Remounting the Four Wheel Camper
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.