Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Remounting the Four Wheel Camper

Step 2 of the process: get to the motel.

If you’ve been keeping up with the previous fascinating accounts on this blog, then you’re aware that the Four Wheel Grandby camper in the bed of my F-250 has managed to shift to one side, this being the second time. This one occurred late in the game because I hadn’t had much of a chance to hit rough trails until earlier this year, 2016 having included a minimum of “campsploring”. What’s odd is that both front camper mounts were still tight in spite of the shift, while one the rear showed only a small of loss of tension. That’s not good, since it indicates that, as long as the bed sheetmetal itself is not deforming, the mounting points in the bed are not spread out sideways enough to do any more than hold the camper down.

Whining to Adventure Trailers, my camper dealer, netted an appointment and much brainstorming about ways to end this shifting around, because it’s very unusual. In preparation, I bulked up on aluminum rails that could be mounted to the bed to cage in the camper, plus a bunch of different types of fasteners. That’s an undesirable approach for a couple of reasons, but I figured I’d better show up with a Plan B in case the existing mounting points were already as well-located as they could get in the Ford’s bed. Just in case the rails had to be installed as the solution, Adventure Trailers allotted six hours to get me back out of the shop.

Prescott is a 250-mile, four-hour drive from Wellton,  so showing up at the shop by 8AM would require an overnight stay in town. That meant I’d need to leave home the day before the appointment, and if I was smart, tackle prepping the camper for removal the day before that. As-is, the Grandby is inherently ready to go, but I’ve weighed it down and clogged up its jackmounts with extra equipment, so prepping it means disconnecting and yanking out the four 63-pound AGM batteries from inside its storage benches/seats, then removing the StowAway cargo box assembly, the fishing rod holder, and the ground panel storage rack in front. Then empty the benches of all but the battery boxes in order to maximize access to the front mounts. I slept pretty well that night.

Adventure Trailers had suggested The Motor Lodge (pictured above), a refurbished vintage motel on one of the main drags in Prescott, and said to mention them in order to get a modest rate discount. By vintage, I mean a century old. This motel was originally built as a set of cabins in 1910, in what was then the capital of Arizona Territory. It went through a pile of owners and modernizations through the years, until two guys picked it up in 2008 and began their own quest to bring it back from what was then a pretty dilapidated state. Given the very limited property size, what worked well enough in 1910 probably made viability pretty tough to come by forty years later, at best. Today, the Motor Lodge is a U-shaped assembly of more or less attached buildings, the gaps between them now filled with parking garages. In this parking lot, the 22-foot Mighty Furd appeared to be a Goliath, draping over its allotted parking space markers by over a yard. If I’d had the cargo box still in place off the back bumper, turning around at the bottom of the U would have not been possible, necessitating backing out into the street to get out.

Parked out front is an old Ford pickup, suitably decorated with the Motor Lodge logo on its doors.

Once you’re parked though, the joint is a bit of a treat, being a throwback to a 1950’s motor hotel. Its refurbishment is 98% done, and where they found some of the vintage detail furnishings is a mystery. Major or minor, everything was in very nice shape, and everything about the room was surgically clean. This must be where OCD really pays off. Though the oddly cramped parking situation is a handicap, the place appeared to be 2/3rds booked by 9PM. In an attempt to be charming, the friendly check-in nets you either a complementary beer or a substantial glass of your choice of three wines. On the whole, this place is eclectic and fun, and the “classic” (basic) rooms get you a large patio with ample seating and a table with an umbrella.

The room? Small, comfortable, and quirky.

The morning 6 AM wakeup highlighted the limitations of a combination heat pump/air conditioner on the wall, with one of those electric radiators by the bed. It’s a fine setup for maintaining temperatures, but is no way to rapidly bring the room up to temperature after a cold night toasting underneath a thick quilt. No matter. A morning shower with all the hot water in the world and, on my part, a methodical pack-up got me out of there by 7 and headed for a breakfast bistro in a downtown hotel a half-mile away. A later morning check-out would have earned me a small bag of good chocolate chip cookies for “breakfast”, so I was handed that bag when I checked in, and I’d made short work of them the previous evening. So much for a healthy diet.

The “jungle waterfall” shower is nice but so confined that soaping up out of the spray is a modest challenge. But it’s a lot better than the usual sprayhead at neck-level!

