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Camper Renovation

Mining for Nuggets

Progress on the camper feels like it’s going slowly. It seems that I’m taking off every other day because of rain and have to end those workdays covering the camper in tarps to prevent the certain soaking. Some days I just don’t feel like working as hard as is required. Sometimes the required brain power and positivity needed are just too much. Besides that, it’s spring and the yard and gardens are calling me.

green and black plastic tarps covering side of trailer
The almost daily ritual of covering the camper to keep the rain from causing more damage

In spite of all that, I’ve made progress! In back new subfloor and floor insulation have been installed, fitting nicely around the drain and toilet flange. The back is completely reframed. After measuring the metal skin pieces I took off at the start, I feel pretty certain they will fit when it’s time to reinstall them. So on to the front.

Quadrants

The camper renovation has been sectioned off, allowing me to divide the overwhelming work into smaller pieces. The rot is worst around the four corners and spreads from there. I’m calling them quadrants since they inevitably include more than just the corners.

black and white drawn image of a trailer floor plan
This is very similar to the original floor plan. Mine is a little longer, with the furnace directly to the left of the door and slightly more storage.

The back-left quadrant is where the bathroom was and will be again. First, I thought that had to be the worst. The floor under the tub was completely rotten and missing. I’m surprised the tub didn’t just fall out onto the ground, although it was probably held in place by the steel support frame underneath.

The back-right quadrant contained the bed. There was a bed frame built back there covering the rotten floor. The floor rot wasn’t as bad in that section as in the back-left/bathroom, but the rot went up the corner and into the ceiling supports.

The front-right quadrant is the one I worked on this past week. The entry door is in this section as well as the furnace. The dinette was in the front under the large window.

The front-left had a storage cabinet which connected to the kitchen sink cabinet containing the water heater, then the stove and other cabinets and electrical box.

The Front-Right Quadrant

Old trailer framing falling down and falling apart
The front-right quadrant framing before beginning to rebuild

After finishing the back framing, I moved to the front-right section. Although I initially thought the bathroom section (back-left quadrant) had to be the most rotten, once I started working on the front-right I changed my mind.

The floor around the door frame was soft and clearly needed to be removed and replaced. Next to the door was a cabinet built around the furnace. The rot seemed to go under that cabinet so had to be investigated. I ended up tearing out the whole cabinet and removing the furnace. (It’s just a little thing with a propane gas line.) Once the furnace was out, I was able to expose and replace the rotten framing, insulation, and subfloor.

metal box attached with metal tubes and surrounded by wood
The furnace is smaller and lighter than I expected.

The furnace is still out. My goal, at this point, is to finish the framing and get the outside watertight. Once that’s done, I’ll move inside and work on rebuilding cabinets and getting the systems functional.

In the process of replacing the floor framing in this section, the entry stairs also needed to be reinstalled. They are bolted to floor supports which were rotten. Once those supports were replaced, the stairs could be reattached.

black metal stairs descending from wooden frame, purple styrofoam insulation in between floor joists
Insulation inserted in between floor joists before installing the subfloor
black metal stairs descending from wooden trailer frame with brown wood cabinet behind
New floor and stairs installed in the front-right quadrant

When the trailer was built originally, the walls went in on top of the completed floor, so it has to be rebuilt in the same way. With the stairs and subfloor in place, I reinstalled the door frame on the left side of the door space.

Moving to the framing on the right of the door frame, I rebuilt the framing but couldn’t get it in since the ceiling was sinking with no support. The door frame piece was the right size, but the ceiling supports were about an inch and a half too low. I tried pushing and maneuvering every way I could to get that wall support in place, but it simply would not fit.

Sometimes I amaze myself in a positive way and this was one of those times. In my thinking process I knew that I needed to jack up the ceiling to fit the support, but I didn’t have a wall jack. I DID have a car jack though.

I got the jack out of my car and used an extra piece of wood to jack the ceiling up. Using the jack, the support fit in easily. At this point I declared, out loud, “I’m a genius! Poppy, I’m a genius!” Poppy dog continued to run around the yard, oblivious to my great achievement. I, on the other hand, was on a high from my astounding feat.

pieces of wood coming together and not fitting
Wall support not fitting due to sinking ceiling supports
Trailer frame with green tarp hanging over side and black metal car jack pushing up the ceiling
My genius repurposing of the car jack to lift the ceiling

I considered continuing to rebuild the front-right corner but realized I didn’t really know how it was supposed to be built. Too much of the original had rotted away completely. The seller had added some supports to keep the trailer from falling apart completely but they were not done properly and gave no clue about how it should be constructed.

The Front-Left Quadrant

Time to move to the front-left corner to see if it was in any better shape. With luck, there would be less rot and more of a clue about how the front sections should be rebuilt.

Demolition is an important part of the rebuilding progress. It’s my goal to demolish as little as possible, but as much as is needed to replace the rotten parts. In demolishing, I peel back the layers to see what’s underneath—what has to be completely removed and replaced, what can sister new to old, and what is still intact and can give me clues about how it all fits together. In the demolition process it’s almost like I’m an archeologist searching for signs of past life or a miner looking for valuable nuggets of information.

Part of the peeling back includes removal of the interior walls and ceiling. The fiberglass insulation also needs to come out. Along with the wallboard and insulation comes 20 years worth of dust, dead bugs and evidence of the other creatures that have lived in the camper. Pulling the ceiling down is especially messy since it all falls down directly on me, but this is a necessary and important part of the process.

Woman with green fabric covering head and nose and mouth, safety glasses and red ear protectors
Camper Woman, Kirsten, prepared for falling debris while demolishing the ceiling
Wooden trailer frame that is partly rotted with aluminum wall attached behind
The front-left quadrant after removal of interior walls and insulation

With the demolition of the front-left quadrant there is good news and bad news. The good news is that there is more framing intact toward the front than on the other side. While it is definitely in bad shape, I can get an idea of how the framing was originally. This information will help me rebuild the front-right corner.

The bad news is that the floor rot goes under the kitchen sink cabinet. I was hoping to avoid removing that cabinet and the sink, plumbing, and water heater that are part of it.

When I find something overwhelming, it helps to give myself time to process it before beginning the work. Since I now have a better understanding of the way the front section should be framed, I can reframe the front-right section before I begin tearing out the kitchen sink cabinet and all that is included with that. That’s great news for my brain, which is now allowed some time to process the sink cabinet situation before moving forward.

Setting Deadlines

Initially, I resisted setting any deadlines for when the camper project would be completed. I didn’t want to cause myself any additional stress. But I do work better with deadlines. With both thoughts in mind, I’ve decided I will have the camper road worthy by June 1st. I think that should give me plenty of time.

“Road worthy” means the frame will be rebuilt and the exterior walls installed and sealed, external lights will be wired and functional, and the trailer garage will have installed new tires and packed the wheel bearings. I will be able to take it camping if I want to but will be roughing it since the inside will not be finished.

My deadline for full completion of a functional trailer is September 1st. At that point I will embark upon my cross-country trip with my camper in tow and Poppy by my side. It will be my tiny home away from home.

12 replies on “Mining for Nuggets”

The car jack thing was genius! I continue to be impressed by your work on this project – looking forward to your next installment 😀

It takes Incredible fortitude and skill to take on this job, Kirsten and you’re just the person to do it! It’s so cool to see the in progress. The rot sounds so gross and overwhelming. You’re right to use the “small section” mentality to handle the job emotionally. Great amazing job!

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