The last time I used my truck camper I stripped the teeth off of the lift handle/crank trying to get the top up. I managed to get it up with the help of three other guys, however; getting it down was an adventure. I knew I needed to get this fixed so I started researching once I got back from hunting. Here is what I found and how the rebuild went. I am hoping this will help someone in the future.
After reading "everything" I could find about the HECO lift system, twice, I ordered the parts I needed and started the project. The sources I found for these parts are rvworkshop.com and canvasreplacements.com. Rvworkshop.com also provided me with a schematic and instruction sheet on how to disassemble and key tips on reassembly. I will attach these docs to this post. The parts I replaced were the crank handles of course, and the vinyl slider tracks. Mine had cracks in them. All the other parts seemed to be in good shape. Some parts are actually still available.
Here is what I did. I am sure it will vary for every camper and situation.
1. Lift the top all the way up and lock in place. I braced the top in four locations, placing the braces where the weight would transfer into the floor or a support of some sort. Try not to brace onto something that could get damaged from the weight.
2. I chose to remove the canvas on the sides. If you have never done this it is very simple and I felt it would be worth it. Plus if you read on you will see that the preload process ends up requiring the canvas to be removed for clearance, in my situation. You may be able to leave the canvas on, I just chose to get it out of the way.
3. With the top braced and the canvas off, I removed the entire lift system. Remove the bolts from the down tubes on the torsion bar tube and the roof support hoops. The hoops will pivot out of the way. Did this on both sides. Now, using the short down tube, pull on it to release the proload. While holding this tube remove the bolt from the longer down tube attached to the rail assembly. This will obviously require two people as does much of this project. Remove the locking screw in the longer down tube. While one person pulls and holds the shorter down tube to release pressure on the longer down tube, pull the longer down tube off of the torsion bar tube. Important*** Do not just let go of the shorter down tube once the longer down tube is removed, it is still under preload. While firmly holding the shorter down tube the entire time, now begin to slowly let the shorter down tube go to its neutral position. It may only go an inch or so, or five or six inches. This depends on how much preload is on the torsion bars. Let the strong person do the work on the shorter down tube. You may have to hold it for a bit. Have tools ready and reset if necessary. Keep fingers out of the way!!! Once both side are done the roofs full weight is sitting on the supports. Be careful.
4. At this point I unbolted everything and removed the rail assemble. I cleaned everything and rebuild the rail assembly with the new vinyl guides. Pretty simple, just some rivets. Lubed everything good and all worked great.
5. I chose to leave all the anchors (or torsion bar brackets) bolted into the camper. I tightened many of the bolts and checked that the structure of the roof was in tact. If you have rot or damage it is important to fix everything or the pressure of the torsion bars will rip apart the corners. Leaving the anchors in place did make it interesting getting the torsion bars out. You have to slide them out and may have to wiggle the torsion bar back and forth while applying pressure in the direction to remove the bar. You also need a helper to hold the other end of the torsion bar so it clearances the end anchor or bracket. A dead blow hammer helped on this but don't whack it too hard. Hopefully everyone are still friends after this part!!!
6. Reassembly is basically in reverse order. Don't be in a rush, especially when setting the torsion bars. Screw the rail assembly back in and shim the back if necessary to get it straight. Mine was a little bent once screwed in but a few shims straighten it up nicely. Add length to the screws if possible. The holes may be a little enlarged and longer or bigger screws may get into some fresh wood and anchor better. Shove some toothpicks in the holes if necessary. Reattach the roof support hoops and pivot out of the way as much as possible.
7. Re-install the torsion bars tube into the anchors/brackets in the reverse method as described above during removal (keep reading!!). Like I said this is probably the most frustrating part for our project. If you remove the end anchor/bracket it will eliminate the frustration. I chose not to because mine are bolted through the top and I did not have good access that high to get to the outside of the camper, to hold the bolts. My wife and I are still married! BUT, here is the part where you need to determine the amount of preload. On the end of the torsion bar you should have noticed the five-sided pentagon, at least that's what mine had. Also, on the back anchor/bracket you should have noticed a matching slot that the torsion bar will slide into. When I removed my torsion bars for this project the torsion bars in a neutral position were pointing almost directly straight down at the floor. My top was very hard to raise and I think the last time someone worked on the camper, they did not understand the torsion system and did not preload enough (hence the stripped gears on the crank handle). In the directions I received from rvworkshop.com it states that the torsion bar down tubes need to point towards the outside of the camper once inserted into the rear anchor/bracket slot. Just so I could test and compare I installed the torsion bars in that "6 o'clock" (or close) position, bolted things up, and tested it. This was the position they were in when I removed the system. Still very hard. So I decided to remove the necessary bolts and re-clock the torsion bar to the next preload position. Having only five sides there is not infinite adjustment, really only two positions. Once re-attached the down tubes of the torsion bar were pointing out of the camper sides, this is where its nice to have the canvas removed! Looking at the back of the camper I would say the left was in about 7-8 o'clock position and the right was in about 4-5 o'clock position.
8. Now with the torsion bars in this position it is a little more difficult to get the down tubes in. A strong person needs to pull on the shorter down tube until it is inside the camper pointing at the floor, and a second person can swiftly slide the longer down tube onto the torsion bar tube, the longer down tube is the front tube on my camper. The preload will be much greater now so get a feel for how hard you need to pull, and why rotten corner will not hold up to the preload for long. Once the longer down tube is on the torsion bar the person holding the short down tube can rest a little, the longer down tube will rest against the inside of the camper. Use this same process to pull on the down tubes and line up the holes to re-attach the bolt of the longer down tub into the rail assembly, the part that slides back and forth in the rail assembly. Do this one side at a time. Now you can push and pull to line up the bolts for the roof support hoop into the down tubs.
9. Once we had all the hardware back in and bolted together we took measurements at each hoop support location between the top and the lower part of the camper. We made small adjustments and put new screws in to hold the down tubes onto the torsion bar tube. There must have been five to six holes in each down tube telling me this system had been worked on a bunch over the years.
10. Moment of truth. When I was researching I found a video on youtube where a guy rents pop up campers. His video is a demonstration on how to lift and lower a pop-up camper, and it has the HECO system in it. He uses one hand and is not working very hard at all to crank it, and stops several times, and the top pretty much just stays right where it was. This was not how mine acted prior to the project. So this was my goal. Success! I was amazed at how much the torsion system helps once its preloaded the proper amount. Night and Day difference. No more stripped teeth on the cranks, hopefully.
11. We put the canvas back in and cleaned camper well. I would strongly suggest removing cushions, canvas and you have access to remove the front anchor/bracket this project will be a breeze. When removing some of the hardware some black dust came out of the holes and fell down. This could stain a cushion or canvas.
I can understand why people would remove or not preload the torsion bars on these old campers. Over time and sitting outside the tops take all the beating from weather. If you have rot or damage the camper can still have a lot of life in it, but the torsion bars could cause damage at some point. Torsion bars were an option as far as I understand, so the system should be able to lift the tops not problem, just more muscle power. Keep a spare crank with you and if teeth break off in the rack gear remember to get the teeth out of the rack gear before running a new crank, they get stuck in there and will lock up the crank.
I hope someone someday gets help from this post and this information. We love our old camper.
HecoTruckCamperLift.pdf 108.48K 134 downloads
heco how to disassemble pickup.pdf 62.5K 136 downloads