Driving across the desert

This week we drove from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Walkers Pass, California. We overnighted in Flagstaff.

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We were driving into a ripping headwind the entire way. On flat road, I could get the truck up to 65 or 70mph, but any slight hills + headwind meant I was doing good to maintain 55. This isn't very safe on I-40 with the semis blowing past us, so I looked for the first opportunity to get onto back roads.

At Gallup we got off I-40 and drove through some of the most beautiful desert I've ever been in. We spent the night in Flagstaff, and got back on I-40 as far as Needles. I knew that the freeway had some major hill climbs from there, and the wind had picked up again, so we ditched onto a big detour through the southern Mojave desert. 

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Finally we made it to Walkers Pass without incident.

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The view out the back door

The view out the back door

The trailer will stay here while we're in Greece for the next two months, and when we return I'll finish it here.

Finished mounting solar panels

All 500w of solar panels are now securely bolted to the roof.

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A bonus of the panels is that they shade the roof and really cut down on the amount of heat the insulation will have to protect the cabin from.

Mounting Solar Panels

I got the first 250 watt solar panel mounted on the roof today. 

No rocket science going on here, just screw the ladder racks on...

(And apply Lexel caulk liberally...)

(And apply Lexel caulk liberally...)

And bolt the panels to the ladder racks with some mounting brackets from Renogy.

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Solar selfie.

Solar selfie.

One more to go in the front.

Installing a brake controller

So in my last post, I put electric brakes on my trailer (along with the new axle). Those won't do much good unless I have some way of telling them to brake when I want them to while I'm driving. Hence, I installed a brake controller in my truck over the past two days. 

2000 Tacomas didn't come with a factory tow package, so I had to dig around under the dash to get all the right wires to the controller and to the plug in the back. 

While I was at it, got all the wiring in place for the trailer-mounted backup cam, with a switch in the dash so I can manually switch between the truck and the trailer backup cam. 

Brake controller

Brake controller

Backup cam and switches. Makes hitching up to the trailer by myself super easy.

Backup cam and switches. Makes hitching up to the trailer by myself super easy.

Grounding bar connected to my battery terminal. No more flickering cam!

Grounding bar connected to my battery terminal. No more flickering cam!

I also got fed up with all the slapdash chassis grounds I had going on at the rear of my truck, so I ran a 10awg wire directly from my battery to a marine-grade bus bar, and grounded everything to that. My cam no longer flickers when I have turn indicators on.

 

I tested the brakes today and they seem to be doing a fine job of stopping the trailer. Probably a bit more tweaking I need to do but for now, I feel good that my trailer isn't going to push my little truck through an intersection.

Swapping the Axle

Now for something completely different: swapping the axle and adding electric brakes.

The original axle was a "drop" axle, meaning the spindles (the bit the wheels bolt on to) are about 4" higher than the axle beam. This is a good thing for normal cargo trailers because it's easier to get heavy stuff into a lower trailer.

I, however, plan on taking this thing on rough off-pavement roads, and don't like the idea of scraping my back end on rocks every time I take a little dip. So I bought a straight axle, as well as some brakes, and swapped them out yesterday.

 Jack the trailer up onto jack stands. (Use a real jack to lift it, not the stands themselves!)

 Jack the trailer up onto jack stands. (Use a real jack to lift it, not the stands themselves!)

Pop the old u-bolts off. You can see the "drop" in the axle.

Pop the old u-bolts off. You can see the "drop" in the axle.

Pop the new axle on, with new u-bolt kit. Hit everything with some paint.

Pop the new axle on, with new u-bolt kit. Hit everything with some paint.

Follow the instructions (aka youtube videos) to install the brakes.

Follow the instructions (aka youtube videos) to install the brakes.

Pop the wheels back on and admire the new ride height. 

Pop the wheels back on and admire the new ride height. 

 

 

Done with the walls

The inner walls are complete.

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It is noticeably less hot inside, although still not comfortable since the ceiling is still exposed sheet metal and too hot to touch when in direct sun. There are a few steps in between now and ceiling insulation, though, so I'll have to wait to see just how much heat gain my insulation scheme will cut.

Insulating the Walls

It is thunder and lightning-ing out, so I'm taking the time to catch up on the build log.

Two weeks ago I insulated the wall cavities and put the original plywood back on.

Starting the cavity insulation.

