Amanda Hopper Writes

A writer's tale of living and working in the country.

Category: College Camper

Testing the Waters

The College Camper made its maiden voyage with a 4-hour drive to Lake Somerville, TX. Not only did it survive the trip there, but it also came back in one piece and has since driven to Austin and back – another 8-hour round trip.

It took Hubs and me about an hour into the trip to stop worrying about something falling off the trailer.

What we’ve learned:

  • Problem #1: Oldest can’t drive over 65 when towing the trailer. The fix: Suck it up buttercup.
  • Problem #2: The brand new shower head was defective. The fix: Get a new showerhead.
  • Problem #3: The aluminum windows are sealed well but the metal conducts whatever the outside temperature is to the inside of the trailer. The fix: Thermal curtains.
  • Problem #4: It takes twice as long as normal to get gas because people keep coming up and admiring the camper. The fix: Who are we kidding? This is not a problem, this is awesome.

We parked Grant’s trailer next to ours at the state park and spent the week touring Washington County in Texas. Once the most populated and wealthiest area, it’s known as the birthplace of the Republic of Texas. The entire county is full of history and also home to Blue Bell Creamery.

Yes, we ate ice cream. It would’ve been rude not to.

We cooked our meals in a dutch oven over the fire, spent hours talking under the stars at night, and didn’t work on the trailer one bit.

Glorious.

Lake Somerville State Park

Then we came home and Hubs built the desk, the pantry, and cut out all the new cabinet doors.

I painted.

Again.

New desk.
Dinette with new table legs and cushions.
The newly built pantry cabinet.

Plans for the next week?

  • paint the new cabinet doors
  • paint the dinette walls with black chalkboard paint
  • re-laminate the kitchen and pantry counter

I’m Too Old For This

I’m not gonna sugarcoat it – we’re grumpy. The camper takes its inaugural trip soon and we all feel immense pressure to get everything finished.

Make no mistake – it’s not going to be completely finished. Oldest will be camping next to us so he can use our 5th wheel for most things. For now, he has a working bathroom, a bed, a heater, and his refrigerator works.

I mean, what more does a 19-year-old guy need?

I’ve spent the last 3 days in various yoga positions painting the interior of the camper. Grant chose Valspar Gravity for the ceiling, walls, and upper cabinets. Naturally, it all needs 2 coats even after the primer coat but the final product is really smooth.

Besides painting, we got the bathroom counter installed, the bed frame finished, the wheels painted, and new tires.

The list of things to complete is shrinking.

Unfortunately, new items have been added. All new cabinet doors and drawer fronts must be built. The old material is like foam covered with a laminate sticker. As soon as it gets wet, the foam-like wood bursts through the laminate sticker and that substance will not take paint.

Yay.

Oldest was able to reinstall all the ceiling fixtures last night and the camper survived the trip to the store for tire installation so today is a good day.

Unless I try to walk.

Building Hope

I’m sore. Like just-cut-it-off sore. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. I’ve been sore since the beginning of August.

The good news? The skin-melting temperatures are behind us. The bad news? Now it’s freezing. Literally. And let me tell you, these kinds of temps cause fights.

Hubs and I argue about whose turn it is to go out of the heated camper to grab missing tools.

So we’re sore and freezing but hopeful because now we’re putting things back in the trailer.

Demolition is kind of exciting. Fixing is demoralizing. Building is glorious.

Except for the occasional splinters and smashed fingers.

Youngest can usually be heard exclaiming, “Language!” when he makes rare appearances at the worksite. I swear we don’t abuse the english language that often – the kid just has amazing timing.

I know, we’re terrible parents. We’ll worry about it after the camper is done. Like every other thing that has fallen into disrepair since its arrival.

Okay, enough editorializing. Lots to update.

The bathroom wall and bedframe were built this weekend.

New bathroom wall and bed frame. You can kind of see the new chrome shower fixtures.

Hubs and Oldest gave in to my floorplan change and Hubs built a wall cabinet over the soon-to-be desk.

The ceiling is still awaiting its turn to be tacked up.

Boring stuff like the propane installation, toilet plumbing, more caulking, new shower fixtures, filling uneven walls, and lots more priming took way too much time.

