on the weekend for hunting and fishing, camping with the grand-kids and attending Cowboy Action Shooting events around the country. And in a couple years when I retire I’d like to take a little drive to South America. A few years ago I drove to the top of the North American continent on a motorcycle ( www.motoalaska.blogspot.com ) So now I need to do the same going south!
THE SEARCH BEGINS
Up here in New England there are very few truck campers on the used market. And I wasn’t interested in the expense of a new unit. And there are even less pop up type truck campers around these parts.
Craig’s List turned up two units. Both the same Model, Palomino 1200. Both within 50 miles of my house. One was $2000 and the other $3000. The $3000 unit was closest so I went to look at that one first. It was down on Cape Cod being sold by a gal that recently bought a brand new Palomino.
It was in very good shape and was used by a non-smoker and was clean as a whistle inside. The previous – previous owner was using it on the beaches of Cape Cod where you need to have a permanent toilet with a holding tank. This he installed in a very professional manner. It had an outdoor shower, 3 way refrigerator, stove, heater, the works! I told the seller I was going to look at the other unit and would get back to her.
The second unit wasn’t in as good condition and did not have a toilet. But it was $1000 less. I informed the first units owner that I wouldn’t be buying her camper but thanks for showing it to me. She then told me that she wanted it “out of my yard!” Give me $1500 and it’s yours! SOLD!
I drove back down to the Cape and picked it up before she changed her mind.
Driving the 50 miles back home I was amazed at how the Dodge handled it. Like it wasn’t there! Didn’t seem to effect my mileage, but a longer trip will tell.
Once home I did a thorough inspection.
Appears to be a 1998 model
The interior is clean as a pin!
Three way Refrigerator / freezer…CHECK!
Not much cooking went on here…
Clean SS sink and the thermostat for the heater.
It came with what looked like a brand new deep cycle AMG battery. But it was discharged. I put it on a charger and brought it back to life. SCORE!
The camper has a near new side awning that I hadn’t noticed during the purchase. Looks like it might never had been used. SCORE again!
All the screens and windows are in perfect condition. No tears and the plastic windows are crystal clear.
The previous – previous owner had installed a full toilet system. He installed it into the rear closet. But unless you weigh under 100 pounds and are under 5′ tall, you simply can’t use it. I think he might have installed it simply to meet the requirement of having a self contained toilet system for access on the Cape Cod beaches, but never used it. It looks brand new!
I’ll need to get an education on how to use this waste system. My last Truck Camper didn’t have a toilet or a waste tank. I bet this process can be real fun!
So, that’s all the good stuff………but with any camper over 20 years old, there must be issues. And there were.
The first concern was the left rear jack. When we were loading it on the truck this jack was extremely wobbly. Upon inspection it was clear why. This jack pad it located directly under the outdoor shower cutout into the camper body. And the only material supporting this corner of the TC is a piece of 3/4″ X 1″ pine and the 1/2″ wafer board below it. This whole area had collapsed. By the grace of God it didn’t topple over at some point!
I cut everything out and installed a piece of oak with West System Epoxy and bolts.
And I reinforced the bottom of the compartment with a piece of 3/4 marine plywood
On the outside I wanted to really sure things up. About ten years ago a buddy of mine gave me a couple of nice pieces of 3/16″ stainless steel with a 90 degree bend on one side.
From these plates I cut a couple of large brackets to bolt to the bottom of the wings and the jack mounts would in turn bolt to these plates. Spreading the weight out.
I liked how this came out so I decided to do the other corner also since this is where the propane tank lives and it is just as weak an area. Inside the cabinet, I used a piece of 1/8″ plate steel and bolted directly through to the mounting plate and the reinforcing plate outside. Both of these rear jacks are super sturdy now.
The front mounts needed to be widened. These jacks use a tripod base and the feet are not far enough apart for my truck to clear when backing under the camper.
So using the same stainless steel plate I fashioned a couple of extension mounts and spread the front jacks 4″
On the inside I used the existing mounting plates. But this will be replaced with a large piece of 1/8″ steel plate in the future.
So now the camper sits on its jacks….rock solid!