Starting the cavity insulation.

All cavity insulation in place.

All cavity insulation in place.

Original wall plywood going back in.

Original wall plywood going back in.

Now, as any decent mechanical engineer will be able to tell you, those metal studs conduct a lot of heat through the walls. I put my hand on the horizontal metal ribs in the nose of the trailer when the sun was shining directly on it, and it was so hot I couldn't hold my hand there for longer than five seconds. 

This means that cavity insulation by itself does precious little to actually insulate a metal-framed structure. Letting heat in is bad enough: the real terror is the condensation issues you can get inside your wall assembly when it's cold out (think mold, rot, rust, etc). 

Long story short, the walls are only half done. I'm adding another layer of continuous insulation to the inner walls. 

I first tacked a sheet of insulation up.

I first tacked a sheet of insulation up.

Then screwed in the 1/4" paneling on top, sandwiching the insulation.

Then screwed in the 1/4" paneling on top, sandwiching the insulation.

The somewhat odd placement of the panel is to reduce visible seams - the bottom seam will be covered by a bench, and the left-most seam will be covered by a shelf. 

Most trailer builders would probably recommend furring strips to affix the panel to the wall, to make the surface very smooth. This is good advice, but those furring strips are just heat fins to me, so I'm giving this route a try. The panel/insulation sandwich is screwed into the 1/2" original plywood with decking screws every 6" on 16" center, it feels very firm, and the surface is actually rather consistently flat. 

The rest of the wall insulation should go up quickly, and then it's on to other exciting things.

 

Building a Composting Toilet

Playing a little bit of catchup here. Last week I got the floor in and the rear door insulated and sheathed.

Floor is in, finally.

Floor is in, finally.

1" rigid foam XPS insulation.

1" rigid foam XPS insulation.

3/8" plywood over the top.

3/8" plywood over the top.

Then I was in California this week for work, got back last night. Today I got the floor screwed in to the frame, the rest of the wiring for lights, fans, and outlets done, and caulked a bunch of holes and seams. 

Then it started raining, so I came inside and finished most of the rest of the toilet. I more or less just followed the excellent article these folks wrote about their RV composting toilet. 

Rubber seal around the edge to keep the box as airtight as possible.

Rubber seal around the edge to keep the box as airtight as possible.

Top lid with cutout. Note the clasps to make sure the lid is secured against the seal.

Top lid with cutout. Note the clasps to make sure the lid is secured against the seal.

On goes the toilet seat.

On goes the toilet seat.

For some reason urine diverters are only made by small little hippie companies in the UK.

For some reason urine diverters are only made by small little hippie companies in the UK.

You get the idea.

You get the idea.

The only things remaining are the vent van, urine bottle, top lid seal, and paint.

 

 

A Solid Foundation

Yesterday I finally applied two coats of POR-15 rust prevention paint, which, when done right, is just about the strongest anti-rust coating you can put on metal. I should have zero issues with rust whatsoever from here on out.

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This has been a week of mostly awful work, crawling around on my gravel driveway under the trailer, smearing toxic chemicals on rusted metal 2" from my face. And while it doesn't look like much has been done, I'm going to sleep a lot better knowing that I just don't have to worry about the frame falling apart on me years down the road. 

I wire brushed the plywood floor panels and coated them with boiled linseed oil to protect them from moisture and also from dry rot. 

And the composting toilet is coming along nicely:

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Updated renders, the least fun part, and a road trip

Here are a couple more renders showing the layout a bit better:

Floor plan

Floor plan

Shot from the rear

Shot from the rear

It's been about a solid week of stripping the paint from the frame, which consists of crawling over and under the frame slathering on Citristrip (a chemical paint stripper), peeling it off with a scraper, and then wire brushing the residue. Today I finished with all that, and will start the process of coating the frame with POR-15 (a heavy duty 'paint' / rust converter) tomorrow.

Beer.  NOW.

Beer. 

NOW.

Also today I went on a road trip up 285 to Salida to pick up my solar system from a guy who sells systems to vandwellers and RV'ers when he's not hanging out in India. He gives you all the parts you need, down to the wiring and lugs, and provides a diagram for you to install it yourself. Being a bit of a dunce when it comes to electricity, just having to figure out which parts go where and try not fry myself is going to be a huge time saver.

