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Old 02-10-2011, 05:13 PM   #1 (permalink)
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introduction

In December of 2008 I decided to pack it all in and hit the road. Load up my dogs and my bikes and go wander through what's left of the wild west, keeping an eye out for places where I might eventually like to buy some land and build a place to live. Had been living up in Bend, OR for the last 4-5yrs and spent a lot of time exploring different parts of the Pacific NorthWest (mostly on dirtbikes). Been all over the west coast wheeling and camping in different vehicles that I've built over the years. But my wanderlust goes back much further, to the days I spent playing in the wilderness as a kid, looking forward to a time when I'd be able to set out on bigger adventures. When I was about 19yrs old I started making plans to build a custom motorhome out of an old schoolbus. Was going to haul my bikes and my Jeep around in the back of it. Had it in my head that I was going to spend my life traveling around the country/world writing about my adventures, and would do this all under the Trails Less Traveled banner. Was almost exactly 10yrs later that I found myself in a position to follow-through on what it felt like I'd been planning all my life.

The decision to build a deuce and a half was a simple process of elimination. Did a ton of research on different vehicles and didn't find anything else that was comparable and I could, 1) afford, and, 2) get in the US. After finding out that I could buy a deuce for a fraction of what a decent 1-ton pickup truck would cost me, it was a done deal. After learning all about the different variations of these vehicles, I settled on an M109, which is just a basic deuce and a half (M35A2) with an insulated 12ft box on the back of it (instead of the regular cargo bed). Ended up finding one for sale, listed right here in the Pirate classifieds section. Drove down to Lake Shasta from Bend and bought mah deuce for $3500 from Ed (Hammer). You can buy trucks straight from military surplus for a lot less, but couldn't afford the uncertainty that goes along with buying surplus.

There's nothing particularly unusual about traveling/living in a motorhome, but the imposing nature of mah deuce tends to give people the wrong idea. A lot of people see a military vehicle and assume that I must be preparing for the apocalypse, and a surprising number of people try to relate to me like that nutjob in the military surplus store in the movie Falling Down. They want to tell me all about their bunkers and their stockpile of weapons and food and whatever. Like we're brothers in arms or something. Creeps me out. But this is just a motorhome, much like any other motorhome, except that I want to be able to travel and live unsupported for extended periods of time, in some pretty remote places.


This is what it looked like when I picked it up.






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Old 02-10-2011, 05:14 PM   #2 (permalink)
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index: by topic, with links & sources

life on the road

about me
becoming homeless (on purpose)
  • why?
    post 1 (pirate build-thread)

getting ready

vehicle

choosing a vehicle / platform to build on
general vehicle maintenance
exterior modifications (vehicle)
cabin modifications
engine
transmission
transfer-case
steering
suspension
axles
brakes
wheels & tires
fuel
compressed air
hydraulics
electrical
  • see motorhome conversion section

fording
recovery, towing & lifting
body & paint

motorhome conversion

design
  • research & planning
    post 100 (pirate build-thread)
  • interior layout / flooplan
    post 6, 17, 19, 21, 25, 189 (pirate build-thread)

motorhome conversion
M109 box & exterior modifications
food / cooking
heating (cab & M109 box)
air-conditioning (cab & M109 box)
air filtration (cab & M109 box)
  • research & planning
  • Sy-Klone fresh air & recirculating air filtration

water / plumbing
electrical
communications / computers / audio / video / entertainment
propane
  • research & planning


trailers

general trailer information & modifications
uhaul trailer
M103A3 trailer

sponsors

additional parts sources

military surplus parts
salvaged / repurposed / recycled parts
  • Kit camper (oven/stove)
    post 4-5 (pirate build-thread)


online resources


budget

research & planning
post 14 (pirate build-thread)
mah deuce - military motorhome (thumpertalk.com)

vehicle
  • $3,500

motorhome conversion
  • not available yet

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Old 02-10-2011, 05:45 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Looks pretty cool. Wouldn't mind trying that for a couple years if I could afford it.
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Old 02-10-2011, 06:08 PM   #4 (permalink)
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salvage

In the beginning, the plan was to keep things simple. Bought an old water-damaged camper to strip all the appliances out of it. I knew absolutely fuck-all about motorhomes, and nothing whatsoever about any of the components or systems that I would need to build into this thing. My buddies thought my ignorance was amusing. Duane just about shit himself when I had to ask him what a P-trap was (we were talking about plumbing). So it made sense to start with something that I could pull everything out of and re-use. After all, I wanted to build this thing quickly and on the cheap. Was anxious to get on the road.