The PPO (previous – previous owner) had installed hand rails all the way around the camper. Not sure why as I never met him. But they will come in handy to hang towels to dry and for steadying myself after a long night of surf fishing….if ya know what I mean… My wife says she is going to bury me in this thing and the handles will be used by the pallbearers………..Nice huh?
I made up a set of “I-Beam” saw horses from a plan I found on the internet. These things are extremely easy to make, and depending on the wood you use can each support over a half ton!
Here is a link to the actual plans:
As you can see above, I needed to use blocks to get the camper high enough to get it on or off the truck. I’ll be making up some extensions for the jacks at some point in time. The blocks are a real PITA!
Next on the exterior was adding tail lights. Because my truck has a 6.5′ bed, and this camper is 8′ long, the trucks tail lights are obscured.
I added a set of inexpensive, surface mounted lights. The diamond plate was installed by the PPO. I think it looks nice!
At some point I’ll need to address this issue with the floor. Seems at some point someone simply screwed a sheet of plywood to the bottom.and it is failing. Not sure why they did this, the floor shows no sign of rot and there isn’t a leak or appearance of a water stain anywhere within this camper.
I need to raise the camper up 1.5″ to clear the fold back tonneau cover rails on my truck. I used a couple of 2X4s to lift it a bit to get it home. My plan is to build a 2X4 grid, bolt it to the bottom and insulate in the voids with rigid foam. Stay tuned.
I installed a new nylon electrical connector for clearance lights, stop-turn-running lights, camper power and ground.
So with the outside secured, time to move inside.
First order of business was to install an auxiliary fuse panel for future 12V electrical needs.
I mounted it to the inside of the door under the sink.
From this panel I’m running two 12v lighter sockets for charging cell phones, operating computers and other devices that need 12V.
One next to the table.
And I installed a volt meter to keep an eye on the battery with another 12V socket below.
The CO2 detector was working fine, but the propane detector was defective. I ordered one from Amazon and replaced it.
This spring I’ll be adding a few solar panels to the roof and a couple of LED flood lights on the exterior. I’ll replace all the interior lighting with LED and that should be it for the camper modifications.
That done, the truck needed attention.
I’ll be pulling a trailer with this camper on the truck and I wanted to firm up the suspension. I decided on AIRLIFT 5000 airbags.
With air tools, less than an hour to install. Great product!
I decided to go with the heavy duty compressor system to inflate and deflate the bags and keep pressure constant while under way. This system is also available from AIRLIFT.
The compressor was mounted right next to the drivers seat and fit perfectly under a small flap the Dodge has. I bolted it right through the floor of the truck and sealed everything up with 5000 caulking.
(Those white flakes you see are snow. There was a raging blizzard blowing when I took these pictures!)
I mounted the pressure gauge and controller under the dash. This system will maintain 10 pounds of pressure in the bags automatically. The bags could be damaged if allowed to go under 10 pounds. And no matter what I do, I have very slow air leaks. Every time I start the truck, the compressor kicks on for about ten seconds to get back to 10 pounds. Using the buttons on the gauge, I can pump up the bags individually to 100 pounds which gives the truck a VERY stiff suspension. With the camper on the truck and 40-50 pounds in the bags, the truck handles like a Porsche. A great addition to any truck carrying a load. Because I have separate control to the left and right bag, I can equalize a load from left to right. Nice!
I’m getting lazy in my old age. In the past this gauge would have been flush fit into the dash. But now I say…”GoodNuff!”
Under the hood I used a constant duty relay to send power to the compressor and to the 12v camper feed. When the truck is turned off, no power flows from the truck’s batteries.
While I was under the hood I replaced the SUPERWINCH circuit breaker strip. My truck has receivers front and rear that accept a 5000 pound portable winch.
Here is what the winch came with.
And I replaced it with a self contained circuit breaker that I can disconnect when not using the winch.
Using a small strip of that stainless steel plate, I fashioned a bracket that holds the circuit breaker and at the same time makes the electrical connection. Nice!
And lastly, I needed a way to hold the camper to the truck. TORKLIFT got the nod.
Talk about easy to install. About 30 minutes total and I didn’t even get dirty! And solid as the dollar….Actually, I think they are much more solid than the dollar is currently!
So this is where I’m at currently with my Palomino Bronco 1200 camper refurb. Hope you liked it. Comments, suggestions are always welcome!
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