Friday, August 10, 2012

Some Kind of Vacation

I'm fortunate to have really good friends.  

Some folks are terrific at small talk and cocktails and big noisy parties.  Me, I'm one for a bench on the back patio and a long conversation, or a favorite mexican restaurant with extraordinary agave libations.  My friend Renee and I refer to this as "The Happy Place," and we return just regularly enough to ensure it is well maintained.  But I digress.

Joe and I met a couple of dozen years ago as colleagues on our university newspaper.  I'm sure he thinks that I was drawn to his dry humor and a shared taste in can't-tell-this-one-in-front-of-the-girls humor, but really it was his slammed Chevy S-10 that sealed the deal.  Did I mention he's a writer?  Respect.  We reconnected almost 10 years ago over cycling.  I can't recall, sitting here, what it was exactly but it was probably the first year of the Tour of California bike race.  Regardless, we've watched it together, all over California, ever since.

Like me, Joe is an avid cyclist.  He's a high-cadence guy, I'm a diesel, but we manage.  He hides in my slipstream on the flats, then drops me on the hard climbs.  Relationships are give and take like that.

Joe encouraged me to ride my first century.  A hundo.  Triple digits.  And he had just the plan.  A group of his friends were driving from LA to Portland to ride Reach the Beach.  Long story short, it was a special weekend.  New friends, a revelation on two wheels, sunshine and rolling Oregon green to a big-rock-beach sunset.  I met Helene and Wes, Joe's riding companions in So Cal. By met I mean we spent days together in a Ford 12-passenger van.  Over the next few years, we've gotten together to ride some great routes.  Levi's Gran Fondo in Santa Rosa is a perennial favorite, as is our annual self-guided trip from LA to San Diego (SAG drivers always wanted).  The combination of cycling, long conversations, great scenery and, most importantly, companionship, has made a huge difference in my life.

So in that context, it may actually make sense that Joe and Wes offered to come up for a weekend to help me work on my little Sunrader.  We've used it as a basecamp during the ToC, but it has mostly been my weekend project for mental relaxation.  I have had some amazing gifts in my life, but to have these guys drive most of a day each way just to do some finish carpentry for me...that's right at the top of the all time list.

So what did we work on?

As I've mentioned before, the cabinets in these RVs were designed for the showroom.  Particleboard, glue and staples were the primary building material.  In the 20 years since construction, the laminate facing became as much the primary structure as a decorative finish.  In this Sunrader, the kitchen cabinet was in the worst shape of the lot.  Heat, vibration and time have turned the particleboard into little more than tightly packed powder.  Doors didn't close properly, latches couldn't be secured and the cabinet shimmied and squeaked while underway.

The project is to completely replace the kitchen cabinet.  I have a new sink, a new laminate countertop that I've already fitted, but Joe and Wes came up to help with the tough part -- the real carpentry involved in building a face frame, drawers and bulkheads.

Demolition was a breeze.  What fasteners remained weren't holding tight to much.  Unsurprisingly, many had backed out of their intended anchor points long ago.  The 2x4 support for one side of the cabinet was actually floating free under the sink.  Quality optional?

The first task, per Joe's suggestion, was planning out the rough layout and location of the bulkheads that would support drawers and the countertop.  1/2-inch Birch plywood is the choice: easy to work with, stable and plenty strong.  We opted for a drawer set from Ikea rather than building our own box and drawers, though we'll do that for the more unusually shaped boxes that will go under the sink.

We got the table saw fixed (short delay of game), the bulkheads cut to size and the Ikea drawerset re-configured to fit the space over the wheel hump.  Joe built a really clean face frame for under the stove: poplar, glue and biscuits.  Yes Norm, we wore safety glasses.

We got the first bulkhead, by the entry door, fixed in place with wood screws into the door frame.  To install the next three, a friend who is a boat builder recommends we either fiberglass cleats onto the side wall of the coach and the floor, or use the 3M 5200 adhesive to glue them into place.

It is amazing watching Joe and Wes work.  The fabric of friendship is a powerful thing, bringing different perspectives to the table in highly constructive (oops) ways.  Joe is the carpenter, but Wes is a problem solver.  Joe knows the how and why of a face frame.  Wes pays attention to the last 7 details I'd consistently overlook.  One of the best parts of this experience, for me, was getting that sense of cohesion and combined achievement.

Next up is designing the second face frame and the under-sink drawers.  I also need to be careful because I have a strong itch to tear into the other side of the interior and start reconfiguring the closet and inverter panel.  One step at a time, one step at a time.

And hopefully Wes and Joe need another vacation sometime soon.  And yes, we did get in a good bike ride up to the dam too...


  1. Hi Andrew,
    just ordered the SuperBright LEDs to replace all of the clearance lights, front and back. I can't believe how many people stop to look at my little 18 ft 1984 Nissan Sunrader. I had no idea how popular these are (were?). I took her in for her first 'bath' (I call it a baptism) and the guys who hand washed it (no polishing) liked it so much they are getting me a list of local handymen to gussy up the inside. I'll be referring them to your blog before they open any cans of worms. The guy who owns the detail shop told me I should put pergo floors in it. I have been doing some research about flooring and vapor/sound barrier products. From the looks of it, the hot water tank (or something) overflowed on the floor so there is warping and deterioration of the lower wood panels. They need to be completely replaced. Am going to start taking photos before we get too far into it. Not sure how to post these yet but will get them to you when I figure this out.

    Lot's of issues come up with this old gal. I ordered a new 20# horizontal propane tank and was horrified at what they cost. $171 plus tax and shipping. It was the cheapest one I could find. I took the old tanks to my local propane gas company who said they could re-certify them. Ongoing issues with service providers on the olympic peninsula...they don't have their 'stickers' so can't re certify for another week or so until they get them. Hmmm.. I decided to go ahead and buy at least one so that we can at least finish the propane tests on the appliances. Haven't been able to test any yet because according to the initial test report, one tank was 'overfilled' and there was something wrong with the regulator. I don't want to scrimp on major safety issues. Regarding the Clearance lights, not sure we are even getting power to the front clearance lights so that needs to be checked next up. I saw in one of your photos, the exposed wiring on the inside of the front cab. Did you have to replace the entire wiring assembly or just do some tweaking. More to come. Keep blogging. We on the peninsula are following your lead! Carol

  2. Glad you are having fun. Yes, Sunraders do tend to get attention in the campground. My first camping trip, we ran into another Sunrader owner one site over. Turns out I'd followed some of his posts on one of the toyhome boards.

    Water leaks on the interior are the biggest threat to a Sunrader, so definitely get the plumbing sorted as well as any structural repairs to the floor. Snap-together hardwood or laminate floors are excellent. The only downside is they tend to be louder.

    My wiring for the clearance lights was fine. it isn't too hard to get to, depending on what's covering it on the inside of your Sunrader. I expect it is some carpet, which will peel away easily. As you can see from my project, some good solvent based contact cement will put it back quite easily. Chances are you have a break in one wire somewhere -- a voltmeter will tell you a lot. Cheers.