We rebuilt the bathroom counter since we couldn’t reuse the one I fell through. The new counter got a laminate surface that looks like concrete. Unfortunately, we couldn’t install it after we read the contact cement instructions that clearly stated the temps had to be above 65 degrees for 72 hours. The thermometer read 23 degrees outside, so the counter is in time-out in the basement.

New bathroom counter.
The laminate sheet. It’s going to recover the kitchen counters and the kitchen table too.

Great progress, but the most exciting arrival was the newly finished rock guard. This awning-like piece locks over the front windows during travel to prevent rocks from breaking the glass. Previously, it depicted an ugly mountain scene.

Grant’s rock guard looked identical to this one. Somehow, we missed ever taking pics of it before we primed it.
The rock guard has already been primed here but you can see the ugly mountain scene. The surface has a crazy texture of hairy fiberglass.

Now?

Snoopy.

Hubs came up with the idea and his mom, Mary Anne, worked her magic on a surface no one thought could be painted. We all adore it. It’s perfect for Grant since he’s a pilot and loved snoopy as a kid.

Hubs favorite part of the weekend? Moving the camper to the barn. Now it’s closer to his tools.

The camper couldn’t be moved previously due to two windows that wouldn’t close. Thanks to blacksmith Eric who forged new hinges and mailed them from OKC, we were able to install the windows and move the trailer.

Forged by a real-life blacksmith.

We also got this package in the mail.

Did you know you can have an air compressor emergency? Me either. But that’s what the box says. Many thanks to Ingersoll Rand for fast-shipping out the part for our broken air compressor.

Because building things the old-fashioned way is overrated.

Flusing Away All Our Fears

We passed a giant hurdle this past weekend.

Plumbing.

For those of you that RV, you understand. For the rest of you – tanks that hold what they are supposed to hold are THE most important aspect of a camper.

Except for tires. But those will come soon.

The black tank, the gray tank, the water heater, and the freshwater tank are now installed and have been tested. No leaks!

Hubs used residential PEX to create a complicated system of valves that can be shut off easily if any plumbing fixture begins to leak in the future and will still allow the other fixtures to be used. Oldest will be able to walk into any home improvement store and get new parts and install them in minutes. All the lines can be drained for winterizing the trailer when not in use. PEX won’t freeze and burst but Hubs mounted it to the underside of the future bed to keep it in the heated interior.

It all makes sense – trust me.

We also installed the toilet. Never has flushing brought me so much joy.

Seriously.

There might or might not have been a fifteen-minute period where the three of us stood around the kitchen sink turning the faucet on and off.

Just because we could.

I also finished filling the hundreds of holes in the wood walls this weekend and completed the priming of the walls and cabinets.

The only complication? We decided to change the floorplan of the kitchen and bedroom.

And by we I mean me.

I know. I know. But, as I reminded Hubs and Oldest when they rolled their eyes at my idea, we haven’t started building the furniture yet. So it’ll be easy.

Right?

The Boring Stuff

The last week has been filled with boring progression. Well, boring to you. We are ecstatic about the amount of caulk and butyl tape being put to use sealing this tin-can-O-holes.

Windows, exterior lights, compartment doors, and entry doors have been installed. I don’t think Hubs and I have ever stared lovingly at door handles until this week. The reason?

Animals.

Everywhere.

Our cats, the neighbor’s cats, the other neighbor’s dog, and who-knows-how-many wild animals have been enjoying RV life since we tore the trailer apart.

How do I know?

Tracks.

Tiny, and not-so-tiny, footprints on every surface. Sometimes in my paint. Just yesterday I had to keep shooing a goat off the wheel I was painting.

The goats have benefited from our all-consuming work on the trailer. The electric fence is red most days and we’ve grown complacent with goats-gone-wild. After all, they put themselves back in the barn at night. Plus they keep the grass mowed. It’s a win-win.

Contrary to popular belief, goats don’t eat everything. They TASTE everything. Most things are spat back out … so the random trailer parts sitting around are fine.

And covered in goat spit.

A Solid Foundation

The college camper had a squishy floor upon arrival at the farm. The previous owners had tiled it and the mortar base was the only thing keeping anyone from falling through.

Bedroom floor torn out.