I was at Adventure Trailers by 8 AM, and discussed the camper situation with Martyn, who was most curious about why this particular unit was so reluctant to stay put, this being my second such visit while the norm is zero. The basic hardware is simple. A couple of hefty threaded steel rods with hooks are held by a turnbuckle at center, and turning that gradually makes the distance between the hooks decrease. Hook one end to the camper and the other to a forged steel loop bolted to the bed, and you’ve got a tension device that’s pretty strong. Four of them, one at each corner of the camper, are capable of doing the job nicely, and this same system has been in use since the 1970s.

The rubber ducky is standard equipment here, though there’s no tub for it to swim around in.

Martyn and his crew chief of sorts climbed in and looked through the mount access doors, puzzling over the hold-down hardware and mounts. They looked underneath to check for deformation of the bed’s sheet metal, which is common in their usual installs and is the reason why they recommend rechecking mount tension frequently for the first few months after installation. The bed deforms over time until it finally takes a set and won’t bend any further. The Mighty Furd had zero deformation, which confirms that the steel hooks on the mounts will straighten out long before the bed will deform. Most of the campers they install are narrower units installed into Toyota Tacomas having nice soft springs, and he listened patiently while I tearfully pouted about the F-250’s optional spring package and its innate violence on rocky trails, no matter how slowly they are taken. Martyn asked about when I choose to air down the Ford’s high-pressure tires and when I don’t.

This wastebasket has gotta be straight from the 1950s. Poodle imagery was very popular at the time.

The basic problem was determined to be that while the original mounting holes in the bed lacked sufficient side-angle because the Grandby’s mounts are so wide, that there isn’t a lot more room to relocate the bed holes outward because the bed’s bottom edges are generously radiused, which limits how far out you can safely place bed mounts. That radius makes for a stiffer bed structure overall, but you don’t want to install bed mounts on the radius itself because they don’t like a point load like that unless you have a reinforcing plate underneath that conforms perfectly to the curve. Still, the lower mounts could be relocated further outboard, particularly in front, where the shifting had been greatest. Rather than fall back to Plan B with its elaborate cage of bed-mounted rails, they preferred to make new bed mount holes further out as far as the bed allowed. They felt that this would be enough of a difference to make a difference, both front and rear. They figured that there was no need to remove the camper to relocate the bed mounts, so in an hour, the job was done to their satisfaction. I was set to happily pay for the hour of work when word came that Martyn would make no charge for the work. He’d been unhappy enough with the original, nearly-vertical front mount locations that he figured this was now the way it should have been done in the first place. Because of the new mounts’ proximity to the bed radius, I now need to monitor tension the same as for any new installation, but that’s it.

I consider myself remarkably adaptable to work that costs me nothing, so I took off before he could change his mind. Before I could even get out of town, the unexpected difference in the feel of the vehicle was noticeable, as in, “Hmm, that’s odd. This thing is driving differently than it did before”. It’s one of those times where things were fine before, but are somehow noticeably better now. Who knew? Suddenly, the Ford seemed more unified, or of one piece than before. It was more competent and solid-feeling entering into ordinary traffic turns than it had been on the trip in. Ripples and unevenness in the pavement on one side seemed to smooth out a bit, as if the suspension was now having to work under a load that refused to allow the truck to bobble about as it always had when unloaded – and when the camper was first installed. Apparently, the new tie-down locations are doing a lot better at locking the camper securely to the bed, instead of merely holding it down. During anything which causes a slight rolling movement, the camper’s weight so high up now discourages the truck from tossing that way quite so quickly, and that forces the suspension into play. Big bumps of course can still roll the truck quickly to one side, but the feel is more that the shocks and springs are having to work because inertia is now coming into play, since the truck and its load are now one piece instead of a truck with a load able to slightly rotate to the side on a hinge. My guess is that I’ll need to check the tensioners on a schedule now as a precaution against bed deformation, because those new mount locations are doing their job as intended.

In all, I’m once again impressed with Adventure Trailers’ dedication to their customer’s satisfaction, and their determination to get things working like they’re designed to work. It would have been too easy to simply say, “Well, we haven’t seen this situation before, so it must be your truck. There isn’t much we can do about that.” They find a way.

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6 thoughts on “Remounting the Four Wheel Camper

  1. Hi Doug!

    Hope this works better for you now. I’ve read that using a rubber mat in the truck bed helps keep a camper in place. Any thoughts on this?