...and now the only thing that I've still got from that camper is a super-sweet vintage stainless steel oven/stove. Go figure.








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Old 02-10-2011, 06:13 PM   #5 (permalink)
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After the camper was gutted, I loaded it up onto a small trailer and hauled it to the dump. Stopped to take a picture of it behind my Tacoma and then sent out an email to my friends and family telling them, It's DONE - check out my new camper!

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Old 02-10-2011, 06:58 PM   #6 (permalink)
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organizing -> prioritizing -> designing

What started out as a plan to build a down-and-dirty camper quickly turned into something else entirely. I was spending almost every waking minute researching motorhomes and expedition vehicles and boats and homesteading and all types of other things that were filling my head with wild ideas. But I had a long conversation with myself and decided that I ought to make use of the resources I had available to do the best job possible. So I took a step back and reconsidered what it was that I was attempting to build and why.

Over the next few months I spent a lot of time taking inventory and making lists. Making piles too. I assigned everything that I owned to one of three categories, and in the beginning each category took up a whole room in my house plus my whole shop.

1) stuff I want to keep and will be taking with me
2) stuff I want to keep and would need to put into storage
3) stuff to get rid of

This was an ongoing process, and I found it to be extremely helpful. Having to prioritize things like this was an interesting exercise and I learned a lot about what's really important to me. Things I hadn't had to consider before because I'd never had to make compromises like these before.

In my day-to-day life, I started only using stuff that was assigned to the first category. If I needed something that was in the second category I either did without it, or used it and re-assigned it to the first category. Things I thought I wanted but didn't use got re-assigned to the second category. But it was the third category that grew to be the largest. By far. I just didn't need most of the crap that I'd accumulated. So I started getting rid of stuff. Almost everything. It was liberating, and what was left were only the things that I had made conscious decisions to keep.

Next I started taking measurements and trying to figure out how much space to assign to different things (food, cooking stuff, clothing, etc.). Began sketching and making some simple SolidWorks models. I looked at a lot of different floorplans that have been used in all types of RV's, but in it was the stuff that I wanted to fit into mah deuce that ended up dictating the layout.

I wanted to create a comfortable live/workspace for myself, and wanted to be able to live/travel comfortably with another person, as well as my two dogs. I would like to have been able to put the bed above the cab, but the construction of the box made that impractical. So I decided to make a futon-type couch that would fold out into a queen-sized bed instead. I would still build a cabover rack, but it would not be connected to the interior. Almost 50% of the storage space would be dedicated to food and cooking-related stuff. What can I say? I like to eat well.










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Old 02-10-2011, 07:03 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Old 02-10-2011, 07:10 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Damn! X2! Loving this! But hating it at the same time. I need to do some adventuring of my own...
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Old 02-10-2011, 07:18 PM   #9 (permalink)
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scribed, looks interesting.
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Old 02-10-2011, 07:20 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Throw in a few mre's and your good to go , Were making a 6x trailer to tow behind my buddies bobbed duece -it will be powered from the rear diff -Jess
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Old 02-10-2011, 07:28 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by onetoncv View Post
Throw in a few mre's and your good to go , Were making a 6x trailer to tow behind my buddies bobbed duece -it will be powered from the rear diff -Jess
Me too (on the powered trailer axle). Planning on hauling a trailer behind this rig that will serve as my toybox/toolbox/workshop. Started out with an M353 trailer that I put a uhaul box on top of, but recently scrapped that in favor of an M103A3 trailer that I'm building a custom enclosure for. Would eventually like to put another deuce axle under the trailer and run a driveshaft to it, but that's pretty far down my priority list. Please keep us posted though, would love to know how that turns out.
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Old 02-10-2011, 07:35 PM   #12 (permalink)
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I have got it figured this far -we will run slip in the shaft from the diff to the carrier - and a stainless carrier near the pivot point - a street-able 42 degree c/v at the pivot point with another shaft going to the first rockwell most likely slip in that one also . We are also going to run an e-brake for the trailer , and try to make the shaft disconnect and slip right into a shaft going to a pto generator hopefully a 15k mounted to the trailer . Jess
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Old 02-10-2011, 07:39 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by onetoncv View Post
I have got it figured this far -we will run slip in the shaft from the diff to the carrier - and a stainless carrier near the pivot point - a street-able 42 degree c/v at the pivot point with another shaft going to the first rockwell most likely slip in that one also . We are also going to run an e-brake for the trailer , and try to make the shaft disconnect and slip right into a shaft going to a pto generator hopefully a 15k mounted to the trailer . Jess
Very cool. If anybody can figure out how to do it right I'm sure it's you. Cool idea with the generator too. I've got a rear-facing PTO on my transfercase that I'm planning on using to power a hydraulic pump or a generator. Haven't decided yet, but that gives me something to think about.
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Old 02-10-2011, 09:26 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by montecarlo31 View Post
Looks pretty cool. Wouldn't mind trying that for a couple years if I could afford it.
Thanks, but don't let money stand in your way. A while ago, I was over at Metolius, where my buddy Jamie was helping me turn my queen-sized tempurpedic mattress into a futon (here's a pic) and he introduced me to another employee there, who also lived in a truck. We started talking, and I was asking him about his setup. It's a late-model Toyota Tacoma with a regular camper-shell on the back of it. He's got a couple of deep-cycle batteries and a small invertor, a bedroll, a backpacking stove, a few gallons of water, and all his hang-gliding equipment. He lives out in the wilderness east of Bend, and comes into town to work a few days a week. Showers at the gym. Sounded like he was really happy with his whole situation. When he asked me when my project was going to be done, I immediately replied, "It's pretty much done as soon as we finish this mattress". At the time, I had only just barely finished all of the woodwork (cabinets and all that stuff) and there was no plumbing, heating, or electricity, but this guy made me feel like such a bitch.

