1982 Fleet Flatbed Conversion Project

No rush to build anything further? I should follow you lead . Nice trip!
Haha, well, I have the basics. Overhead light, sink with hand pump, drop in cutting board, 6 gallon fresh & 6 gallon grey water tanks, 20 lb propane, stove, Mr Buddy heater plumbed into 20 lber, and a 105 amp/hr battery with 12V outlets that's charged off the 7 pin truck plug. The slide out bed works great. So at this point, it's a matter of aesthetics. Most of the above mentioned amenities are somewhat temporary, not stained & sealed, so not exactly pretty. But they work!

Thanks for the compliments guys. Good to see you're both using your campers as well.
Little update. I made a nicer battery box with a small storage cubby. I did this because I am installing a 100w solar panel and wanted a better place to put the charge controller. The lid is held on with velcro, nice and simple. I went with a GreeSonic 15A mppt controller and Renogy panel. 15A breaker on 10ga wire between them, with 30A breaker between CC and battery, also on 10ga wire. With my modest electric needs, I anticipate this system being more than adequate. I can easily add an additional panel if my needs change. Everything is installed except the panel itself: need a clear day and time. I'm excited to collect some photons!

During a warm spell two weeks ago, I spent three nights in nearby state parks (Curt Gowdy, and Glendo), mtn biking by day. I'm looking forward to summer.


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The solar panel was mounted a week and half ago. I had aluminum angle on hand, and used that to make a mounting system that will hold up to 3 100W panels, though I suspect 100W will suite my current needs easily.
With some good weather on tap for the weekend, and a Friday chock full of meetings, I was itching to get out. So Friday night, after a quick mtb bike ride, I grabbed some food, a 6 pack, biking & running/hiking gear, and a tank of fuel and left town. I had never climbed Laramie Peak so I headed there first. About 50 miles on pavement, then ~70 or so on dirt. I found the area striking; the mountains are rugged with a lot of impressive granite. I saw this sign, which made me laugh.
Saturday I made my way up the mountain, encountering snow around 8000'. The views were mostly obscured by trees, but a few lookouts provided some views.
By 9000' it was unsupportive, miserable post holing with a looming storm. I pressed on longer than I should have, hoping for a switch to supportive snow, but it did not happen.
So the summit will have to wait. I returned to the truck, and looked at a few maps, selecting the more obscure route along FS roads through the mountains to reach I-25 and go to Glendo State Park for excellent mtb trails. I was apparently the first vehicle to go through this season, as there were countless downed trees. A group in SxS's was traveling the same road, and helped move many trees before passing me. The area had a large fire some years ago, so there are many weak trees..
After some time, the group turned around, and mentioned the road terminates on private property, just a few miles ahead. The oldest in the group strongly urged caution if I decided to continue on the road. I assumed it was because I was solo in a full size truck on a rough road with a slide in camper, 80+ miles from pavement. My maps all showed the FS road reaching the county road so I continued on. It was an adventure and I wanted to know what was ahead! Beyond the end of the SxS tire tracks, there were several downed trees. One I could only move with the aid of a strap, as I had left my chainsaw at home.
Shortly after this, a sign signified the end of USFS Land. A few hundred yards later, the intent of the private land owner was made clear: Do Not Proceed. I thought of the sign from the morning..
So, I turned back. Getting a little low on fuel, I was unsure of the wisdom of the choice. But, I didn't want to be charged for trespassing, or worse, shot at. Ranchers of Wyoming tend to take trespassing seriously, and if they decide a FS road on their property is no longer open, it is closed.
Backtracking in the dark, I camped above a canyon after climbing out of it. This would be a bad place to be in a big rain event: no way my open diff's and AT tires could claw their way back out in the mud. Some old ruts suggested this is a real possibility. Not to mention the 30" deep creek crossing would likely swell to snorkel depths.
After many uneventful miles, I found the reason so few had been in the area yet this season. 20180429_134414.jpg
A short section of a snow drift separated the west side of the range from the more populous east. So, I dug a track out, then drove through easily. Old drifts don't punch through like fresh drifts: no way I'd have made it through without digging, chained up or not.
After that, it was another 40+ miles on dirt, somewhere along the way I left the county. Then I reached the state park, rode some of my favorite mtb trails, aired the truck tires back up, and took the pavement home. Albany County is massive; and a great place to call home.
I've come to the conclusion hard mounting the flatbed is not going to work long term. I've found cracks in the front two mounts (6 mounts total), from the twisting of the truck frame over ditches/washes/rocks/etc. I don't know when it cracked; but glad it wasn't the truck frame cracking. Nothing catastrophic but I don't think welding it back up is the answer. I don't do crazy wheeling, just not afraid of lifting a tire. Apparently that calls for a three point mount, even on this shortbox truck. These open C-channel frames are very flexible! I'm thinking three big rubber bushings, two in the rear, one in the front. I'll be reviewing the wealth of knowledge on this topic within this site in the coming weeks, but any additional input is welcome.
While continuing to brainstorm on a three point mount, I reworked the kitchen area last week and then went for a trip near home. There's more counter space than before, it's easier to clean, has more storage, holds everything much more securely, and generally looks a lot better. I don't have many pictures but the idea was I want only as much storage as I need [to avoid bringing excess stuff], and I like floor space. So far, I like it a lot. Stove & sink can be used with the bed out too. I went down a road that has a few bad holes in it and nothing was out of place when I opened the door, so that's already a big improvement!

