Herbie's F150 + FWC Flatbed


Rendezvous Conspirator

So I probably should have started this thread a month ago. The kiddo claimed naming rights for the rig, but hasn't exercised the option yet, so I wasn't sure how to name things - I'll leave it as descriptivist for now.

I'm already behind on documenting the work on this package, so I need to get on this thread, lest I miss something!

The plot goeth thusly:

Vandalf the Beige, our 2003 Astro Van with a self-transplanted GTRV Pop Top, has been in the family since my daughter was only 3 months old. I purchased the van with the specific intent of converting it to a pop-top 4WD camper, and making sure that my daughter grew up knowing how much fun family adventure could be. On that score, mission-accomplished. That said, while a mini-van (or as the Astro/Safari folks generously dub them: "Midi-Vans") has proven to be a tidy package for fitting into tight places and narrow trails, the fact is that things are getting cozy now that daughter is almost a teen. :eek: An upgrade in size was in-order.

Furthermore, Vandalf was 99.999% DIY (and I don't mean "Built not bought" the way the Jeep guys say it :p) - I literally did everything myself, from the Pop-Top and 4WD conversion to the upholstery. The only work not done by my own hands was the re-gear and setup on the axles and the replacement of a seized brake caliper that happened en-route to Mountain Rendezvous. I'm proud of that build, but the truth is that I don't have it in me to tackle that kind of project again. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings on that subject that I'll get into at some later point. I will still get my hands dirty on the new rig, but frankly I don't have enough weekends left with my kiddo to spend them scratch-building a truck before she leaves for college.

Given all of that, 2021-2022 sounds like a perfect time to shop for a new camper, right? Nobody else is buying stuff like that right now, right? o_O Some members here have been witness to me checking out rigs at events, and cyber-stalking various truck and van owners for quite a while. Well, the diligence paid off - when this truck and camper hit the ExPo classifieds, I was on it in a flash. Is she a perfect fit for our needs? Not 100%, but damned close, and the price was right to enable me to get the rig purchased and dialed with enough time for a big summer 2022 family adventure. The Mrs. had long-since settled on the Hawk Flatbed as her preferred solution to the camper-question, and our somewhat-short (22') suburban SoCal driveway limits us to Extended-cab shortbed style trucks - No quad cabs need apply, so package-wise, this was pretty spot-on. On paper, the F150 might be slightly underspec'ed for the load, but I'm taking a wait-and-see approach - so far it seems like the previous owner did a great job with suspension upgrades, etc. and the truck handles great.

The basics:
2018 F-150 XLT 4x4
5.0 V8, 10-speed
3.73 axle w/ rear locker
36gal fuel tank
7050gvwr (2200lb payload before all the goodies)
Ute Ltd Flatbed Tray
Falcon Tow/Haul adjustable shocks
Custom Rear Leaf Pack From Boise Spring Works

2020 Hawk Flatbed

Aside from a few tasteful cosmetic updates from the original owners, this is pretty standard FWC kit for now.

These photos courtesy of previous owner @dalday and I thank him for building such a nice rig!


Rendezvous Conspirator
The Voyage Home

My habit of finding and purchasing vehicles from very far away continues unabated. (Our 2003 van was a fly-n-drive from Arizona, and the 1995 GTRV donor van was a fly-n-drive from Vancouver, BC.) This truck/camper package was listed for sale in Little Rock, AR, which posed a few new challenges, but nothing insurmountable. I'm not sure any of these merits a full writeup, unless there are questions, so I'll just give a bulleted list of things that I needed to deal with in the run-up to, and the immediate aftermath of the camper purchase:


