Sunday, February 28, 2010


I'm a big fan of German Chocolate cake, though the cake I enjoy is probably the furthest thing from the real deal. The foundation is the Cooks Illustrated chocolate cake, so very 'authentic' but the coating is pure frosting-in-a-can. Yep, with an ingredient list longer than the list of pork barrel projects in the latest Federal Budget. Delicious. But I digress.

Lots of priming and painting over the past two weekends. Finally all (well, excluding the inside of the closet) of the interior surfaces that need paint have paint. This weekend I started the easy, though time-consuming, process of spray painting the cabinet doors. They'll be a slightly darker shade of gray than the cabinets themselves -- I think the difference is a nice look -- mostly because that's the gray that I could find in Rust Oleum.

I used gray primer and then satin black on a number of items including the floor mounts for the dinette table, the hinges for the cabinets and the windshield wiper arms. That's such an easy update and really makes them look just like new again. Maybe 15 minutes work. Yes, I know the screws on the cabinets are still brown. I will most likely (never) touch them up after everything else is done. It seemed futile to spray paint them and then put a screwdriver on them and scrape them up.

The Rust Oleum Hammered Metal finish black now coats the converter cover and the plastic heating vent covers. It really takes 1990 brown up a notch and, with the dappled finish, any funky results because of the plastic or the old metal just disappear.

This afternoon I managed to get the first planks of flooring in after a final scouring of the subfloor with a pair of pliers to hunt down any remaining staples. Zen and the art of staple pulling. The underlayment for the laminate floor is a piece of cake, just roll it out and trim it to fit. What to do with all the leftover is a bit of a mystery, however. Anyone out there need enough to do another Sunrader or two?

Two boxes (40 sq. feet) will be more than enough to cover the floor from the rear of the truck cab through the whole coach. 99 cents a square foot at the big orange box (though I think like any good 'ya want fries with that' kinda strategy, I'm sure they make it up on all the trim pieces). The fun part of installation is that almost every board requires some kind of custom cut, whether it is a simple offsetting straight cut or a notch around a cabinet corner. Worse, these old particle board cabinets are far from straight, especially on the sink and oven side of the coach. Eventually the cabinets will all get replaced but for now it just adds to the time with the jigsaw.

So the floor should be in and the quarter-round that it floats under all tacked in by next weekend. From there, it is more cabinet door painting and re-installation. I also have the clean-out and repair of the closet to do (it needs a new floor, and may get a shelf or two as well).

I'm trying to plan out the storage for cycling trips (where to mount clamps to hold a tire pump) as well as camping (where does everybody's duffel go?). There isn't a lot of space over the 21 feet, so well planned stash spots will be important and I like the idea of things having a 'place'.

In the midst of all of that, I expect to get the call from Mike soon to bring the rig in for the upholstery work. That will mean the new carpet kit, new seats, new rear cushions and the overcab bunk carpet. It will be transformational. To get that done, however, the paint has to be completely finished and the wood floor must be in place so that Mike can trim out the carpet against it. Nothing like a good deadline to keep things on track.

And back to the chocolate cake. Aside from new aches and pains, I got some great gifts this year for making it around the Sun one more time. Home-made curtains are on tap, along with a new counter for the kitchenette from SUBA. Now i have to figure out what type of laminate surface to choose... black granite? Hmmm... The finishing touches are falling into place.

Oh, and the fit kit to install the Pioneer deck in the cab is on order along with a digital clock for the coach, snap mounts for a couple of maglite flashlights and new coach speakers (heavens, a 'subwoofer' even...for 10 bucks on Amazon i couldn't resist and it had great reviews). I also tracked down all the plugworks for connecting an iPhone or iPod to the older Pioneer head unit, so we'll have endless tunes on the road. Of course Duncan has his eye on an LCD for the coach, but this will do for now.

For now.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Putty and Paint

I'm sure it would be better to do all the demolition, then all the prep, then all the primer and then all the finish painting. But I'm impatient and it is my rig, so I wanted to see how well the paint would clean up the back of the coach and the cabinets.

The luan and Styrofoam that make up the walls were full of holes from an old shelf and repeated re-fastening of the tension cords for mini-blinds. Luan is so thin that it just won't hold a screw for long and the Styrofoam is obviously hopeless as a substrate, so fasteners just tear right out as you bounce down the road. I'm thinking curtains will be the best bet going forward since, for the most part, they can be mounted to the overhead cabinets.

I used some expanding foam to fill in the larger holes left by the wall anchors from the shelf. The cans of foam have the wonderful attribute that they either deliver 'not much' or 'a heck of a lot' so it was a messy process. Once the foam cures it can be trimmed, leaving a little divot for a final layer of putty to smooth out the surface. Because the screws tended to pull up a lip around any hole, it took a few rounds of putty-sand-putty to smooth things out to a reasonable level. I'm sure more attention would yield an even nicer surface.

Next step was a liberal application of Kilz oil-based primer. It goes on thick because it is so full of solids. I probably should have thinned it out a bit more but after curing for 24 hours it sanded down just fine and provided a reasonable surface. It seems to adhere fairly well to the laminate surfaces of the cabinets too (after some sanding and a clean-down with acetone to get some of the 20 years of gunk off).