I am thinking about adding a winch, as I tend to travel solo more often than not. Maybe a lunchbox locker in the rear, budget dependent. Sort of the age old question of wheeling.. I think I'm in the "both" camp, but only want to pay for one or the other now. Not that I need either, exactly, but stuck happens! Sometimes from poor judgement (been there, called it Ford Island) and others from bad weather (what worries me on stormy nights). A spool of peace of mind just makes sense.
The rear axle is locked up now. Wow, what a difference! I put an Aussie locker in the Ford 8.8", and it seems the truck is more capable as a true 2x4 than it ever was in "4x4". In 4-low with the hubs locked and aired down to 20psi this thing feels very capable. After driving Hagerman Pass with the hubs unlocked, and never slipping a tire even a half rotation, I decided the clicking of the locker is a non-issue for me. The low speed control is great; no more using momentum to get through sections that unweight a front & rear tire simultaneously. I drove up Mosquito Pass from Leadville, CO and back down after Hagerman, and while the shelf road was a little nerve racking the truck just chugged right up.
I added a winch to my kit at the same time as the locker, just a 9k lb Badlands, that lives in the backseat (stapped down) along with a snatch block and other associated winch gear. It's on a hitch cradle, and I wired an Anderson power pole connector up front for electrical supply and ease of use. The air compressor alligator clips conveniently fit into the power pole connector, so no more opening the hood to air back up. After experiencing the locker's added traction, I doubt I'll need a winch much at all.

To aid in storing the winch and organizing other gear, I built a platform in place of the backseat. The deck is made of 5 pieces of ply, each piece velcro'd in place, and sits on some aluminum angle I attached to the sides & rear of the cab, with a steel tube up front. It's 25" deep, 70" wide, and 14" from the cab floor. I can store all recovery gear, tools, chainsaw, air compressor, tarp, and more under the deck. The winch and tool box are strapped down for safety, hi-lift bolted down. The backseat is no longer a cluster of gear: very organized and easy to pack. It's also a possible bed should I have the camper off during a trip.

Both sway bars have been removed from the truck. I wanted to get more articulation off road, and could not devise a disconnect system for front or rear. So, as an experiment I pulled them and went for a test drive. The stiffer springs and Bilstein shocks keep the truck planted. There is a barely detectable increase in body roll when really cranking corners but it is very much fine. After an 800 mile trip, I will not be replacing them. They were optional on these trucks anyway and there is a definite improvement in axle articulation with them removed.

I'm still planning on a 3 point tube frame for the camper...just keep finding other ways to spend my time, like camping!
Good to see you getting out and using it! Just 1 trip for me so far this year. Maybe a trip to Canada next month. I sure do like the extra space you gain with a flatbed.
I've been fortunate to be able to get out fairly frequently. Summer just started though, hopefully you can get out and enjoy it! Someday I will make it to Canada, and Alaska. Do you fish up there? Which province?

My mother visited recently, and it happened to be during the wettest forecast we've had in months. I'm not complaining, we needed the rain badly..
Well, normally we backpack for these visits, but a 30 hour period of cold rain in single wall tents and rain coats isn't what I'd call showing someone a good time. The camper let us get near a trail head via the scenic route (pictured), sleep in comfort at a nice lake (pictured), then backpack before the rain, retreat to comfort when the rains started, and enjoy some wheeling and day hiking instead. Haven't had that option in years past; the flexibility was really nice (luxurious I'd say). The rain even made for a "full on double rainbow all the way!!!" right outside Leadville, which was gorgeous. The camera goofed up the pano but oh-well, the memory is clear. Hagerman Pass.jpg
Double Rainbow with truck.jpg

