Monday, May 24, 2010

First Trip

One in the books. Whew!

I'll just say up front that the driving-to-vacationing ratio was a little off on this one. We left home at about 6pm to get from the Bay Area down to our camp site in Big Bear. 9 hours of driving under the wheels and we pulled into site #17 at Pine Knot at 3am. It turns out that the camp ground was about a block away from the finishing straight for the Big Bear stage of the Tour of California. Ha! Happy coincidence.

As planned, we were up at the crack-of-way-too-early-for-a-vacation the next morning to go meet some friends and stake out a spot on the final climb where we could get a good view of the bike race. Leveled out, awning cranked, coffee and pancakes wrangled and we were kings of the mountain on the side of Hwy 18. Everything was working flawlessly except the coach battery had discharged completely on the road down (must not be getting a charge back there) so we were constantly getting an undervolt alarm from the propane sensor. Just enough charge to run the water pump now and again, thank goodness :).

We waited for the road to close, and as I was off doing something in the back of the rig, one of the kids shouted "hey Dad, there goes another Sunrader." So what are the odds that it would be parked in Pine Knot #16 when we got back later that evening? (Thanks for coming by to say 'Hi!' Henry... great to meet you!). After another night in the campground and a breakfast at iHOP (they put the calories on the menu now. WOW, you could fuel a small city on a stack of chocolate chip pancakes) we headed down to LA to watch the ToC time trial. Thank goodness we can fit into a standard parking place, because it was a zoo down at the Staples Center.

I love watching the Time Trial... such a brutal effort. All mind versus pain for 45 minutes on a machine that is pretty unforgiving. The dragster of bikes. Great for straight lines and getting power to the ground, but handling, notsomuch. The wind was gusting enough at times that it would just whack riders sideways when it hit those rear disc wheels, especially as they passed by an intersection and a space between the skyscrapers.

Dinner (after proper, indoor-plumbing-based-showers) was at the lovely La Bruschetta on Westwood Blvd. Terrific food, wonderful staff and a great time with friends.

Sunday morning we were off again, having boondocked in our friends' driveway for the night. Up to Kanan road and Mulholland drive to watch the final circuit race of the 2010 ToC. We found a perfect spot, just beyond the KOM and unfolded the chairs beneath some truly spectacular blue Southern California skies.
So if you've ever wondered how close you can get to the action in pro bike racing, this picture about sums it up. I was using an 18-70mm lens, crouching on the side of the road and the guys came by within 6-8 inches. Amazing. The final stage was a 4 lap circuit, so we got to see plenty of racing, including some amazing attacks. Now these guys go uphill as fast as normal people go downhill, but when they attack it is almost unbelievable. On the final lap, Chris Horner (center) of team Radio Shack, along with a rider from the Garmin team, took it up another big notch and just departed from the front of the main group. It looked effortless and just really, really fast. Unlike ToCs past where the final day was more of a parade lap for the winner, there was some real jockeying for position in this one which made it more fun to watch. George Hincapie in the red white and blue of the U.S. Pro road champion made it a race to the end, coming in 2nd for the day.
But ultimately, this blog is supposed to be about the Sunrader. Hmmm... a quick review, perhaps. Certainly not a flawless trip by any stretch of the imagination. Interstate 5 is a terrific way to get down California in a luxury car above the speed limit. But it is so trashed by semi-tractors that pushing the rig to 75 with the occasional mighty pothole just isn't a whole lot of fun. Next time, 101 is the choice along with a more leisurely travel schedule.

The Grapevine was a nice adventure. We kept 45-50 all the way up, which is pretty impressive given 100k miles on an engine that at best is 130hp, all loaded up with the camper and 5 of us. And we did keep a pretty easy 70mph on the flats -- with 13mpg. All the appliances worked perfectly. I'm most impressed with the propane option on the fridge. Easy to light, and uses hardly any LPG at all to keep things ice cold. Love that. Oh, and roadside pancakes also rule.

The trip back up 101 was much nicer. The road is generally smoother, lacking as it does the caravans of tractor trailers. However, it was as windy as I've ever experienced. We had gusts of easily 40 mph coming across the road, sometimes shifting directions very quickly. That beats caffeine for keeping you alert. But the rig holds the road just fine, and the steering is light enough so things stayed reasonably relaxed. It seems to me that by avoiding the Grapevine and having a smoother surface the difference in distance/time is about a wash. It was certainly a less wearing journey on the way back.

And how amazing to run into ANOTHER Toyota Motorhome owner in Buellton, CA while stopping for some dinner. I was just checking the oil and a fella walks up to me to make sure everything is okay. Turns out he has an Odyssey of his own but loves the 'leak-free' idea of the Sunrader (I set him straight about my front windows, but he assured me I had nothing to complain about).

All in all a great trip. A few too many rattles, a few to much banging and washboarding (new shocks may get to the top of the list soon) but lots of fun.

Lots more pictures that I'll have to get up in an album soon.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Commission

Soon we launch the Sunrader on the first trip of its new commission. There is still plenty of work to do, lots of bits and pieces as I've said, but it is well and truly roadworthy now.

I got a little behind on things like picking out fabric for new curtains, so I took a chance on some black RIT dye from the supermarket and ran the old ones through the wash. As you may notice, the curtains from the rear window did not survive the process. 20 years of sun exposure will do that to you! But the rest came through in sort of a taupe-tinged charcoal that looks decent enough to work for now. I'm thinking something in a cycling print for the final window coverings...