    With any luck I’ll be on the road myself in a year or so. I keep going back and forth between a new FWC or a slightly used Lance hardside on a slightly used (aka front end depreciated already) F250 Ford truck.

    Love that old Ford truck at the Motor Lodge :-).

    Mary

    • Well Mary, I once installed a rubber mat in my ’93 dodge bed because of the uber-hazard of walking on it when wet. I worked great. My Furd has a Line-X urethane bed spray on it, which has a rough surface. Between that and the “Skid-Guard” polyester coat on the newer Four Wheels, slippage shouldn’t be an issue, in theory. I can say that this combo does make it more challenging for the AT crew to shove the camper back in place once it does shift. It’s a workout.

      On your plans: wow! It’s always very difficult to decide between the two best options for yourself, isn’t it? The low profile and low weight of the Four Wheel tends to make it more adaptable to getting out into the rough stuff, as it affects the truck’s capabilities less. It’s also built to last in punishing conditions. However, it’s less convenient to live in than the Lance, and is less comfortable in truly chilly and really hot weather due to the fabric walls, which need to be lightly maintained. My guess is that if you intend mainly to pull into the first available spots to camp, the Lance may be the easier choice since, with the exception of low-hanging branches, it’s capable of getting to most of the places I seek out. That’s kind of the question you have to ask yourself: “What kinds of places do I really want to go?” Serious campsploring when traveling solo carries inherent risks, especially when you don’t invest in recovery gear, as I haven’t. The Four Wheel better allows it, but you have to ask yourself whether the potential to really get out there is worth the sacrifices of comfort and convenience that a hardside affords. If you intend to draw upon that potential, then it is. I’d suggest finding an opportunity to view each of your approximate choices at an RV or recreation show, since actually hanging out inside for a few minutes of reality will tend to firm up your sense of priorities pretty quickly. Manufacturers tend to list on their websites what shows or displays they will be at during the summer. Or maybe you can find a dealer with one in stock to view. Even if you don’t buy for years from now and intend to buy used, it quickly settles in your mind just which way you’ll want to swing. I can try to talk you into either one, but that wouldn’t do you any good at all. You’re not me, thank your lucky stars!

      • Thank you for your thoughts! Ha, I’m guessing that being you isn’t so bad.

        You’ve given me so much to think about. Mostly I see myself living on forest service roads (near lakes in the summer for swimming) and doing a lot of exploring on foot. Now that I am getting older the creature comforts of a hard side are more appealing but then I have to drive the big ol’ thing around. Hm.

        There is a show over in Flagstaff each May that I’ve yet to get myself over to (I’m in NW AZ). Great advice, I need to spend some time in each type of camper and compare quality etc. in person. I like that you’ve had good experiences with your FWC dealer and that FWC campers hold their value better than most.

        Be safe and keep warm :-).

        • Not all hardsides are the bloated hotel rooms that you see so often. I don’t think Lance and similar have ever displayed at the Overland Expo West, as that’s not their core market. You will, however, see Four Wheel, Alaskan, several other reputable makes of pop-up truck campers with more amenities, and some big-money exotica as well. That, and enough other camping vehicle alternatives to put you right back to not knowing what you want anymore.

          • Huh, yeah probably not–Lance and similar are probably geared more for the older full service campground types and show only at the big RV shows. I’ve seen the Expo’s list of product display exhibits over the past few years and there are some pretty cool things available.

            If I were just a few years younger (ha) I’d want one of those 4 wheel utility trailers with the roof top tent and a Jeep to go with it. Can’t believe I’m thinking about a camper with a black tank and microwave (which I wouldn’t keep). The oven would be nice though as I love to cook. Well, they say we get better with age, right?

            I’ll have to check the Expo’s website before going over there. Seems like Lance was showing their smaller 650 (I like the 865–the smallest with an oven option) last year as an “overland” vehicle. I could have dreamed it though, since I’m getting so much better :-).

            • Better, yeah! That’s the ticket! 🙂 If you haven’t already, you may want to sign up for the Expo’s email barrage, since they also contain scheduling and accommodation recommendations that would apply if you want to spend more than one day there, which I recommend. It’s the only spam signup that I actually enjoy, since they don’t overdo it with frequency.

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