Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Of course with a project like this there are always little things that go wrong or don't come out as expected. We caught some of them while they were still able to be fixed , others we managed to worked around but with some ,we'll just have to live with the end results.

  Four brake lights instead of two. This was a little misunderstanding. We wanted two brake lights in the same housing per side but Ken thought that we wanted two separate brake lights per side.
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Ripples in the siding. This is just cosmetic but In my opinion one of the more upsetting mistakes because it's so obvious. It was caused when the sprayed on foam insulation expanded too much and pushed the lauan out slightly between the framing. It wasn't noticeable until the fiberglass siding was installed.
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  To prevent water and wind intrusion while driving down the road , the fiberglass on the cabover is usually extended onto the roof for several inches. Ken didn't realize this and cut it off flush with the roof line. This stainless steel piece was fabricated to solve the problem. We kind of like the way it looks.
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This one was minor. 1/8" lauan was installed in the inset of the cabinet frames instead of 1/8" oak. An easy fix.
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We had a few other problems with the cabinet frames. We were puzzled by these obvious mistakes but the only explanation that we could come up with was that Kevin was doing a lot of this work and he was not a cabinet maker. We had most of them redone correctly.

The medicine cabinet was not centered in the corner making it lopsided. This was remade. 005 (7)
  Some of the frames were built with the doors off center in the cabinet run. This one slipped by us and as it was in the final stages we left in as it was. 

This was a very dumb mistake. They forgot about the plumbing vent that should have been inside the wall between the kitchen and the bathroom!  The wall  and the kitchen cabinet were already made and installed so redoing this would have been a big job. This is a slightly unsatisfactory solution but it'll work.


A mis-measurement somewhere resulted in a few of the windows being too close to other things.061

Ken took measurements but we don’t think he drew up detailed plans. So our skylight which should have been centered over the shower is shifted out into the bathroom area because the aluminum framing interfered with the installation.

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This is the already fixed picture. Originally the drain line had been run across the floor cutting into valuable storage area under the sink. We had them tuck it closer to the walls.
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Ken installed the entrance assist handle about a foot away from the edge of the door making it useless. Moving it left four holes which were filled with plastic plugs. We covered them with graphics to guard against water intrusion.


The door holder was installed at the wrong spot, making it hard to reach and stopping the door from opening fully. We’re going to move the holder and put a bumper to cover the extra holes.


Door latch moved and bumpers added.

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Handicapped Features

Our motorhome has been altered very little to make it accessible for me but what we have done makes a big difference in ease of use. I still can not not use it without help but I think that with a few alterations it would be possible for a handicapped person to use it solo. The hardest part would be getting from the driver's seat into the back. But for a solo handicapped RVer I think that there are other RVs and modifications that would work better such as class A's with level floors and more room for equipment.
Larger door and lift. This is a Super Arm lift. It's a very good lift for RVs because it takes up very little space and leaves the entrance door accessible to everyone else.


Dinette with one seat removed and cut down to open up the aisle.


Bathroom wall and door replaced with a folding door to make it useable.

Grab bar.

I use this bar to swing down in the front seat. To get in the back I scoot back on the floor and Tony helps me get back in the wheelchair. He also lifts me out of the passenger seat into the wheelchair if we are going out somewhere. Good thing that I'm not very big!

Unique Custom Stuff

Since this was a custom build we had to make decisions about everything. Some of them were standard options that are available on any manufactured motorhome. We opted for solar panels but not a generator because most of the time we're off the grid. We got dual pane tinted windows for comfort and privacy. We didn't get a microwave or an air conditioner because we would rarely use either of them. We tried to get low power users as much as possible such as fluorescent lights and a 12 volt television. We stayed low tech with no slide outs , levelers , automatic steps , GPS or backup cameras to keep everything simple.

One of the main reason that we decided on a custom build was to have it built on the F450  truck chassis rather than the E450 van chassis that is typically used for a class C motorhome.. We wanted the extra room for the passenger and easy engine access. Also 4 wheel drive is a relatively inexpensive option on the F chassis series.
The framing. More framing members of a thicker gauge metal than is normally used in a  manufactured motorhome.
Neoprene isolators between the truck chassis frame and the motorhome frame. These are similar to the type used in tractor trailers. They should give us a quieter , smoother ride. They will also make it possible to lift the motorhome body off and onto another chassis , although disassembling all of the systems might make that more trouble than it's worth.
isolator Mirror with compass and temperature. We don’t have a GPS but we use the compass every day. This has saved us from going miles in the wrong direction many times. It’s also very handy when we’re traveling on unmarked roads – as long as we know which direction we’re going we don’t ever get really lost.