For the walls, the final coats will be in a pure white with an eggshell finish. The cabinets get a gloss coating in 'Dolphin Fin' grey. I'm hoping that sticking to some light tones will look a little more contemporary and give a more open feeling to the back of the coach. I'm dreading painting the cabinet doors and may cheat and buy some grey spraypaint in a slightly darker tone.


This morning Duncan and I trekked over to chat with Mike at Tri Valley Auto Interiors. He'll be restoring the front seats, recovering the door panels, installing a new carpet kit in the cab and building new cushions for the back seats in the coach. I'm probably going to ask him to carpet the bunk too -- what would be a day or two of work for me is probably only minutes for him, and the outcome will be most assuredly nicer. His work should be some of the last done on the rig, so it is good motivation to get all the repairs and paint done quickly.

The front seats will have a black center panel with a grey-over-black cross weave for the side bolsters. The sides and back will be black vinyl both because it saves money and it is easy to keep clean. Mike will be building up the padding on the seats to make them a bit more supportive and contemporary, as the 1990 base-model seats are pan-flat. We picked an ebony carpet for the cab, which will come molded to fit the floor pan perfectly. That alone should prove a huge upgrade from the ambiguously-colored shag that originally covered the floor.

The rear cushions will get the same style cross weave as the fronts but with black as the base color and grey as the highlight, a nice contrast to the light walls and cabinets in the back.

The Stove

I'm still undecided about the stove. It had a couple of loose screws that can only be accessed when the stove is removed, so out it came. The rattling was a showstopper, as the back vent cover would chime in over every little bump on the freeway. The coach isn't particularly quiet to begin with, especially with all the carpet pulled out and a bunch of tools jangling around, but the stove was among the biggest culprits.

Now it is fixed and with a good cleaning it actually looks pretty sharp. It is in good working order and the oven is pristine. So on the one hand it is a good candidate for re-installation. On the other hand, it is rather heavy and cumbersome and I've wondered whether a simple 3-burner cooktop might be a nice way to modernize, save some weight and gain back some storage space. The fact that the oven is pristine says to me that maybe it won't get used. We'll see. The microwave is tiny, so having another option is a good way to start. For now, that will wait for the future. Somewhere down the line the whole sink and stove cabinet will get replaced. Particleboard is cheap and reasonably strong but after two decades the cabinet is tired. A coat of paint will help it look a lot nicer, but the structure is what it is and patching it will take more effort than simply building a new face frame out of plywood or hardwood. The plywood would be quite a bit stronger too. Maybe for next winter. I'd like to replace all the countertops too.

The Shag

The shag carpet is the bane of my existence. First off, I have to say its color is ambiguous. Parts of it are orange, parts brown and others a sort of sickly avocado. The fact that it is contiguous speaks either to the dramatic impacts of solar radiation or a colorblind quality control officer. The carpet is also a filth container of unbelievable capacity. Had i planned better, i would have bagged it all together and weighed it. I'm sure the rig will weigh substantially less than when I got it once it is restored, simply because of the dirt contained in the carpet.

Lastly, it's everywhere. More like a tenacious mold than upholstery. It is stuffed in every crack and crevice and covers any part of the coach that isn't straight. The adhesive that held it in place isn't particularly difficult to overcome by force, but the combination of sticky with an inch or so of carpet stuffed behind the luan with a 90 degree bend makes for challenging removal. The carpet was wrapped almost all the way around the two steel roof supports. I understand why -- I'm sure it keeps things from squeaking and clanking while underway. It just takes a lot of patience to get it out. At this point, I've crunched the edges of quite a bit of the wall board. Fortunately, it will be covered over with new carpet during the restoration. But what a pain. I will be glad to see the last of it go.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Back From Camp

Got the rig home Friday afternoon after a couple of weeks at "RV camp" in Sacramento with Dr. George. The front wrap-around windows on the overcab are now watertight, so I can start painting and reupholstering on the inside. The 'fun' part.

In addition to the window seals, the rig now has a brand new water heater with electronic ignition and a new windshield on the cab (replacing the original which had a number of rock-dings-turned-spiders ready to turn into large cracks).

Restored to full function is the Firestone Ride-Rite air suspension system, which allows a good bit of load-leveling while under way and a small amount of leveling while parked and camping. Since the old Dometic propane-electric refrigerator has to be level to run on gas, push-button leveling will be a worthwhile convenience.

While the rig was away, I took the time to play around with revised graphics that will fit better with the finished look. The original Sunrader logo looks a bit like it belongs in the back of a Sunset magazine circa 1978. It isn't that I have anything particularly against orange-with-brown, but I would have a hard time re-doing the interior in that color scheme without wearing a pair of vintage white Carrera Skiman sunglasses. So, with the magic that is Photoshop, here is a take on revising the logo.

My ultimate goal, I think, will be to restore the 'rader to something that looks old school, but with colors that are a bit sharper and more contemporary. I do still like the look of the gradient side-stripes from the late 80s too. The dashboard and trim in the Toyota cab are all in grey, so that will be the foundation for the rest of the color-scheme in the coach. We just picked out new fabrics for the seats and rear cushions, as well as carpet for the cab, and overcab bunk. I'll also have the door panels re-covered. No shag this time.

Today the cabinet doors come off, holes get patched, panels get cleaned and prepped and everything gets a coat of primer. I suspect the rig will look much different tonight. Photos to come.