  • This particular F-150 was built for, and originally sold to the Canadian market, then re-imported to the USA. I had no interest in accidentally having a grey- or black-market truck, so some due diligence was in-order. Having already done a Canadian vehicle import once, I knew the things to check and the people to contact. After verifying all the CMVSS and Emissions labels and obtaining a copy of the original bond-release paperwork from when the truck was imported, I felt safe in the truck's provenance and went forward with the sale.
  • Money Matters - we were paying cash for this rig - that meant moving funds around between our own accounts, but there was a bigger problem - none of our banks had an office in Little Rock, and I didn't blame the seller for being shy about accepting an out-of-state cashier's check, given that fraud happens there. Instead, I ended up opening an account with the seller's bank and doing a wire-transfer to get the funds into my account there. Not difficult, but it can take a couple of days to move large sums of money like this. On the day of the sale we finished our transaction at his branch, which went very smoothly.
  • Getting all the "stuff" home - Along with the truck and camper, there were quite a few parts that were included in the deal that needed transporting - biggest of which are the drop-sides and tailgate that came with the Ute Ltd flatbed. Fortunately the PO was able to wedge these into the space between the flatbed and frame and lash everything in place well enough to get them home. The backseat was also filled with camper jacks still in boxes and a bunch of ancillary bits.
  • Air Travel to Little Rock - I figured the cost of a 1-way ticket to pick up the camper was part of the cost of doing business, but timing worked out such that I was originally supposed to fly on the day of that big winter-arctic blast thing that dropped ice and snow all over everything from Colorado down to central Texas and Arkansas. Cancelled flights and delays ensued, but we adapt.
  • Driving route was also adjusted due to the weather - that storm left a lot of ice on the roads on my preferred route (I'd originally intended to check some Route-66 segments off my bucket list), so I diverted south. The downside of this is only that you spend like two days just in Texas. I used to be a bus driver, so I'm used to long stints behind the wheel, but this was, to date, my longest un-assisted haul in such a short time span.
  • Registration in California - As noted in this thread, I had a little snafu with getting the truck smogged. One failure was an issue of an overzealous and misguided visual inspection, the other was a quasi-legitimate concern about the change to the fuel-filler neck resulting from the flatbed conversion. The details are in that thread, but there was a delay due to needing to source a couple of adapter parts and waiting for BAR referee appointments. In the end, the truck is legal and tagged as a "Permanently Mounted" camper (passenger vehicle), rather than a commercial flatbed truck.

Now, let the fun begin!


Rendezvous Conspirator
Everybody Poops!

Jokes aside, during the early design phase of our previous camper, it became clear very quickly that family happiness depended, at least in part, on making restroom use convenient for my ladies. This was a point simply not worth arguing or trying to game. In the Astro van, I ended up building a cabinet that was large enough to hold a 5-gallon Porta-potti. (Either the Dometic 976 or Thetford Model 365 - we ended up with the Dometic.) This style of toilet has worked well enough for our needs - while not a joy to service, the process isn't terrible and fits better with the "weekenders and occasional long trip" usage pattern than a composting style toilet. Given where we live in San Diego, a traditional RV black water system was out of the question - the nearest dump station is 30 minutes in the opposite direction from where we usually adventure, adding at least an hour of overhead to every trip. (n)

While we were shopping Hawk Flatbed campers, we generally figured we'd opt for the cassette toilet option, but when this used camper popped up without that option, it turned out not to be a deal-breaker. Our Hawk's original owners had made all their option decisions around maximizing storage. The indoor shower has a few plumbing bits that eat into the under-dinette storage, so the option was skipped. Similar story with the cassette toilet - the FWC system takes over that entire curbside/forward cabinet, save for the space consumed by the water tank and battery bank. Instead, our Hawk came with a split cabinet - an upper section with a flip up lid that should be perfectly suited to dry-goods and kitchen storage, and a lower cabinet sized for a porta-potti. Overall, probably a better solution, given that we seem to have been doing just fine with portable toilets thus far.

That said, there were a couple of minor problems:
  1. The cabinet door opened towards the center of the camper - this is convenient if you want to fetch an item from outside the camper, but is 100% backwards if you want to take a porta-potti out of the cabinet while standing inside the camper - the door is right in the way.
  2. The FWC cabinet includes a 2" face frame around the opening - so in order to pull the toilet out for use, you'd have to reach in and lift it up over that 2" threshold
  3. Also, while the cabinet space is large enough to accommodate any of the 5+ gallon portable toilets, the opening was just a hair's-breadth shy of being big enough to accept the taller "Curve" model from Thetford
  4. There were also some obstructions in the cabinet - namely a wire chase at the back, and one of the bolt-down plates for mounting the camper to the flatbed
I could kick myself for not snapping a photo of the cabinet as-built. Here's the cabinet with the door removed:

In order to solve all these issues, a couple of changes were needed:

1) I cut out the lower portion of the face frame (and removed a couple of the L-brackets that screwed it to the floor. These were relocated.)

