Alaskan Camper '84/'14 Build Thread

I have been meaning to get a build thread going, so here it is. The only time I really have to post is on my breaks and lunch from my BlackBerry, so please be patient.

Late last winter my then 13 year old son and I found a 8' Alaskan camper for sale near our home in central CT. These things never come up for sale here, in fact I have never even seen another on the road around here.

We ran over as soon as the guy was available, we were lucky as it was sunny and warm-this was late February 2014. The camper was stored under a large equipment shed, so it was currently dry. It was up on blocks, so I was able to get a good look underneath. The prior owner had made 2x6" skids under the camper to keep the floor pack off the truck bed. The bottom of the floor was solid, which was a good sign.

The camper was gutted of appliances, including the oven/stove and absorption fridge. It had no toilet or shower.

My son and I spent a few hours poking around as best we could. There were some signs of rot around the upper roof section where it radius to the sides, I decided I could easily repair this as I have a full wood shop, as well as weld and machine tools. I should have ran away at this point, but I had finally convinced the CFO that the sky would not fall if I bought a truck camper, so I drug it home.

Did I mentioned that I should have run away? :)

Here are some day #1 pics. At this point the plan was to get rid of the old cushions and curtains, throw in some new linoleum and an ARB fridge and go camping.

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Here are a couple from the inside.

I bought this thinking that it was an '84, when I posted some pics up on WTW, they thought the better materials (all ash ply and solid wood) put it in the 60s or early 70s.

Apparently there was a period in the 80s where the cabinets were built out of a cheaper material.

I found a serial number and a pencil date written on some roof framing that supports a build date in 83/84. I can't explain why the interior is different other than they had several factories building these things.

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When I started ripping things apart in my driveway it was apparent that some work that I thought was original was a very high quality repair job. I was told that I am the third owner, not bad for a 32+ year old camper.
I'm glad the second owner only had it for a short time because he was a framer and I can tell what he touched. Hint-6" Tek screws are for landscaping and barns, not campers.

I immediately realized that the rot was much more extensive than I thought, without taking the sheet metal off you really can't see much, and even poking around with an awl only gets you so far

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At this point two things became clear
1) I probably was NOT camping in the Alaskan this summer, I had a Nuclear Refuel outage coming up that was going to tie me up for 70+ hrs a week for 6-8 weeks.
2) working outside under a tarp in CT in the winter was not going to cut it.

I rearranged my shop so I could get the camper in one bay. I have a two car garage with heat, and one side was set up as a machine shop, the other was a wood shop. I managed to get one bay clear, but it was ugly, with too many tools jammed in the shop side. I made it functional, and eventually a bit efficient, but I still get pissed everytime I have to open a door to turn a piece of wood around or rip a board length wise.

I got the camper inside and proceeded to tackle the rot.

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I was able to surgically remove the framework while leaving the nice ash ply intact, both sides were rotted in a similar manner, and I ended up making new framework for everything forward and below the big side windows.

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The original owner(I think) seemed to have very good build skills, but didn't really understand that water and wood campers don't mix. He had used some sort of carpet material to seal the gap where the flip up cabover panels meet the inside of the roof section. This caused the entire rim of the cabover section to become rotted from being constantly wet. I couldn't see this when I bought the camper, because it was covered in aluminum and the interior ply had been replaced. I don't believe the guy I bought it from knew this, but who knows.

I made a command decision not to repair the cabover in its original configuration
(twin bed east/west)
I decided it would not be too much more work to extend the cabover to a queen bed in a north/south position. My wife likes to stay up late reading, and she would not have to climb over me with the new setup(or me her when I get up to take a leak :) )

So I rolled the camper outside and took a saw to the cabover section. When I originally put the camper in the garage, I mounted 4 heavy duty casters on the corners, this worked out great and I could full open the roof if I was careful to avoid the roof vent hitting the door openers.

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Obviously if I was extending the cabover, I would either need all new sheet metal for the roof, or deal with a big seam on the roof.
I called around and searched endlessly on the Web, the only place I found that could duplicate the original pattern on the now 14'x9' wide roof was Hemet Rv in CA, about as far as you can get from CT. They have a 14' sheet metal brake and he thought he could sneak a few extra inches in the brake.

Shipping a 15' long x 3' x3' box from CA to CT was expensive, as much as the roof piece alone, so I decided to order sheet metal for the whole camper.

I was nervous about what the actual length of the roof would be, the guy I spoke with was not 100% sure on the 170" that I wanted. So I decided to work on the lower section instead of building the new cabover roof section.

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The old Alaskans were made in 8 locations with the closest one to you in Pennsylvania. From what I've seen there seems to be a lot of variation in interior finishes and quality control between the factories. My old camper was made in Fort Lupton CO in the mid 80's and has some great wood in it. I wish my additions were up to the quality of the original cabinets. I thought the same thing as you about the shag carpet you were referring to and had pulled it out, but I found out that it was original from the factory.

It is a great job your doing with this old camper can't wait to see the rest of the work.

The following photos represent the second major mistake of this project( the first being the purchase)

One of the best things that resulted from this build was the purchase of a Festool track saw. This is a plunge type circular saw with great dust collection and precise depth control. It runs on a track, and the edge of the track matches the cut line. You can do some really precise and fairly absurd things with it, it will cut to 1/2" of a wall, and the track can be drill for screws so that it can be attached to a wall or ceiling( you need to hold the saw to the track in these cases, but it's easy.

I used the festool to cut all the original cabinets out. The cabinets were screwed thru the wall from the outside, under the siding. At this point I had not ordered the sheet metal for the lower section, so removing was not an option. I very quickly had a shell that I could customize.

I spent couple days doodling layouts on paper. I wanted a cassette toilet, an smev stove, double sink, and a furnace, along with a water heater. I also wanted a slide for my ARB fridge.

The end result was similar to the original design (the boys at Alaskan have the best use of space thing figured out)
My design moved the bulkhead and cabinets around to fit my needs.

I decided to insulate the lower section while I was here, this took longer than I thought it would.

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I used three different phones during this period, my photos are horribly unorganized, and some are missing, so I will get rapidly to the point.

At one point I ordered the roof and sheet metal for the lower section.

After spending several weekends framing up and insulating the lower section, I found some rot in the corners when I stripped the sheet metal off. Any sane person would have used it as is, it really was not too bad, but being a little OCD, and after ridding the roof section of every spec of rot(upper section is about 80% new, and what is original looks new), I decided to take the lower section to the dump.