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Solar panels – we now have about 240 watts of power. This is 30% more than we had on the Scotty so we’re anticipating a surplus of power except on the shortest ,cloudy days of winter.

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Solid oak framing and oak plywood for the cabinets. Most motorhomes this size use paper covered pressboard  to save on weight but we wanted more durable materials and we have enough CCC to handle the added weight.
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Propane tank sprayed with truck bedliner. Propane tanks can rust quickly because of condensation. We're hoping that the bedliner will prevent this but it's just an experiment.
Tow hooks welded to the frame ( just in case! )
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Auxiliary heater. This little heater uses the engine coolant to keep the living area warm as we're driving. It's controlled with it's own thermostat and located under the dinette seat. Unfortunately it's very noisy so we're going to have to work on a solution to make it quieter.
Copper sink. Most small motorhome sinks are plastic and don't look very nice. We found this one at a RV remolding shop. The owner had brought a few back from Mexico. 
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Bookcase. We built a little bookcase in the Scotty and think that it's useful feature that could be added in most motorhomes. There's always a bit of wasted wall space somewhere. 019 (4) 
Computer storage desk. We wanted a safe place to store our laptops while traveling. This also was a solution for controlling the tangle of power wires.


Ken brought up the idea of mounting the TV on a hinged door to give us access to the storage are behind it but he never followed through on it. We decided to do it ourselves. The cabinet shop that made all of the doors made a frame that fit around our TV. We added hinges so that it opened and swung down.


We used baby proof drawer latches to allow the door to open and stay in position at an angle. This makes it easier to see the screen if we’re watching TV in bed.


Undoing the latches gives good access to the storage. The chain (wrapped in tape so it doesn’t rattle) stops the door just in case it comes opened accidently.


Five Year Update

March 2015 – 85,000 miles
   It's hard to believe that we’ve had this motorhome for five years because we still think of it as our new motorhome! :-D And actually it does look new. Every year we spend a week or two in the winter carefully going over the entire structure, looking for any little problems and fixing them before they become big problems. After a good wash we put two coats of Nu Finish on the truck body and the motorhome siding, scrub the black plastic and go over it with Back to Black, touch up any chips and check the caulking. The interior gets a thorough cleaning with little improvements as needed. The cabinets were finished with a wipe on polyurethane which makes touch ups easy but because it was applied very thinly touch ups are needed frequently in heavy use spots. 
  We’re very pleased with the condition of the motorhome body and the truck but we have had a few problems.  About a year ago a work trailer sideswiped us while we were sleeping in a Flying J parking lot. Very little damage was done but a storage door was ruined, the black trim strip was badly scuffed, the corner trim was mangled and the gutter was smashed. All of these could be fixed but we didn’t notice that the impact had also popped the siding loose. It was already loose because Ken had used the wrong glue, now it is loose enough to be very obvious. If we had noticed it sooner perhaps we could have found a way to slip some glue in before Tony replaced the corner trim. It’s not going anywhere but it does look bad.
   After four years of flawless performance we had to get a couple of expensive repairs made to the truck last summer. The bolts on both manifolds had broken and were replaced and a worn cam was replaced. At the same time our Dometic refrigerator failed. Rather than replace the entire unit we had an upgraded cooling coil manufactured by an Amish company installed. It seems to be cooling much better than the original one.  That’s it – not bad for five years and 85,000 miles – fingers crossed. Fortunately everything that we had to fix because Ken’s poor workmanship is still fine – the roof does not leak, the wiring is problem free and the cabover is tight and does not squeak (most of the time).
  Now that we’ve lived with and used everything for five years would we change anything or do anything differently? Yes but just a few things. I don’t think that it was available in 2009 but now we’d use Azdel Composite Panels as a substrate rather than plywood. We’d buy a bathroom sink from a building supply company rather than one manufactured on the street in Mexico. I can’t keep it looking good for more than a day without a new coating of mineral oil.  We don’t think much about how really simple our motorhome is but recently we saw the problems friends were having with all of the conveniences that we decided to leave off – slideouts, levelers, air conditioners, push button dump valves, etc.  We’re really happy with our low tech little motorhome!