2) I also needed to raise up the floor here slightly so that there wasn't a "Lip" due to the nice vinyl floor the PO had installed. I used leftovers from the same slippery polyethylene sheet I used to slide the toilet out of the Astro camper. You can see where I had to notch around the bolt-down plate:

3) Because the width of the Thetford Curve just barely fits into the depth of this cabinet, and it would foul on the wiring channel, I needed a way to get the toilet raised up a little so that the base was above that channel. I purchased the marine "hold down" kit for the Curve and fabbed an aluminum plate to mount it to. This gave me a way to attach some 1" feet to the toilet bottom without risking punctures. With the furniture sliders, even with a full tank, it moves nice and easy. (The wonky placement of the one foot is to clear the bolt-down plate and bolt head in that corner.)


With all of the stack-up, the Curve now fits in the cabinet depth, and the base floats just above the wiring chase:


But you can see it's a very tight fit:

4) Finally, I re-mounted the hinges and catch plate to reverse the swing of the door. I've got some color codes that should be a decent match to the Dovetail Grey finish to touch-up the old screw holes, etc.

I had originally intended to mount the removed-section of the face frame to the back of the door, so that it hid the gap and opened with the door, but it would have fouled on that other bit of wiring channel at the entry threshold, so instead I will eventually fit a bit of felt or other semi-stiff filler that hides the gap but is flexible.
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Rendezvous Conspirator
Front Plate Mount

By a shocking coincidence, the customized plates I'd ordered for the Astro van (last summer!) showed up the same week I brought home the new rig from Arkansas. With a little time at the AAA office, I got them reassigned to the truck.

Front plate is nominally required in CA, but there's a hidden winch and hawse fairlead on the truck:
(photo courtesy dalday)

So I opted to pick up the AEV Hawse Fairlead plate mounting kit. It's stupid simple, but I kinda liked being able to just, you know, buy a thing for the truck instead of having to fab it from scratch. Basically it's a little dogleg bracket with some captured nuts:
(Stock photo from AEV)

I wish all my jobs went this easy...


Long term, I'm probably going to revisit this Winch/Bumper setup. I like that it's clean and (relatively) lightweight, but I dislike that I can't easily lay hands and eyes on all the moving parts, and I'm not sure I would have opted for the Ironman brand for myself.


Rendezvous Conspirator
Dash Accessories Mount

Just a couple of miles on a washboard road is all you need to convince yourself that you want all your dashboard accessories firmly mounted and easily visible. After a couple of iterations, I solved the problem in our Astro van by just bolting a length of T-track to the dashboard:

This had enough space for phone, tablet, and Garmin inReach mini, and easy to move things around and reconfigure.

The worst part about driving the new rig home from Arkansas was that there was no easy place to keep my phone within view for navigation and podcast control - so I knew I wanted something similar.

I'm getting addicted to the whole "You can just buy farkles off the shelf and not custom make everything" trip, so I grabbed an F-series Dash Mount from Builtright Industries. Once it hand, it looked like it would fit the dash-top tray really well, but that meant it was a little narrower than I needed. The slotted holes looked like they'd give a little bit of adjustment, but I figured getting a wrench onto the underside of the thing for tightening stuff down would be nigh on impossible once it was mounted on the dash.

(stock photo from Builtright)

As it happens, I had some T-slot leftover from the Astro, and figured the two would combine voltron-style in just the way I needed.

I also didn't fancy running USB cables all over the dash, so I picked up a dual 12v outlet tent and got to work pulling cables to an unused slot in the factory fusebox. Given how fast charging technology moves, I still prefer to just wire-in dedicated 12v sockets and then use good quality low-profile USB adapters, rather than hard-wiring in USB power. This gives me a lot more flexibility if/when I come across something that uses a weird adapter or the cellphone world develops yet another competing charging standard.

The Ford's dash tray pops out, which makes it easy to create all the necessary holes.

The extra width on the T-slot makes it easier to fit everything in with a tablet - I left a small gap on the left side just big enough to slide the 1/4-20 hex head bolts in and out, just in case I want to reconfigure later.

Fits nice and low into the tray and onto the dash. I'm still sorting through my USB cables to get all the nice short lengths to get everything wired up without any wasted slack.

It's hard to photograph, but even as short as I am, from the driving position, none of this protrudes into my view of the road except for the tip of the inReach antenna. I also picked up a new Wireless-charging RAM mount for my phone.



Expedition Leader
The basics:
2018 F-150 XLT 4x4
5.0 V8, 10-speed
3.73 axle w/ rear locker
36gal fuel tank

IMO, there is no better F150 Combo. The 10 speed is gold and the roar of the V8 will never get old.

