Building a 'motorhome' -- for $80 - Fiberglass RV

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Old 03-29-2003, 02:42 PM   #1
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Building a 'motorhome' -- for $80

I laughed so hard when I read this - hope you will too. :o

Reprint from The Vancouver Sun Newspaper 3 28 2003

Building a 'motorhome' -- for $80

Tim Johnson
Special to the Sun
Friday, March 28, 2003

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It's no beauty, but Tim Johnson doesn't worry about thieves taking off in his "motorhome."

The old Dodge Ram farm truck had been sitting in Dad's shed for the past few years and had not been driven at all for a while. Since I needed a vehicle, I asked if he minded if I put licence plates on it and used it temporarily. He gave me the old truck for keeps, and even paid the insurance for a year.
With duct tape, bailing wire, my old car battery, an oil change, new plugs, carburetor adjustments and an air filter, it fired up smoking and chugging. Without a muffler, running on straight pipes, it was on the road again. The headlights and brake lights still worked, but it had no dashboard or running lights. If it was out after dark and I saw someone approaching from behind, I touched the brakes to let them know I was in front of them.
I fixed this problem with a pair of trailer lights and large backup lights.
I bolted them on, and ran new wires connecting them to a tin can lid, duct taped to the dashboard and marked in felt pen, "Tail Lights On & Off." With toggle switches connecting wires running through a rust hole in the floor to the back of the truck, there were no more shorted wires.
One day I was visiting my friend, and spotted the canopy from his Toyota pickup that was since deceased. He gave it to me and I took it, even though it sat between the wheel wells.
"How would I make this fit?" I thought. It was a foot too short and almost a foot too narrow. I purchased two sheets of plywood and some 2 x 6, as well as some joist hangers and screws. Staff at the lumberyard wondered what I was planning to build and tried to help me out, but they thought my idea rather out of touch with reality.
"You want to build a camper with a Toyota canopy, and put it on an old Dodge half-ton pickup? Don't you think it will look quite ugly?" he asked. I didn't think so.
I found a bedroom door to use as the back door. I also bought a roll of wire, two interior lights and a porch light (with the light shade made from the rest of the tin can to prevent rain from hitting the 12-volt bulb outside). To add to its appearance, my brother "fixed" it for me -- by spraying it with orange paint! The paint ran down all over, but not enough to completely cover the original red paint job.
He said that going for a drive in my truck reminded him of riding in a floatplane. "When you start the engine, it is quite loud. Then as the RPM is brought up, the whole vehicle starts to shake and rumble, then it starts to move. At that point all you can do is buckle up, hold on, and go for the ride of your life."
My friend asked me if my truck was a camper or a high-top canopy. I said that it was a motor home. "A motor home needs running water, a sink, stove and fridge, doesn't it?" he queried. I showed him my 20-litre water jug, a wash basin, Coleman stove and a hibachi, as well as a cooler and two large plastic containers with my pots, pans, bedding and clothing. When he asked if a motor home should have a bathroom facility, I pulled out an ice cream pail containing a roll of toilet paper. "This really is a motorhome," he concluded with a chuckle.
Then came time to test my home-made rig. I bought some caulking and a few more rolls of duct tape, and headed north for Whistler with several rolls of film and my dog. My truck had bald tires and about an inch of play in the tierods and loose ball joints. That old 225 slant six really had to work hard. I had loaded up with a week's supply of food and water, and when I passed a sign that read, "last fuel stop for 97 kilometres," I topped it up.
When I reached a switchback in the road that read, "Slow to 30 km/h.", I shifted down to first gear and took the corner. The climb was steep and I couldn't get into second gear for quite some time. When I did, I found I was either labouring the engine or needed to slow down for the next turn. A few times I pulled off to the shoulder to let people pass me because it was impossible to keep up to the speed limit going up the steep climbs. The truck never used one litre of oil or water, but sure went through plenty of gas. I had a lot of fun camping in my motorhome.
A few people have made comments about my $80 motor home, such as, "I guess you're not worried about anyone stealing it." Once I was in a mall parking lot as someone pulled up beside me in a new truck valued upwards of $60,000. As he buzzed up his electric windows, set the alarm, and put The Club on his steering wheel, I said to him, "Wow! Power windows. What a nice option." Noticing that I was fighting with my window to close it, he said, "I guess even windows that worked might be a nice option for your truck." He laughed when I asked him if he thought I needed The Club for my truck. "I don't think you have to worry. Someone might break. in just to steal The Club."
Once I borrowed Dad's small truck because it was too painful for me to get into my old Dodge with my knee in a splint. A grocery store clerk who helped me carry my groceries and knew my truck very well, asked me, "Where did you park? I know you can't hide your truck out here."
Recently I have rebuilt the front end and universals and invested in new tires, brakes, and a muffler from the manifold back, water pump, hoses and clamps, as well as a new battery and electrical upgrades. The exterior paint job, faded as it is, and tin can dash light switches remain for the sake of appearance. I didn't want to take away the ambiance of my motor home. It is my daily vehicle too, and I am proud of it no matter what people may think. I look at the bright side:

