Saturday, June 30, 2012

Quick trip to Scenic State Park

Kathy and I took a quick trip to Scenic State Park this week to celebrate our 41st wedding anniversary (but who's counting...) and to escape the 90 degree heat of the city. The weather was great and we had a good time. Bugs chased us inside a couple of times but mostly we had a nice breeze which kept things comfortable.

Scenic State Park is one of the oldest state parks in Minnesota. It was created in 1921 as the last of the great virgin white pines were being cut across the region. It protects the old growth along the shoreline of two lakes separated by a glacial esker. The campground contains a log lodge with a great stone fireplace built by the CCC.

We took our canoe along on the roof of the camper which worked great. I was able to load it on top without assistance and a few straps secured it in place. Forgot to take a picture but it looked right at home up there.

We found a campsite in the lodge campground right by the lake and set up our camp. Cooking was easy with the new Partner stove made for us by the Partner Steel Company in Idaho. The stove is high quality, easy to set up and to take apart to clean and cooks fast.

There was only one other family in the campground- grandparents, kids and grandkids who have been coming to the park for 30 years. It was fun to see an extended family hanging out together. The grandparents also had a pop-up camper, larger than ours on a larger truck, and were very interested in our camper. They have been to Alaska in their camper, a trip Kathy and I hope to do one day.

We took some walks with Rocky, went canoeing, did some swimming and saw some loons and wildflowers up close. Evenings were closed out with campfires.

On the way home we checked out the flooding around Aitkin. Very heartbreaking to see homes and businesses under water. The area has received over 12 inches of rain this month and the Mississippi River was over 6 feet above flood stage. Many of the lakes have been polluted from flooded septic systems and are clogged with sunken docks and debris. It will be all summer before things can be cleaned up. Unreal.

It was a short trip but much enjoyed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Relocated Back-up Camera

One of the downsides of mounting the camper was that we lost the back-up camera which is located in the tailgate. In the short time we have owned the truck, I have become quite attached to the camera. It makes backing up so much easier when you can see what is behind you. This is an even greater issue with the camper on- there are major blind spots. So I have been thinking about how to get the camera back.

The camera is wired into the rear view mirror so that when the truck is put in reverse, a small screen shows up in the rear view mirror with the view from the camera. Very slick.

The camera view in the mirror

 I investigated buying another camera to mount on the camper. The original equipment cameras cost over $700 from Toyota and over a hundred from Amazon and other online marketers. Too expensive. The wiring harness is another $50 and of course the camera uses a proprietary plug which powers the camera with 6 volts and connects it to the rear view mirror.

Can you believe this little piece of plastic costs $700 from Toyota?

I looked into buying an after market camera which can be found for as little as $12 on Ebay. The problem with these is that they can't be wired into the existing camera circuit because they are powered with 12 volts. They would have to be wired into a different circuit such as the backup lights. All of this could be worked around but I wanted a simple plug and play solution.

Today I decided to try to work with the existing camera from the tailgate as an interim solution until I find a better long term fix. I removed the camera and wiring harness from the tailgate which was not difficult. In looking at the truck for possible mounting locations, I noticed the hole where the wiring harness passes through the bumper assembly to the location of the connecting plug under the truck. It is a square hole about 1.25 inches across located to the right and slightly above the hole for the spare tire lowering crank and accepts a plastic clip that holds the camera wiring harness as it passes through the hole. It looked to be about the right size. I confirmed with a test fitting that the camera fit almost perfectly in the hole.

It fits
With some pondering about how to mount the camera, I came up with the solution. I drilled a small hole under the harness hole to pass a small bolt through and drilled a similar hole in the bottom of the plastic bracket that holds the camera in the tailgate location. With the camera held in position, I was able to fasten the bracket in place using a couple of washers and locking nut. I used a stainless steel bolt that I had lying around as I want to be able to remove the camera easily when I find a permanent camera or put the tailgate back on.