Two Year Update

   March 2012 – 36,000
     It’s been almost exactly two years since we moved into the new motorhome and we’ve been having a great time! The truck has performed flawlessly with one tiny exception. It developed a slight shaking when we made a tight turn but only after driving at high speeds. We were worried that something was seriously wrong but all it needed was some additive in the rear axle which is what Ford recommended if shaking occurs.
   The motorhome body has not been completely problem free. The CTEC siding on the driver’s side is still not stuck to the luan in spots. Changes in temperature affect it. We may get lucky  because it is a lot thicker than regular siding and can be hung and attached just at the top, bottom and along the studs. Hopefully it will stay stuck enough that we don’t have to get it peeled off and reglued.
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   We also discovered that Ken used the same thin luan on the roof as he used on the sides. We specified that the roof be constructed of exterior grade plywood. Obviously he ignored that.The roof has dips in-between the studs. It’s okay now but will probably cause problems in the future.
  We’ve been fixing little stuff as it comes up and everything is looking pretty good. However we did discover a pretty big problem which could have become a disaster. Fortunately Tony was able to fix it rather quickly. We spent last summer touring through Canada and Alaska. We noticed that our batteries weren’t getting much of a charge from the solar panels which we chalked up to the rainy weather and the low angle of the sun. Finally the solar panels stopped working completely. Time to check the whole system. What we found was amazing. Ken had grounded the solar system using a short length of copper wire with a lug and a steel screw through the rubber roof , the sheathing and into the aluminum frame of the motorhome. The poor connection of just the screw threads and the dissimilar metals caused overheating and the connection failed. It actually started to burn but we think that the caulking kept it from getting oxygen so it didn’t continue burning.
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  Tony ran a ground wire from the solar panels to the main system ground and the solar panels started charging the batteries again.
  We should have checked all of wiring a long time ago. The wiring from the batteries to the convertor was undersized and was on the list to be replaced. We also had a big voltage drop in the wiring at the television so we knew there were other things that were not done correctly. This is what Tony found when he started rewiring -
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  Most of the connections were made by stripping a wire in the middle ,then twisting another wire around it and taping the joint –no wire nuts ,no soldier. Some joints fell apart as soon as the tape was removed. The wiring was a mix of 14 and 16 gauge. Tony replaced all of the wiring that powered the large loads like the water pump and furnace in addition to the running larger wiring from the batteries to the convertor. The entire system is performing so much better.
   We haven’t seen or talked with Ken since we took delivery of our motorhome but we did start legal action against him for the money that we had to spend repairing work that he had done poorly , for future repairs and to cover our lawyer’s fees. A court date was set for April 2012 but in November 2011 he filed chapter 7 bankruptcy which automatically  wipes out most debts including past judgments and puts a holds on lawsuits so we’re pretty much out. We discovered that two other people had sued him for poor or incomplete work on truck sleepers. Neither recovered any money. Ken has changed his business name to RV Solutions Inc. He doesn’t seem to do any advertising or to even have a web page so we have no idea how he gets any work but he does.

Seven Month Update

 September 2010    7 months and 10,000 miles.
Ken told us that he had been in the business of stretching trucks and building high quality custom sleepers for over 20 years. He had won numerous prizes in nationwide contests. When we visited his shop for the first time he was in the process of building a custom motorhome on a tractor trailer frame. The motorhome body was framed out in steel , just waiting for the customer to decide on the final interior design. If all of this was true then how could he have made so many rookie mistakes? Building our small motorhome should have been relatively easy for someone with his experience. We were completely wrong in our assumptions. He did not seem to have any grasp of basic physics or construction.
  Around 7,000 miles the cabover developed a horribly annoying squeak. Tony took the finish pieces off and this is what we found.
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  Ken had filled the space between the truck roof and the cabover with spray in foam. It had broken apart as we drove and was now rubbing against itself. Tony pulled as much out as he could and put the finish pieces back on. The squeak wasn’t quite as bad.  What we didn’t realize is that the foam and two little screws were the only things joining the truck cab and the motorhome body together. As we drove the cab roof  moved side to side and front to back about 1/4”. We had no idea of how the two pieces should have been joined but we couldn’t leave it like that. Tony took it apart again so that we could appraise the situation. We found that Ken had removed a piece of the cab roof framing that he should have left in place.003a
We ordered a replacement piece but it didn’t fit quite right and it wasn’t very substantial so a piece 1/8” thick of steel was used instead. Tony also screwed the roof into the cabover framing.022
Joining the back of the cab to the motorhome was a little trickier. Here’s what we had. 030
Creative use of angle iron ,screws and nuts and bolts.035
Bottom view.039
   This will be solidly joined together when the plywood base for the trim piece is in place. These pieces of plywood had been getting gouged as the  cab moved.009
Plywood screwed into place. The glue is from Ken trying to use glue to attach the final trim ,a piece of vinyl padded plywood.045
  Trim piece installed.055 
  Joining all of the pieces together worked! There’s not the slightest bit of movement now no matter how bumpy the road or how much we twist and turn.

We owe a thank you to the Dodgen division of Born Free motorhomes. Dodgen builds specialty vehicles such as ambulances and product show rooms. They’ve recently added a line of handicapped accessible motorhomes.  They’ve been very helpful especially with construction details about how they join the cab to the motorhome body. