Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Seats!

Just went over to the shop to pick up the Sunrader. The seats are done and the door panels are recovered to match. Wow, what a difference. The interior looks close to new now. More pictures as I get a chance in the daylight.

Next steps are some carpet on the back benches (under where the rear dinette cushions go) and to finish the lip/transition between the laminate floor and the carpet at the back of the cab.
Then lots more painting of cabinet doors, the ceiling above the front bunk, and eventually the rest of the carpet up there. But it sure is coming along.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Importance of Patterns

Today I finally got back on the program, and on the bike, and got in a 40 miler over Calaveras Road before lunch time. It is a privilege to live in such a beautiful place, and the road up past the reservoir is spectacular in spring. Indian Paintbrush, Vetch, California Poppies and Shooting Stars line the road climbing up out of the canyon, and there is a mating pair of Bald Eagles that returns each year to a huge nest atop one of the power transmission lines.

Last year I saw their fledgling testing its wings on the edge of the nest. It is a bit like a 747 hopping on its landing gear, as even the juveniles are huge birds. This year the couple apparently have two babies in the nest. I was only able to glimpse the head of one of the adults sitting watch as we rode by, but there are a few folks with long lenses that capture amazing images each season.


Having installed most of the jute yesterday, I spent this afternoon cutting and fitting the portion of the carpet that runs over the top of the wrap-around windows. Call it good thinking or good fortune, but I had yet to throw away the original fabric that covered the same space. I pinned it down to the new carpet as a pattern and cut everything out.

I applied contact cement to the interior wall of the cabover, then to the back of the carpet. Starting at the bottom between the two windows, I carefully positioned and smoothed the carpet into place. Fortunately the material is very forgiving for the amateur -- it stretches or compacts almost like a poly felt -- so I was able to pretty much make it do what i needed. A couple of times i got an area bunched up together sort of like a bundle of clingfilm, but with some gentle tugging it all came apart and smoothed out nicely.

I measured 12 inches back from the opening of the forward vent and put a pencil line across the ceiling for reference. To finish off the carpet, I just folded it over and put a line of staples through it into the Luan. On each side, i trimmed back the carpet to leave enough overage to stuff into the gap between the side panel and the ceiling. A blunt, flat screwdriver worked nicely even in the tight spots.

The finished product looks great but it isn't perfect -- there are a couple of tiny gaps between the window gasket and the carpet where I didn't quite notice it soon enough. I may just use a sharpie to blacken the fiberglass behind but I think I'll be the only one who will notice anything.

The rig goes back to the Upholstery shop in the morning for a few more measurements and the start on door panels and cushions. And now the cab needs a thorough vacuuming to get up all the stray bits of jute that seem to float around like dandelion fluff whenever I work with it.

We'll see how much work Mike can get done on things this week, as I know the Porsche in his shop is still at the front of the line. Meanwhile, I need to get back into the pattern of riding 2-3x a week so that there's actually a point in having this rig. It is for cycling trips after all and if my sluggish legs are any indication there is plenty of room for improvement before we go anywhere.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Carpet Time

After a few discussions with Mike from Tri-Valley Auto Interiors, I am off to the races with the overhead bunk carpeting project. Mike assured me it was more time consuming than complicated, and ordered up some very flexible and easy-to-work-with carpet to match the cab. He's going to do the seats and the door panels. The rest is mine. I have to say working with quality people is just a pleasure, and we're lucky to have Mike around here. Not only is his work respected by the automotive community in the area, he's just good people. He sent me home with one of his staple guns and an air hose so I could work on the rig this weekend without going to the rental yard. Who does that anymore?

Glue and Jute

First step was a final cleaning of the fiberglass surface -- just another wipe-down -- and scraping off the remaining foam padding from the ceiling panel above the wraparound windows. Easy stuff.

Next comes the jute padding.

It's worthwhile to note the original carpet installation -- the heretofore mentioned shaggus repulsivus -- was house carpet and had been installed as such. It was held in place at the perimeter of the upper bunk by staples and little plywood strips. Those strips were attached with screws into the Luan panels along the sidewalls and into the wooden frame at the cab/coach interface. It is hard to imagine any actual 'design' involved in the installation, more a 'make it work with more screws, leftover plywood and more staples.'

To paraphrase Bruce Dickinson, "I've got a fever and the only more staples."

I have removed all those little bits of plywood and instead am opting for contact adhesive to hold everything in place. The jute is easy to work with -- cuts with scissors and stretches or compresses just like felt to fit into place. I did the large flat area in two halves by cutting the jute to fit, then folding it over and coating first the fiberglass and then the jute itself with the contact glue. 15 minutes to dry and i could roll it carefully out to make contact and press it into place. (Thank goodness for the Fantastic Vent and the air conditioner fan...the fumes are significant) I left a little extra jute along the outside edge to tuck underneath the Luan. Even though there are some remaining holes and fractures in the Luan, I think it will make for a nice finish in the end.
To complete the job, I just duplicated the same approach on the other side. The contact cement is a bit more forgiving with the jute than I've experienced with things like laminate, so there is some ability to reposition a piece if it isn't quite right.
Around the rim of the cab interface, I wanted to have some better cushioning so I cut two strips of scrap carpet and tacked them around the edge with the staple gun. For the vertical panel by the door with the step, i cut a panel of the same scrap carpet to fit, then contact cemented it into place. I used scrap carpet rather than jute primarily because it was a little easier to work with on a vertical surface.

I was able to tuck the edges under the original plastic trim in the cab of the truck. If only the Sunrader folks had done it this way and avoided the 20 holes in the trim that formerly held stainless steel screws.

I've yet to figure out a remedy for this, so I may wind up using screws myself, though with the black low pile carpet I'll opt for black fasteners instead of silver. TBD.
The final carpet is charcoal that matches the molded kit in the cab below. I rolled it out for a look tonight and I think it will be pretty sharp. A nice upgrade. I added a few more pictures into the album tonight, so you can see it there.

I'm a bit concerned about the challenge of cutting it to fit precisely around the front windows. While the carpet cuts easily with a pair of scissors, I can't decide whether I'd be better off creating a pattern out of paper, then cutting it out on a tarp on the driveway. I suppose the alternative is to just do it all in place, but that seems a bit dodgy. I kept the thin covering that originally went up around those windows when I did the demo, so I may use it as a template... hmmmm...


The GoodGuys show is in town this weekend at the Alameda County Fairgrounds so Duncan and I went over to take a look at some hot rods and talk to the folks at Meguiar's about the best polishing strategy for the fiberglass. I haven't ever owned anything big enough to justify a power polisher before, and I wanted to get some pointers from the pros before I go rent (or invest in) one and wreck something.

So this morning while normal people were having coffee, I was polishing the side of the Meguiar's truck. Piece of cake. I'm going to give their RV/Marine kit a try and I think the local tool rental folks actually have some decent car polishers, so we'll see if we can make the coach shine again. I'm sure everyone has a point of view as to who has the best products for polishing or restoring this or that, but every time I visit the Meguiar's display at GoodGuys there are nice folks there who genuinely believe in their products, know how they work and are excited to tell me how to use them successfully. Good business.

And I'm excited to give it a try. The 'rader didn't look too bad after a basic wash, so I think there's still good life in the gelcoat and it might just come out looking good. AFTER I get the carpet done. With this project, there are so many bits and pieces it is easy to get distracted with fun stuff.

The Stove
I'm almost ready to finish up with the stove. The opening where it sits has a plywood frame. I think I mentioned it before. The strips of plywood are simply siliconed to the underside of the fiberglass counter to provide better rigidity and support the weight of the oven. While ultimately I'm going to replace the cabinet altogether, and with it the countertop, I managed to clean and re-silicone the old plywood back into place (note to anyone who cares, Liquid Nails was a BAD first choice even though I had an old tube on the shelf). Now that its cured, I'll get the fully cleaned-up stove back into place and test the gas line for leaks. That part of the project can be put to bed.

Tomorrow. More carpet.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New Carpet

What a difference.
The new carpet went into the cab this week and it looks fabulous. While it isn't an OEM color, we picked a nice charcoal (it really is charcoal, even though the photos make it look a little red) that complemented the grays and blacks in the stock interior and Mike @ Tri Valley Auto Interiors ordered a fully molded kit from the carpet manufacturer. While I elected to go without Dynamat on the cab floor, it is still noticeably quieter and i think it will further improve when we get the door panels redone.Now I have to hustle and get some floormats before I go and mud-up this nice new carpet... a 20-year-old rig is starting to have that "new car" smell in place of the "old shag" smell. Quite an improvement. And with the return of the SUN (we were in doubt for a while) the difference made by the paint on the interior walls and cabinets is profound.

I'm taking the rig back to the interior shop this week to start work on the seats, door panels and the rear cushions. We had to track down some 80-inch-wide carpet to work in the upper bunk, but that's now in stock. I'm assuming there is a good approach to make the join in the back of the cab -- some bit of upholstery guru magic -- I'll post that when I find out. I have some aluminum step edging to go between the edge of the laminate flooring and the carpet, but we may change that idea too if there is a smoother interface. TBD.

One item I have yet to track down is new plastic sleeves for the buckle-ends of the front seat belts. The sleeves are cracked and broken, so they look pretty awful and don't do a particularly good job of holding the buckles in place as designed. I'm thinking there must be something close out there, even if I can't track down the originals.

I've also been looking at working on the tail lights which, while functional are dimmer than modern units and SLOW to light. One of the folks on the forums has done restoration on these before -- they've long since been discontinued by Bargman, the manufacturer. I may opt for fabricating an adapter for a new LED set or find some new lenses (still available) and rewire the housing as he suggested here . It is amazing how many people truly love these little Toyota-based rigs and put so much effort into keeping them roadworthy.

And a little bummer
I had decided to keep the kitchen cabinets in place and use the original fiberglass counters for the time being, just so we could be on the road by the end of April for a shakedown run. We're planning to make our first real trip for the Tour of California in May. It is an annual trip that we usually do in our Honda Pilot with stops at some fun little (okay, cheap) motels along the way. Two or three years ago, we rented a 28 foot, Chevy-based class C RV for the trip instead and we had a blast (part of the reason we picked up the Sunrader this year).

All this is a long way around to say that as I was doing some fiddling with the plywood "support" strips that are siliconed to the underside of the fiberglass around the stove opening (yeah, I asked for it) I discovered they were too loose to be useful anymore. The silicone had just given out over all this time. So now I get to either cut a new support structure (the little strips of plywood in the original approach seem awfully half-a$ed to me) or just jump ahead and order the new laminate counter-top and move forward with that project. Decisions, decisions. As one poster on the forum put it, "I enjoy reading how the destruction bug possess ppl. Everything starts out mellow, then BAM! It's all in pieces!"

That about sums it up.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Quarter Round

As promised, here's the subwoofer and amplifier in place behind the driver's seat. I'll still tidy up the wires a bit, and I expect we'll carpet over the plywood too, but everything is basically where it belongs.

Back to the Floor

The laminate flooring now sits atop an underlayment of tiny Styrofoam beads sandwiched between two thin plastic sheets. Light, resilient and hopefully a nice way to quiet down the back of the coach. Since the floor floats on that underlayment, it gets held down all around the edges with some composite quarter-round that mostly matches the floor.

A home installation would likely get glued or use finishing nails to minimize any view of the fasteners. On the rig, however, I want to be able to easily take out the floor later in case I have some unforeseen maintenance or decide to take on some new cabinetry, etc. Every moment I spend patching the particleboard cabinet structures gets me more excited about just ripping them out, but that's a 2011 project at the soonest -- I want to get out on the road this summer.

In addition to the quarter round, I've started replacing the furnace vents which are now painted with that Rust Oleum hammered metal. The paint seems to adhere very well, so I'm encouraged to think they'll last a while. And the painted aluminum table mounts are back in place. I used a little bit of silicone on the subfloor and around the edge of the laminate flooring just to discourage any water from underneath. I know the mounts will get scuffed up quickly, but they'll also be easy to touch up later.

After cutting and fitting the quarter-round, I pre-drilled each length and used a countersink bit to remove enough material so that the brown painted deck screws will sit flush. They look a little bit utilitarian, but I happen to think that's just fine for an RV. As with the flooring itself, this is another opportunity to see the impact of twenty years on the road on anything that ever was a square corner. Every day it seems I encounter another situation that reminds me of This Old House. Not the contemporary show, mind you, but the one with Bob Villa back in the day. Maybe somebody else remembers how they'd inevitably discover that the whole foundation structure of the house was rotten and they'd somehow find a way to jack it all up and replace it from underneath without folding the place in half. Thank goodness the Sunrader is only 21 feet long!

I also did a bunch of the finish work on the entry step. Gorilla glue was what I had around, so that's what I used. I suppose proper wood glue might have been better to keep the kicker in contact with the riser, but since everything gets stainless steel screws (or painted deck screws) to hold it in place I think it will work out fine. I have plenty of those screws left over from the carpet removal.


I spent a few minutes today stitching in the new steering wheel cover from Wheelskins. So far as I can tell, they make the nicest semi-custom leather covers out there. Far better than the ones you can find at Kragen or Target, even if you do have to spend an hour snugging waxy thread through tiny holes. The fit is perfect, and they let you order just about any combination of colors too.