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Old 02-10-2011, 09:29 PM   #15 (permalink)
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making preparations

Many people make the make the mistake of underestimating just how much work it's going to be - making this kind of transition. Getting all of my affairs in order has been the most painful part of this process.

Even though I ended up getting rid of most of my stuff, there were some things that I knew I wanted/needed to hang onto. So I bought a 40ft shipping container and made arrangements to store it on a large ranch near the place where I was living. Great alternative to monthly storage.

My shipping container is full of tools and all the things that I will need again eventually. Whenever I find a piece of property that I want to build on, I'm going to put a simple roof and end-walls between two 40ft shipping containers to make a temporary workshop. It's highly likely that I'll end up using more shipping containers to build my white-trash palace, but I plan on incorporating a lot of salvage/surplus building materials. I'd like to buy a few more shipping containers, so I could store building materials in them for now, and then use them as building materials later.

Oh, and on the topic of repurposing things: the way I've built Mah Deuce, I'll be able to drop the box off the back of the truck and replace it with a regular 12ft pickup bed. That will give me a shop, shelter, and a truck to haul building materials. The Giving Tree made a lasting impact on me...

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Old 02-10-2011, 09:48 PM   #16 (permalink)
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clean-up

First thing I had to do was clean-out the box.











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Old 02-10-2011, 10:30 PM   #17 (permalink)
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davis cabinets

Prior to this project, I'd never built anything out of wood. No woodshop, no home improvement projects, nothing. Not even a bookshelf. Only woodworking tool I owned was a Milwaukee V28 cordless circular saw that I had never used. One of my buddies had a lot of woodworking experience (framing houses) and was willing to give me a hand, but warned me that he wasn't used to doing cabinetry-quality finish-work. Said that I'd need to expect this to turn out on the rougher side of things. Fine with me, but I decided that should be a backup plan. So I started contacting cabinet shops, and ended up talking to Shaun at Davis Cabinets in Junction City. Turns out they specialize in updating and customizing high-end motorcoaches and Shaun was going to be over in Bend delivering a motorhome, so he agreed to stop by my place to take a look at my project. I thought that what I was planning was pretty extravagant, but he wasn't even phased. Said, 'Sure, we can do that. No problem'. That's what all the cabinet shops said, but Shaun meant it and after taking a look at some of his work, I believed him.

We talked about timelines and budgets and then Shaun put me on the calendar. I finished-up the floorplan and drove mah deuce over to Junction City, with my dirtbike in tow on the world's heaviest motorcycle trailer. I was planning on spending the better part of a week over there and figured I ought to have some way to get around town. Pulled up and there was a row of HIGH-dollar coaches parked out back. Hmmm, one of these things is not like the others...

Shaun and I spent some time in the back of mah deuce looking at the blueprints I'd brought with me, and he made some fantastic suggestions/revisions. His input was as valuable as anything the guys at Davis Cabinets built for me, and the conversion turned out a lot better for it.