At least I'm not making payments to own it.


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Old 03-29-2003, 04:57 PM   #2
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Man what a story I have been laughing so hard my eyes have teared up. These hick here in WV would not even go that far. They are looking for the real Beverly Hillbillies in the wrong place, they need to go to BC.

I don't even think the beer drinking drunks across the street would come up with this. However they do seem to have some vehicles around that are ready for conversion. Who knows that just might be the next liberty coach in the making.

Thanks Rick for a GREAT story.


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Old 03-29-2003, 09:58 PM   #3
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A little close for comfort....

While our truck isn't quite that ugly sounding, it does strike me that that this Tim fellow must be related to my Greg somehow. :-)
Our tow vehicle is a '77 chevy half-ton pickup that we bought from a farmer for $100. It had no windows, no doors, no dash, the driveshaft and seised transmission were sitting on the rotted wooden flat bed, and had been sitting in the back field for a few years.

It's now 'fixed up' but my friends still call it the 'franken-truck' We scrounged two doors and some class from the wrecking yard, replaced the tranny, redid the wiring, painted the cab with tremclad blue(that was my job!), and made a nifty new dash out of plywood. We also replaced the rotted flatbed with a new flatbed with stake sides.... much nicer. Our franken-truck even has a CD player.... it's an old CDrom from a computer!

If I had to choose between taking our new Toyota Echo to Brazil or taking Franken-truck, I'd choose the truck. It's soo much easier to cobble together some emergency repair on it than with any newer vehicle..... not that I'd ever be crazy enough to drive to Brazil.... that's just too far away. :mex

In all, we probably have spent $2000 on the beast, but every penny has been worth it. It's a great truck that can pass the safety inspection for lisensing and passes the aircare certification for clean running.

We have a friend who has a vintage truck. It's in beautiful condition. But he's jealous of our truck because we can load the back up with yardwaste or lumber, etc., and not have to worry about scratches!

In passing, the unusual 'features' of our truck that I've shared with you here are just a few of the interesting 'modifications' that Greg has done over the years to keep the truck running safe and smooth. I just don't want to scare you away with all the frightening details. :quiet

~ Melanie

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Old 06-07-2003, 06:29 PM   #4
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I love it

Melanie, your post was funnier than the one from the newspaper. Most of us have rigged things from time to time if we have lived long enough. My theory about cars is (1) Start evertime (2) must have forward gear (3) four round tires. How it looks is not important. I was the owner of a brand new Jeep about 12 years ago that was a lemon and dangerous because you never knew when it would go or stop. In the shop 26 1/2 days out of 42 before it was gone. Really makes you have more respect for anything you can depend on regardless of how old or how it looks. Thanks for sharing your story.

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Old 06-07-2003, 07:40 PM   #5
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Well I feel much better! One of our trucks is a 1985 isuzu diesel pickup. We love it. We have also referred to it as a frankentruck for various repairs (adding metal under the clutch, screwing on the glove box door, covering rust spots with various blue paint. We were at a flea market and someone called out "get a new truck!" I couldn't believe it. It's not like we were at the opera. Tho I would happily drive it there too. What is this national obsession with car payments? It has 330,000 miles on it and never lets us down.

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Old 06-08-2003, 07:41 AM   #6
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What a hoot!

"Love the one you're with..." Sounds like the fella is having a good time, isn't that what counts? And I'm sure it's no less than the folks who own $200,000+ diesel pushers.

I agree totally with's nice to have something you don't worry about scratching up. I've got a 53 Ford Panel that I call "Far From Groovin." It's in primer and although I'm not about to beat it up, I don't scream at my daughter if she accidently brushes up against it either.:lol2


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