We researched all the options for RV flooring and settled on a few necessities. We wanted the floor to float above the decking, it needed to be water-resistant, and it needed to be very thin to work under the walls and doors. With those requirements in mind, we found Traffic Master Allure flooring sold at Home Depot. The flooring is available in tons of colors, but we chose Khaki Oak since it was sold in the store and available immediately.

Hubs installed the floating floor in about 6 hours. The planks have glue tabs that allow them to adhere to each other but not the subfloor. Cutting into all the tight corners is easy since the planks can be scored with a utility knife and snapped to the correct size.

The gray edging is the sticky strip that allows each plank to stick to another once pressure is applied to the seam.

A week later, the floor is handling the construction traffic really well. We walk in and out with rocks and butyl tape stuck to our shoes and the floor takes the wear beautifully. It’s easy to clean with a shop vac at the end of the day. Perfect for a college student.

A Facelift

“Just slap some paint on it.”

Sounds easy, right?

*Bangs head on wall.*

Sure, painting takes just a couple of hours – or faster if you’re trying to beat a rainstorm. But the prep work for painting a 30-year-old travel trailer?

Six weeks.

Butyl tape, silicone caulk, latex caulk, and decal all in one spot.

No joke. We scraped, scrubbed, and conducted science experiments to discover the correct chemical remover for all the different adhesives and caulks on the trailer for six weeks. Lucky for you, I now have a list:

liquid nails = DAP Caulk-Be-Gone

Butyl tape = plastic scraper for the chunks and mineral spirits on shop rags for the residue

decals = heat gun and plastic scraper

clear silicone caulk = WD-40 and a scraper for the thick stuff, then “sand” off with scotch brite pads on a die grinder.

latex caulk = Goo Gone Caulk Remover

rust = scotch brite pads on a die grinder

general metal cleaning = acetone (don’t use on aluminum siding – it just takes the paint off)

Be prepared for lots of ripped fingernails, cuts, and skin coated with mineral spirits. Funny side note: I started adding Collagen Peptides to my coffee everyday and noticed that my cuts heal really fast now. If you are taking on a trailer remodel you might want to try the peptides. Oh, and get a tetanus shot.

Seriously.

Buy the shop towels listed above in bulk. And nitrile gloves. You’ll use a lot. And be sure that the scraper is plastic – metal will damage the aluminum siding. If you don’t have an air compressor – get one. You’re going to need it for sanding, scrubbing, and painting.

Steps to paint the exterior of an aluminum-sided RV:

1.) Remove all the doors, windows, trim, and side rails.

2.) Scrape off all the chunks of butyl tape and wipe clean with mineral spirits and shop towels.

3.) Remove any decals and other kinds of caulk.

4.) Sponge-bathe the entire outside of the trailer with shop towels.

5.) Sand the edges of any holes you intend to fill and any rough spots. Clean those spots.

6.) Fill holes with Bondo.

7.) Sand Bondo spots. Clean those spots.

8.) Tape off any part of the trailer you don’t want painted, including the window holes. Don’t forget the tires.

9.) Spray auto primer on Bondo spots and any bare metal spots.

10.) Prep paint sprayer with 6 parts paint and 2 parts acetone.

11.) Spray light coats of the paint over the body of the trailer. We sprayed 2 coats.

12.) Spray a light coat of clear coat according to the manufacturer directions.

13.) Remove any tape or plastic from trailer and wait to dry. We waited 5 days before re-taping for stripes to make sure the new tape didn’t remove the new body paint.

14.) Repeat steps 10-13 if you want a different color accent.

Body paint done.

I must admit that it turned out better than I expected. It’s not perfect – there are rough spots where we could not remove certain adhesives. I would wager that our previous owners were not handy. Murmurs of “idiots” were frequent during the cleaning process.

Grant opted for a white body accented by red and black stripes that will match his 1993 F-150 tow vehicle once it’s painted.

We also changed the aluminum windows from brown back to aluminum with paint. It took 3 cans for all of our windows. I’m really impressed with the Rustoleum High Performance Enamel paint. It goes on very smooth, levels out beautifully, and is very hard once dry. I can’t even scratch the paint with my fingernail now that it’s been hardening over a week.

Unfortunately, the day after Grant installed the bathroom window, I fell through the sink (don’t ask) and shattered the bottom pane of glass. Good news? I learned that duct tape is great for removing glass from skin.

Next week? Interior floors!