After using the camper quite a bit, I've decided I do not want a permanent lower bed, instead using a cot when I have a passenger/guest. I sleep up top, and when solo appreciate the interior space of having nothing permanent along the passenger side. It gives me a place to keep my bike too. So, that means the interior is "done". I may trim the windows yet, but that's just aesthetics so I probably won't do it anytime soon.
I picked up some 2x2x11ga steel tube, steel 2.5x3/16 angle, a spool of wire, and a big greaseable bushing. Built a pivot mount for the flatbed, that also works on a separate, more skeletal tube frame just for the camper. Here's the pivot & skeletal tube frame. Don't mind the mixed paint color, just used whatever I had on hand..
This cut about 350lbs off the truck and gets the camper 2" farther forward and 1" lower (can't go lower due to cab clearance, and the need to be able to fill the gas tanks). I call this project "Operation Breaker" because my cheap welder on ancient house wiring required a few trips to the breaker.. 20(?) trips. But with MAP gas to preheat the metal, and the 110V welder set on high, it actually did get decent penetration. I sure miss easy access to a full fabrication shop! This truck will be swapped between flatbed mode in the fall & winter, and camper mode late spring/summer. I can still drop the camper on the original flatbed too, for camping during mixed use seasons (saving the trouble of pulling the flatbed). A trailer might be wiser than swapping, but it is convenient not storing or towing one.
Rear mount of skeletal frame:
I wired up some trailer lights for the time being. I also put some plastic sheet on the bottom side of the camper to take the tire spray until I figure out what I want to do there (fenders, mud flaps, etc.).

Hopefully this helps off road. I've been blown away by the locker, but cutting weight never hurts. Now I don't have to worry about the flatbed cracking off of its mounts either (cracks actually weren't as bad as I thought upon further inspection).
After a bike ride today, I went to some FS roads on the way home and checked out how this articulating mount works in the rough. I noticed it sways a bit cruising along on dirt, and during a swerve on pavement. I may want to add dampers of sorts to keep that at bay (rubber in the front mount, or shocks between subframe and truck frame--any input welcome). I drove up a rock at a campsite, total "poser" shots here but served the purpose.
With this mount letting the flexible frame do its thing, and no sway bars, letting the axles droop (mainly the rear), this old truck actually did pretty well at keeping tires on the ground. I could tip it to lift a wheel by hand in the above picture. If I change up the hitch & spare situation, the departure angle could be really good, and this truck will chug it's way along anything around here I can think of, with a camper, with no issues!
Here's the articulating front mount to show frame twist: 20180722_193750.jpg
And this shows the dark side of poly cab mounts with a rubber Ford frame... It popped back, but, yikes. There's 3.5" of cab to camper cab over clearance, I wouldn't want to go much tighter unless doing a rear pivot, or if the truck frame was much stiffer.
Next update might involve a spare tire swing out, not sure yet. That's not a pressing issue, so it may be some time.
Don't think I want the swing out tire carrier. Kind of a pain in the butt having to open it every time and I don't need it at this time. If I had the foresight, I would have put the entry door of the camper off to the driver side so I could do a non-swing tire carrier. Or a side entry door. So if you're reading this and planning a flatbed build: do a side entry or offset rear entry door! I'll live with the reduced departure angle with the stock spare location, and if I know I'm going down a very challenging trail I can always put the tire in the camper or inside the cab (tied down of course). However, that would be pretty rare so I doubt it will be needed.

With the rear of the camper hard mounted to the truck and the front on a pivot, the frame can do it's thing. That works great at slow speeds flexing over the rough. However, something that I did not see discussed about a 3 point mount with front pivot is the tendency for the camper to sway or rock at medium speeds. This is especially apparent off road in rocky terrain, but also just crossing a curb/gutter on paved roads. This is likely due to the wet noodle Ford frame on my half ton (open C, 3/16" thick) and the pivot being under the heaviest part of the camper. The camper leverages against the torsional rigidity of the frame (which isn't much) and so there is substantial sway. Those with HD trucks may not have the issue so much, though many three point mounts on pickups I've read about do a rear pivot in the end. Front pivots are supposed to be "better" for letting the frame do what it needs to do, but I think there is solid merit to a rear pivot, and it seems like most builders end up going that way. Anyway, I'm not about to change to a rear pivot. So I added some spare/used snowmobile shocks to the front pivot to damp the motion. They're halfway in their stroke, so they can compress and expand more than enough for the frame's motion.

Simple solution, and I had everything on hand. Driver side I tied into the E-brake bracket, passenger side I made a simple bracket from angle iron. Driveway wiggle test is much improved! Actual testing will occur this weekend. (I know, the cab corners could use some attention).
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Loads better on dirt too. Even just walking around inside the camper it feels more stable.

So, once I get an idea I can't leave well enough alone. I made a really simple spare tire mount in the camper: bolts the tire to the front wall. This is how it has been mounted on my flatbed for 4 years too. So far it seems out of the way with exception of obscuring my rear view through the window, but that's not a big deal to me. Bonus points for a foot rest while sitting on the bed when it's not extended.

I did some more flex tests. I may need to lower my rear bump stops. I also discovered that the pivot mount is capable of maxing out, at which point the camper kisses the cab. This would be some pretty extreme stuff for a pickup and camper (it'd be full blown crawling) so I'm not overly worried. I've never attempted a road with anywhere near the frame twister I was just playing on. What this really showed me was just how good of an idea a pivot mount is for this kind of setup if the rig will be pushed hard.

No more ideas brewing so time to enjoy the setup before I think of something else!