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I'll get (way) more into the details later, but it's 2 250w panels, and 4 90AH AGM batteries, with a 1000w inverter.

How to work on a trailer from two states away

I've been on a road trip the past two weeks, so no actual work has been done. 

I have been ordering parts and materials like mad and generally trying to have everything in order so I can hit the ground running when I get home. Time is of the essence. 

I made these test renders to figure out what materials we want to go with, if we have enough windows, and get a sense for if it is going to feel too much like a coffin.

I also made a Youtube 360 video. You can pan around with your mouse, or use your device to look around the trailer.

Last week I installed a transmission cooler in Jeremiah (the truck), which will help the transmission handle the increased load. I also installed a backup camera and monitor so I can connect to the trailer hitch without assistance if necessary (that's really a feature for our relationship, which you'll know if you've ever tried to connect a truck to a hitch with 'guidance' from your significant other before).

I'll put a camera on the back of the trailer, too, so I don't back it up into a cow or something.

Backup cam

Backup cam

Dragging roads with tractor tires in a lightning storm; what passes for entertainment out in the Mojave.

Dragging roads with tractor tires in a lightning storm; what passes for entertainment out in the Mojave.

1.02 Opening up the walls

Taking the plywood off requires the use of a nail puller to rip the screw/nail things out. I got about half of it pulled off tonight. 

The process rips the 1/2" plywood up pretty good, but no so bad as I won't reuse it. 

The rib rust actually isn't as bad as I thought, mostly just in a couple places. It will be pretty easy to mitigate and Rustoleum over it. 

I've been doing a lot of research on insulation strategies: spray foam, mineral wool, batts, polyiso, XPS, EPS, radiant barrier, etc. For a variety of reasons, I've decided that polyiso is the least bad option. (I really wanted to use Roxul's rock wool rigid board product, but that stuff is so heavy it would completely blow my weight budget). 

I also got a quote for my solar system ($1,200) from a guy up near Denver who sources a bunch of his stuff second-hand or canceled orders, etc. He designs the whole system and provides all the various parts, so that's going to be a huge relief in terms of the time I'd have to spend figuring everything out, sourcing every component, etc.

 

1.01: Demolition

First day home for longer than 8 hours in a few weeks, so I took the opportunity to get into the trailer and start ripping stuff out. I pulled all the thin wood stripping out and tried (and failed) to start taking the plywood off.

I failed to get the plywood off because they're fastened with whatever these are:

They don't screw out, so I guess I'll have use a nail puller on them. 

Also I discovered that the studs have significant rust issues as well. I'll have to take all the plywood off and address it as well as the underbelly rust. 

 

Well, shit.

Well, shit.

0.2: Rough Design Model

First pass at the rough design model is "done", meaning I've got enough of what I want to do figured out that it's time to start actually doing stuff and see what's reasonable.

Basic layout

Basic layout

From the rear to the front: benches and table that collapses into the bed. Storage, water tanks, and solar system will go in the benches. 

Kitchen has a gravity-fed sink (a footpump will get water from the main tanks to the gravity tank above the sink), and moveable 2-burner propane stove. Greywater tank under the sink. 

Storage shelves opposite the kitchen counter. 

DIY composting toilet at the front. 

Cozy.

Cozy.

One of my main obsessions/challenges is figuring out how to insulate this thing without sacrificing inner dimensions:

Blue stuff is insulation.

Blue stuff is insulation.

This is showing 1" cavity insulation, with another inch continuous insulation on the inside of the plywood. Finish wall paneling over that, with metal strips to hold it all in place. 

Underbelly insulation ideas

Underbelly insulation ideas

I'm trying to figure out how to eliminate thermal bridging through the floor framing members. I came up with this idea to 'cap' them, and then fashion some sort of metal undercap to hold everything in place. Might be overkill. 

This is roughly what the frame looks like.

This is roughly what the frame looks like.

Further refinements to the model will continue through the project as I need to figure things out.

Time to move to phase 1.

Phase 0.1: Trailer purchased

I bought a 14' Cargo Mate Blazer trailer off of craigslist and rented a uHaul trailer to get it to my driveway in Santa Fe.

Inner dimensions: 12' 7" long, 5' 8" wide, 6' 2" tall.

I'm going to be out of town for something like the next 2 months, so very little actual work is going to get done on it till mid July. I'll be mostly developing the design, sourcing materials, etc until then.