Securely fastened in place
The camera is beneath the door jamb of the camper

The view from the camera is slightly obstructed at the top by the camper floor and at the bottom by the bumper but the main field of view is unobstructed and looks great. The results are not perfect but are better than nothing and will do fine until a better solution emerges.

Edit: August 3, 2015

I finally got around to a permanent fix for the backup camera. After growing weary of watching the internet for deals on the OEM camera, I finally bought one on eBay. I also bought a factory tailgate harness to make the project easier. I decided to mount the camera inside the wall of the camper for protection from the elements and other hazards. I selected a location near the bumper above the opening for the tailgate wiring to pass through and connect to the truck wiring.

After a lot of head scratching and pondering alternative parts in the hardware store, I came up with a plan. Of course that plan didn't work and I needed a plan B, and a plan C. After hours of time-consuming, frustrating, fussy work, I managed to get the camera mounted and secured. The wiring goes through the camper floor and connects to the truck in the same manner as the tailgate. It is easy to disconnect when the camper comes off the truck. It is accessible from the inside for service if necessary. The camera gives a nice unobstructed view of the area behind the camper. I'm happy with the result.

The camera is visible at the bottom right of the door.

I used a standard cover plate with a hole drilled in it. The wire to the truck is visible under the camper.

The back of the camera extends through the wall requiring a box to conceal the wiring connection and allow service. The wire exits the bottom of the box through the camper floor to the truck connection below.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Truck and Camper Weight

This post is copied from posts I made on the Overland Expo Forum back in October 2012 and April 2013. I wanted to archive the information here for future reference.

October 2012
I stopped at the truck scale at the start of my last trip. I was curious. Our camper is a modified ATC shell model- shorter and narrower than a normal Bobcat. It has a furnace and propane tank and two small storage boxes built out of plywood (you can see the details here). We have a Dometic CF50 fridge bolted in under the cab-forward window. We have a 10 gal. Frontrunner footwell water tank that was empty. I was carrying 2 gallons of water in the camper. At the time of weighing, the camper was fully loaded with 200 lbs of food, gear and clothing, the dog was in the truck but no people. The gas tank was 5 gallons shy of full.We  have D-rated tires that I figure add about 50 pounds total over OEM tires and an extra battery that adds another 50 lbs.

Here are the results:

Axle        Actual           Toyota Spec               Difference
Front       2560 lbs        GAWR 2755 lbs        195 lbs under limit
Rear        2920              GAWR 3110              190 under
Total       5480              GVWR 5350*            130 over

*(don't know why the GVWR is 515 lbs less than the total GAWR for the two axles).

I figure adding two people (350 lbs ), 8 more gallons of water (64 lbs) and 5 gallons of gas (30 lbs) would put me at an additional 444 lbs for a total fully loaded weight of 5924 lbs (ignoring the two empty fuel cans hanging on the back). This is 574 lbs over the GVWR, or 10.7% high. I was surprised since my camper is bare bones. We carry pretty minimal gear. I don't know how I would get the weight down to the GVWR. At least we are close to the individual axle ratings. The truck handles fine and doesn't seem overloaded. There is still capacity in the stock suspension with the TSB rear springs. Braking, acceleration and cornering are all good.

April 2013

Okay, so I finally got to the truck scale with my truck empty. Here are the results:

front axle: 2525 lbs
rear axle: 1880 lbs
total: 4400 lbs

I had the gas tank full, the tailgate off and the dog in the cab (and forgotten snow chains on the floor behind the seats- oops). I was not in the truck.

The factory spec for Gross Weight is 4070, so somewhere I picked up 330 pounds (others have reported a similar experience). I'm thinking 50 pounds for D-rated tires, 50 pounds for the chains, 50 pounds for the extra battery, 60 pounds for the dog, but the tailgate was not on so that subtracts about 50 pounds. That leaves about 150 pounds unaccounted for. What am I forgetting? Maybe the additional towing package is not included in the spec curb weight- who knows.