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Old 02-10-2011, 10:35 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Here are a few pictures of Davis' shop. They have a night crew that does production and assembly work, and that's when they'd have me bring mah deuce in to fit and install cabinets. Javin was responsible for building most of my cabinets, and I'm not sure what he thought about this project, but I sure liked working with him. A lot of the time, it was just him and I in there, working together late into the night/early morning. He was always 1-2 steps ahead of me, building the cabinets that I was fitting and installing.












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Old 02-10-2011, 10:46 PM   #19 (permalink)
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The beginning of the cabinetry, perfectly translated from my blueprints into wood. We made all of the cabinets modular so that I could install/remove them individually. I'm pretty much locked into this basic layout, but never having lived in a motorhome before, I didn't know how things would end up working out. This way if I need to make any changes, I can just pull out whatever individual part of it I'm not happy with and replace it with something else.

These pictures show the floor bare and with the subfloor and laminate laid down. Will get into that later, but was important to get an accurate representation of the finished floor-height because some of the cabinets were going to butt right up to the windows.













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Old 02-10-2011, 11:08 PM   #20 (permalink)
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leveling & sealing the box floor

I ended up making several trips over to Junction City, where we'd work on mah deuce for a few days at a time. Then I'd take it back to my home/shop, where I'd do more work on it. That's why it'll look like some of these pictures are out-of-sequence. But in between those trips, I was doing this type of stuff.

The floor is made of solid 2" thick planks of wood, but some of the wood was swelling, and I wanted to have a nice level surface to build on top of. So I borrowed a planer (thanks Erik!) and went to town. Then I sealed the floor with a product called Second Skin. Have used it in the past on several other vehicles with great results and had a bunch of it left over, so I laid it on thick.







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Old 02-10-2011, 11:11 PM   #21 (permalink)
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radiant heating / subfloor

Planning on using radiant heating almost exclusively to heat mah deuce. More about that later, but I'll show you now how I laid 1/2" PEX tubing into the subfloor. Had never used a router before, but got the hang of it quickly. All this routing was done with a 5/8" ball-end router bit and took me the better part of two days to finish. Just laying everything out took forever, but I was working off my SolidWorks drawings so I was reasonably certain that I was putting the PEX tubing down in all the right places. Everywhere there's open floor is heated, including under the desk and in the shower/bathroom. Also ran a second circuit straight to the bathroom so that I can heat that zone independently.





















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Old 02-10-2011, 11:15 PM   #22 (permalink)
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Old 02-10-2011, 11:24 PM   #23 (permalink)
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laminate flooring

Did a lot of research on flooring materials and ended up using a commercial-grade laminate flooring called Konnecto, which I ordered from floormall.com. This is not a particularly cheap product, but it's not working out too well for me. It's untended to be installed as a floating floor, which I wasn't able to do (had to nachor cabinets to the floor), so it's buckles and shrinks a bit as temperature changes. It's also not anywhere near as durable as I'd hoped it would be. Imagine I'll be replacing the flooring with something else in the not too distant future.

Decided at the last minute to install a very thin (20g?) sheet of laser-cut steel between the subfloor and the laminate to help distribute the heat a little more evenly.





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Old 02-10-2011, 11:41 PM   #24 (permalink)
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painting

These M109's are wired for 12/24/110, but I ripped out all the stuff out because I had all new electrical stuff that I was planning to install. There were also a bunch of random holes in the walls for things that had been installed/removed over the years. So I patched/covered the holes with a combination of custom laser-cut sheetmetal pieces that sort of go with the riveted construction of the interior, and bondo to fill some of the holes where I didn't want to use those sheetmetal cover pieces.

Bought some gnarly marine/industrial-grade paint (VOC's weren't any worse than typical interior housepaints I'd looked at to compare), and primered/painted the whole inside of the box. Went with a color combo that leaves a lot of people scratching their heads, but I painted the side walls and the roof tan and the front/back walls blue. I think it looks kinda cool when the doors are open and you're looking into the truck from the rear.













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Old 02-10-2011, 11:59 PM   #25 (permalink)
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slide-out bed

I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted to make a couch that would slide-out to make a queen-sized bed, but Shaun and I built a quick mock-up to make sure the idea would work before we built the full-scale version. Worked out great. The bed slides on heavy-duty 500lb drawer slides and locks into place in the open and closed positions. There's a long locking cabinet door for that wedge-shaped box on the wall, which sets the angle for the couch-back cushion and will be used as a gun locker and place to stash fishing poles and things like that. Storage area under the bed will be used for things like the fresh water tanks, water pumps and all the stuff that I don't want to have out in the cold.








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