This week was about lots of finish work. Replacing the cutting board to fit into the left sink, reattaching cabinet doors and adjusting latches, finding an after-market latch to hold the fridge shut while underway. Thanks to the folks at Allied Trailer in San Leandro for lots of help and suggestions. The Web is great, but people who know their stuff are the real deal.

I also went through all the major systems. Hot water is back online, the fridge works on all three power sources (phew) and the stove lights up like a champ. Water flows. Tanks empty.

I'm sure we're going to overload with too much stuff and still pull out of the driveway with one or two things (hopefully not tools) that we'll need along the road. We have a great time watching the so I'm looking forward to catching some time with the kids for that, and meeting up with cycling buddies on the road too. Hmmm, may have to put the bike on the back of the rig for this trip. I suppose that wast he whole point anyway.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Packin Up

Not quite done with the rig yet, but the Tour of California awaits. This week I've been reassembling things. The stove is back in and reconnected, hot and cold running water is running (and draining) properly, and all the lights are back in place.

I also finished up the trim around the new floors (the angles were all something different from 90 degrees, so my mitering was more puttying...) and touched up some paint here and there. Still many bits and pieces to do.

I installed two fire extinguishers as well, one just inside the coach door and the other opposite it inside the main utility box. I then quickly kicked and broke the plastic mount for the one in the coach. Perfect! On to plan B...

I also finally got to fixing the big pots-n-pans drawer slide, which had been attached and reattached to the outside wall of the rig at least a half a dozen times over the years. A new plywood mount for the drawer slide with 4 #10 screws should last a little least.

This weekend, we'll test fit all the gear: sleeping bags, cookware, plates, etc. (reading avidly all the RV lists out there on the web) and see what new storage bins we'll need. We'll also be fitting out all the plastic drawers with new cushioned liners to help keep the road noise down. Even with all the cosmetic work, the Sunrader still finds all the bumps on a rough road. Hopefully we won't have to hear the silverware all the way down the road!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The End of Carpet

I have about a quarter can of Dap solvent-based contact adhesive if anyone needs some.

I've learned a lot more than I ever planned about auto upholstery in the project. Thankfully, making new friends in the process. I wouldn't hesitate to re-carpet one of these little motorhomes again. In fact, I think that next time I might be a bit more aggressive about gutting the coach before I started the refurbishing.For those who haven't done this before, I thought it might be useful to provide a bit of how-to and show just how simple this material is to apply.
First off, the right kind of carpet for the job is key. My upholstery shop hooked me up with a carpet that acts just like felt. You can stretch it a long way in all dimensions in order to fit odd shapes and corners -- a must for things like the cab-to-coach interface.
In this case, I was finishing up the rim of the rear dinette couches where the table rests to form the back bed. A couple of strips of carpet get a thin coat of contact cement. I rough cut the pieces to width and length (you can always stretch them a bit later) and just used an old paintbrush to apply the glue. Keeping the can closed or, better yet, using a paint pot for a small amount, is important. The solvent evaporates out of the glue very quickly, especially on a warm day, and you can wind up with a gunky mess. The recommendation for cleanup is gasoline, so I try to avoid that as much as possible. An orange-based mechanics hand cleaner takes the glue off skin just fine.The plywood gets a coat of glue too. A good layer will leave it shiny. Note that this stuff will instantly remove latex paint. Foom. I have some touching up to do.

Once it dries, it is time to bring the two pieces together. It takes a bit of care because once they touch they want to be together forever. It is possible to reposition things if the contact is minimal, but once you start smoothing things down you're pretty well committed so start at one end, or in the middle, and work your way across keeping things smooth and straight.There's a pretty good gap between the cabinet top and the top edge of the bed support, so it is pretty easy to tuck in the carpet with a finger. There are lots of places in the rig, such as the overhead steel supports or the back bulkhead where tucking in the carpet took some careful working with an old (well rounded) screwdriver. Tedious, but worthwhile.

All done.

I've put some more photos of other areas I covered with this material in the album. Again, it is pretty forgiving to work with. We'll see how it holds up over time.

I Need One of These

This restoration is part cash, part grunt work, part repair work, part staple removal, and part putty-n-paint (making up for my lack of carpentry skills). It is also a bit of a scavenger hunt. Thankfully, parts for the Toyota chassis are readily available and the major appliances are all fairly standard across the mini-RV spectrum. A couple of things are a little tricky, though. The Bargman 1400 tail lights are no longer manufactured, but the lenses are out there on the web (and are on my list) so I'm planning to restore the existing housings. That's for a later date.

What I'm looking for right now is this.

My Sunrader came with a Carefree Freedom retractable awning. Remarkably, the awning is still in pretty good condition, with just one small tear in a corner that looks reasonably repairable. This worm gear, however, is kaput. It is an uncomplicated part, and all it does is turn vertical twist from the crank handle into horizontal twist for reeling the awning in and out.

But Carefree doesn't stock 20 year old parts. Drat. So I've spent a few hours doing Web-based spelunking and it looks as though I could probably source a shipping container full of them from China if I were inclined to start my own awning business. I've yet to find any parts, however, that I could even consider modifying to fit the job.
Next step? I'm trying one of the handful of RV salvage yards and dismantlers in hopes that they have something close. In the meantime, I can use an old 1/2" socket wrench. Hopefully they won't send us to the back of the campground!