With the camper on last summer, the weight was 5480 and I need to adjust for 5 gallons of gas (30 lbs). So let's call it 5510. With the empty weight at 4400 lbs, that leaves the camper and gear at 1110 lbs. I think my gear at the time was 350-400 lbs or less (including clothes, food, kitchen gear, water, the fridge, tools and whatnot) so that leaves the camper weight at about 700-750 lbs for a shell camper including the furnace and propane. That seems about right- maybe a bit heavier than expected. Not as exact as I would like but that's what I know now. I may try to get a weight with an empty camper to have a better sense of the camper weight.

The moral of the story is that the Tacoma is a great truck but the GVWR is quite limiting. We are happy to live within the limits- keeps in check our desire to bring every little thing along with us.

Update: June 9, 2014

I weighed the truck with an empty camper today. Here are the results:

front axle: 2560 lbs.
rear axle: 2740 lbs.
total: 5300 lbs.

The fridge was in the camper so I can deduct 45 lbs. for that. Comparing to the empty truck weight above, this leaves the camper weight at about 800 lbs. give or take. This is heavier than I thought and leaves less room for gear to stay under the GVWR, although it appears I over-estimated the weight of our gear earlier. It is interesting to note that virtually all the camper weight rests on the rear axle- only 35 pounds goes to the front.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Second Battery Installation

Here are some pics of the battery installation that I did before we picked up the camper. This is a copy of posts I made on the Overland Expo Forum back in March of 2012 and updated in July 2013.
This is the location before the mounting plate is installed. There were three factory studs to mount to. I had to add a shim at the back one to raise that point to the level of the plate. I used rubber washers to isolate the plate and a foam pad where the plate contacts the wheel well. The plate is installed under the air intake bracket and uses that bolt also.

This shows the plate in place and mounted. The extra holes in the back are for mounting the battery tray. I used a piece of clear plastic laid over the location to be able to mark where the studs were located and made a template to drill the holes in the plate from that.

This shows the battery tray in place.

This shows the tray in a wider view.


          This shows the IBS control panel mounted in the truck cab in the spare change tray location.

Since these pictures were taken, I added a disconnect switch to isolate the second battery from the IBS system for charging from shore power. I have a battery charger wired into the camper that I can charge the battery from when the camper is plugged in to a 120v power source.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Our new camper!

Well, after over a year of research and looking for used campers, some false starts and quite a bit of learning from the WTW and ExPo forums, we are finally the happy owners of a new camper built for us by the good guys at All Terrain Campers. ATC was great to work with and delivered the camper at the agreed upon time and price. Post purchase support has been great too. We picked it up in Sacramento and enjoyed a nice initial shakedown trip on the way home.

Here is a link to a post about things we've done to the camper during the first year of ownership: )

Here is a link to a post on the truck and camper weight:

Here is a link to a post on the second battery installation:

Here are the basics:

Some background:

My wife and I are recently retired. We have always been campers with most of our travels based on a canoe as our mode of transport (we do live in Minnesota after all). We have spent most of our camping time in the BWCA wilderness or on rivers. With retirement, we wanted to expand our horizons. We wanted to treat the truck like our canoe and use it to go places most people don’t.

 We chose a Toyota Tacoma Access cab with the Off-Road TRD package for its reliability, off-road capability and smaller size. The access cab provides room for the dog and the long bed with a shorter wheelbase. The truck is stock with the rear suspension TSB upgrade and D-rated truck tires. We are used to carrying everything we need in our canoe so we are comfortable with spartan arrangements and weight limits. We like to cook outdoors and spend most of our time outside when we are camping. The camper is a place to carry our gear, hang out in comfort when the weather is bad and to get a good night’s sleep.

Storage compartment on driver's side.

We settled on ATC because their quality is good and they were willing to make some changes to their design to make it work better for us. We wanted a basic shell with a few options. The primary change we made was in dimensions. We made the camper narrower and shorter to fit the truck better. We reduced the height of the lower part of the camper to make the cab-over gap less and increased the height of the pop-up to make up for the lost height.