Mike is hoping to take the rig tomorrow or Monday to install the carpet kit in the cab, depending on his backlog. And I have to get the countertop out at some point to pass it over to Suba to make a new one. I'm thinking plywood substrate. I have enough particleboard already.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Now Hear This

I love music. Most of what I like, most people don't like. I'm okay with that.

There are exceptions, to be sure. James Taylor is still in the mix. Heart. Cat Stevens. Yes. Bruce Hornsby. Elton John. But soon we'll diverge, I promise.

Willy Porter anyone? Jethro Tull? Wanna take a crack at some Marillion? Why is it that progressive rock never gets its own night on American Idol? Dolly Parton but not Ian Anderson?


Last weekend between little league and the seemingly endless downpours I got the new audio system into the rig. Not entirely new, actually. The head unit is a hand me down from my brother-in-law. A year or two ago he opted to upgrade to a full satellite dish/dvd/navigation unit on his mini motorhome as he spends much of the year on the road. Someday, someday.

For now, I get a nice Pioneer CD player with lots of flashy LCD action on the faceplate. More importantly, it is a huge upgrade from the 20-year-old Panasonic two-dial tape deck with variable tuning. By variable, I mean what it says on the dial is variable from the station actually tuned in.

Installation isn't a difficult process, but it is a bit of a pain in the tail. 80s and 90s toyotas of this vintage were still made with things like phillips head screws and regular bolts. And the plastic is heavy enough that any big Irish mule like me can push it around pretty hard without much fear of snapping anything.

There are good step by step instructions available on the web, which are very helpful. The underside of the dashboard basically comes off in three pieces: the glovebox and right speaker housing; the knee-panel under the steering wheel, which houses the left speaker; and the center console. The center is the trickiest of the three, only because the last two screws that hold it in place are hidden under the heat and AC controls. Removal takes some gentle work with a screwdriver to pry off the faceplate before the whole panel snaps off.

The best part about the project aside from the sound of the new system is the opportunity to get more GUNK out of the rig. 20 years of dust is a lot (how it gets up in behind there I don't want to know) and it took a decent amount of effort with a dry paintbrush to get all the little bits of debris out of the crevices in those panels. A little bit of Armor All on the tip of the brush helps too, but only with the last bits. NEVER start the process with a big spritz of Armor All or any sort of cleaner or you'll be digging dust mud out of those little corners for an eternity.

As with the new speakers that we installed early on, the new stereo fit in fairly easily. A new plastic mounting bracket (online for about 8 bucks) makes for a tidy finished look and all the wiring from 1989 matched the schema for the new deck. I wish I could thank the original owner of this Sunrader for keeping ALL of the documentation including the original Panasonic INSTALLATION manual. The opportunity to verify the wiring scheme saved me a ton of time fishing through everything and meant I could just swap in the new harness in a few minutes. AND it worked on the first try.

Because the factory speaker mounts in the cab only hold a 4 inch driver, there isn't much low range to be had. I thought about cutting holes for bigger speakers in the doors but just couldn't get excited about it. Behind the drivers seat, there is a gap between the luan covering the outside wall of the shower and the edge of the cutaway truck cab. I'll get a picture posted up shortly. At about 8 inches wide, this is just enough room to mount a subwoofer, so I did.

10 bucks on, so if it is crud I won't feel too bad. The Pioneer head unit has a line out pair of RCA jacks on the back and I happened to have a 20 year old 18W (yeah, 18 Watts, not 1800 with a pulsing purple light like the ones at Best Buy) Yamaha stereo car amp. The great thing about this amp is that it is only about 3 inches by 6 inches. PERFECT.

I used a piece of poster board to create a template of the space between the edge of the truck and the plywood lip on the coach. From that, I cut a piece of 1/4 inch plywood, cut one port for the speaker and a smaller one for the wiring, and mounted the lot in the back of the cab. In a perfect world I probably should have figured out a way to make it more airtight, but I can still put some insulation in behind the speaker later if it needs it.

The amp fits easily above the speaker on the back wall. Four screws.

So in it goes, wired up and hooked up and voila, a whole new dimension of sound for the rig. The one downside of the little amp is that it is OLD and it isn't bridgable. That means I only have one channel of bass signal going through it, not both. Oh well. Only I will know.

The two Kenwood speakers are fully mounted in the back of the rig too. Poly cones on a 6.5 inch driver, with center mounted mid and tweeter. SUCH an improvement from the old paper-cone Panasonics. Wow. 40 bucks on Amazon for the Kenwoods. I think the whole outlay for the new system, not including the hand-me-downs of course, was less than 75 bucks including some new cables. HUGE improvement.

Now... Time to crank some Heavy Horses.