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Interesting owner-built camper with pop-up hard-sided roof


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#1 Old Crow

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Posted 25 March 2023 - 05:43 PM

In late February my brother and I were wandering around Florida's Big Bend area near St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. As we crossed the St. Marks River at Newport, we saw a truck with a homemade camper pull into the launch ramp there by the US98 bridge.

 

We turned back and talked to the owner.  Here's a photo of the camping rig... (click to enlarge)

 

HomebuiltCamperExterior.jpg

 

You can't tell from the photo but the exterior wall is smooth aluminum with what looked like a very subtle etched pattern on the surface.  If I understood the guy correctly, there's vinyl on the surface but it sure looked etched to me and looked great.

 

I didn't think to ask what the structural part of the wall is. Could be plywood or could be foam (or both).  I also wish I had thought to ask how he had put the aluminum sheeting on the roof to get a waterproof surface.

 

But the most interesting part was how he did the the roof side-panels.  Unlike our soft-sided campers, his roof is hard-sided using folding panels for the long side and flip-up panels for the ends.

 

Take a close look at this photo...

 

HomebuiltCamperInterior.jpg

 

First, notice the white panel dominating the top of the photo.  That's the rear end panel.  It's down here and simply lays on a wooden stop (I think we see the stop at the very edge of the photo).  Apparently the barrel-bolt we see in the corner secures the panel to the roof after it's swung up into position (once the roof is up). Note that the end-panel is lower than the folded-down side panel.

 

Next, look at the side panel.  It's like a bi-fold closet door.  As we see, the lower half of that folding panel has a window.  When the roof goes up, the top half of the panel lifts the bottom half via a full-length hinge until it forms the side wall for the roof. 

 

That brings us to how the roof is raised.  Take a close look beside the red pillows.  That's the roof-raising mechanism.  That black vertical member contains one of the two electric actuators used to lift the roof.  So apparently the owner hits a switch to raise the roof and as it goes up it unfolds the side panels. Once the roof is fully up, he manually raises the end panels and locks them in place.  I believe he also said something about manually placing wooden vertical support members (inside) once the roof is up.

 

Other info:

 

He built the rear door from scratch.  He had looked for an RV door but couldn't find the right size and built his from two pieces of plywood and the aluminum skin.  I don't have a photo but it looked like any other professionally-built RV door (but does not have a screen door).

 

The interior is tall enough inside with the roof down for him to use the camper without raising the roof, i.e. to stop for lunch, etc.

 

I believe he said he had two glued-down flexible solar panels on the roof and about 200 amp hours of battery capacity.

 

The guy lives in south Florida and has some type of seasonal job where he works for so many months then has a few months off.  During the pandemic, he was off for an extended period.  He said it took him about seven months to build the camper and he has about seven thousand dollars in it.

 

Sorry I didn't do a better job with taking photos of this unique setup.  I only took these two as a kind of afterthought as we were chatting.


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#2 Vic Harder

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Posted 25 March 2023 - 09:07 PM

That is very interesting Old Crow.  Retirement project?


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#3 Old Crow

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Posted 26 March 2023 - 02:38 PM

That is very interesting Old Crow.  Retirement project?

 

Boy, it would indeed be a worthwhile retirement project to either build the entire camper or to retrofit a soft-sided pop-up to hard-sides.  As I mentioned, the guy said he built his camper in about seven months.  The part I forgot to mention was he said it took him three months to plan before he even started the build. 

 

He said it would take a lot less time to build a second one and we of course told him he could make a living building them.  And if he wasn't into the hassles of doing that, he could probably do OK just selling sets of detailed plans and components lists and sources.

 

This morning I called my brother about our conversation with the guy and he reminded me that he (the owner) had told us about learning to weld aluminum tubing for the camper's frame and had commented about how bad his early welds were.  The part we didn't get an answer on was what he had used for insulation between the frame members or exactly what the smooth aluminum exterior sheet was adhered  to for mounting to the frame.

 

My brother also reminded me that the camper had an air conditioner in the rear wall.  It looked like the typical 5000 btu window unit but the guy said he powers it with his Honda 1000 generator.   We were surprised he could do that and asked if he had added some type of soft-start unit to it but he hadn't.  He just said the AC was a high-efficiency one and he didn't have any problems with running it via the Honda.

 

My brother also reminded me we had talked about camper jacks.  The guy said he considered corner jacks but they were so expensive  he figured he'd put the money toward a lift instead and use that for the camper project.  And then he could use it to move the camper between the truck and dolly. And he'd have the lift for other uses.

 

One thing we didn't get to talk about with the owner was water intrusion, i.e., whether he had had (or still has) problems with water getting into the camper while traveling with the roof down or with it getting past hinges or roof corners with the roof up.


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#4 Atlin

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Posted 29 March 2023 - 12:21 AM

I have thought about a project like this for several years.  I think the biggest challenge is getting it watertight at the corners.  I have been thinking that a bit of roof overlap (similar to what is done on ATC tops), if done properly, would probably do pretty well.  If you ever hear from the fellow, I would love to hear more details on the sides.


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#5 ntsqd

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Posted 04 April 2023 - 02:32 AM

You can attempt to seal water out, or you can make it such that it has to go uphill in order to get in. Most likely a combo of both methods will meet the widest range of conditions.


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Thom

Where does that road go?




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