Propane cabinet on passenger's side.

We added an exterior storage compartment for truck related gear like leveling blocks, tiedowns, tools, compressor and recovery equipment.

I wanted the weight forward and low as much as possible so we planned for the propane and storage to be in the front. We wanted the propane on the passenger side to be convenient for cooking.

In the back seat, I removed the jump seats and made a padded platform for the dog. Sometimes we carry a Front Runner foot-well water tank. When the tank is installed, we just use a sheet of thin plywood over the tank for the platform. We made a cushioned pad over that and put a rug on that.

I built a platform for Rocky after removing the jump seats.
There is room under the platform for storage.

Platform made out of plywood and covered with carpet.
Footwell water tank.

Plywood over the tank.
A pad and a rug over the plywood. Pillows keep Rocky away from the doors where his feet can slip down. He likes to rest his head on them.

I installed the auxiliary battery in the engine compartment to keep the weight forward and to make maintenance and charging easy. I used the IBS system which was easy and works well.

Auxiliary battery.
IBS battery management system.
Water tank under the dog platform.

Simple interior.

Inside, we have a storage bench and window on each side. This arrangement gives us plenty of space to relax at night or in bad weather, even with the bed extended. Under the bench at the rear, the furnace is on the driver’s side and a space to store a porta-pottie is on the passenger’s side. My plan is to design some shelves that will live under the bench cushions and be able to be easily installed above the benches to serve as work counters if we want to cook inside or do other work that requires a work surface. The refrigerator will be mounted on the floor under the cab-forward window between the cabinets. If necessary it will be possible to sleep in the lower section with the top down by using the shelves for a platform between the benches with foot space over the fridge.

We have all LED lights, four 12-volt outlets and a shore power connection with one outlet. I have a battery charger wired into the camper that can use shore power to charge the battery. We had the camper wired for solar but don’t anticipate installing that until we are sure we need it. I installed a 120v outlet in the cab to run the computer and other gadgets wired to the built-in inverter (we use the computer with Mac GPS Pro for navigation in the back country and a Garmin for road navigation). I plan to make an access port to reach the outlet in the truck bed from the camper for the same purpose.

I made a computer desk out of a cutting board.
120 volts for the computer.

Other options include fuel can carriers, Yakima tracks, the arctic pack, jacks, fantastic fans and LED floodlights. We also got the motion detector Star Light that I learned about on WTW (shout out to Overland Hadley for all the information he has posted and to many others as well for their ideas that I have liberally and gratefully used).

Our trip home took us through Nevada, Salt Lake City, Wyoming, the Bighorns and South Dakota. We had some nice camp sites and some good back road exploring. The truck performed great with the camper on and loaded with gear and passengers. There is still excess capacity in the suspension. I was thinking I would have to upgrade the springs but so far I am thinking we are good with what we have- the benefit of traveling light.

Some random pics:

San Francisco- driving and parking in the city is easy- one of the reasons we wanted a small truck.

Rocky's first visit to the ocean (Morro Bay)- he took a big gulp of seawater like he does in the lakes at home- got a big surprise!

Rye Patch Reservoir in Nevada
The road to nowhere.

Crazy Woman Canyon Road

Crazy Woman Canyon Road in the Bighorns. It got cold there- 42 degrees in the camper in the morning. There was still snow in the campground. Brilliant me forgot to fill the propane tank before we left so we couldn't use the furnace. We were fine in our sleeping bags but the dog got cold as he has already lost his winter coat. We left a day sooner than planned to get some propane. Kind of a bummer because the area was pretty nice and we wanted to take a hike into the Cloud Peak wilderness. Oh well- always leave something for next time.

Bear Butte in South Dakota

All the comforts of home...

 Sunset at Lake Louise in South Dakota

Thanks for reading. We look forward to many years of travels with our camper.