Only downside is swiping the card twice to fill up!


New member
Wow, nice Looking rig. Besides the custom leaf pack have you beefed up anything else to help deal with the likely fact you will likely always run over weight?

2200lb Payload
Minimum 300lb weight for tray
1325lb Dry weight for Camper
166lbs for the 20G of water

1791lb total weight
409lb available

Was looking at a similar rig up here on Canada and when I took it to get inspected they told me to steer clear as it would either need extensive work to deal with the weight issues, or constant maintenence(Above normal requirements) to deal with the excessive wear aNd tear.


Rendezvous Conspirator
Besides the custom leaf pack have you beefed up anything else to help deal with the likely fact you will likely always run over weight?

Not yet, but it's something I intend to keep a close eye on. The PO had the spring pack built for the tray/camper, and the Falcon kit has a basic leveling setup for mild increase in front weight. It certainly rides well at the moment, but I'm aware of the potential issues so I'm staying mindful. I plan to put the rig on a bit more of a diet (lose a couple of amenities that the PO had installed, and change the battery setup to LiFePo), but until I've got a few more miles of experience with it, I'm hesitant to just start changing things right away.

As I noted in the OP, I might have spec'd things slightly differently if I were clean-sheeting a build, but given the current state of the market, this was my best shot to get a rig that will do the job for the near-term, and I can re-assess as we go.
Herbie, nice rig! I am considering an FWC Hawk. How do you like the ease of camper ingress and egress? Is the door tall enough so that you can get in and out without many contortions? Also, when exiting, is it easiest to come out backwards and climb down the ladder facing into the rig?

Also, payload on your f150 is outstanding for a half ton! I am looking for a 2015-2018 2500 Cummins Ram 2500 crew cab, 4x4, optioned to Laramie level (Lariat in Ford-speak). The mighty but very hefty Cummins, larger cab, and options push payload down to around 2100 pounds, LESS than your truck!


Jonathan Chouinard
Just discovered your thread, great looking truck! How are you liking it now that you've had some time to play with it? Any updates?


Nice looking rig. My 2 cents on long term performance of a F 150 with a heavy load. I have a 2015 F 150 crewcap with Ecoboost and max tow package. We live in the Canadian Rockies at 4,500 ft. Except for Timbrens the truck is stock. Since day one I permanently carry first a FWC Hawk and since 2018 a CampX. Dry weight 1350 lbs. Fully equipped (including any wife and me) for a long trip to the Canadian North we are about 400lbs over GVWR. We have done the Dempster, the Liard and plenty of other FSR and dirt roads. The truck now has over 110,000 km and we had absolutely no issues with suspension, brakes and drive train. The only issue so far was a problem with some electronic gremlin. I am still on the first brakes. I got the truck serviced today. The Ford dealer said I would probably need new rear brakes at the next service. Based on my experience at least the F 150 with the max tow package (upgraded frame, trany cooler) has no problem with a weight of 7,500 lbs even with a lot of bad road use as long as you are not towing when fully loaded and take it easy if it gets rough.


Rendezvous Conspirator
We've just returned from a 2-week trip up the Eastern Sierras and doing a near-complete lap of Oregon - We're VERY pleased with the rig. There's a punch list of items to address (inevitable, but mostly liveability tweaks, etc.) and a much deeper writeup is due, but overall, the rig was flawless.

@OffToTheSide - Ingress/Egress is good. We use a 4-step folding step-ladder from Amazon, modified so that rather than sitting at an "A" shape, it unfolds so that one side is vertical - this makes it so we can snug it up to the tire and puts the step right next to the tray, rather than floating out ~8-10" away from the rig. Generally, my wife finds it easier to back out of the camper onto the step, since it's easier to place your feet on the treads as you step down. Sometimes I come out face first and the first step is easy, but I have to be careful to find the tread on the 2nd/3rd steps down. The step-ladder stores in one of the spaces between the flatbed tray and truck frame - slides in and straps down. (Writeup on this is coming.)

On this trip we found a more-than-anticipated need for quick visits to the camper while parked - usually to grab an article of clothing or to stow purchased food/wine/beer in the fridge - I found that I can climb into the camper without any ladder by just putting one foot on the tire and hoisting myself up by pulling on the left-side grab handle and the right-side door frame. Long-term, maybe a handle on the right side cabinetry might be gentler than pulling on the frame.

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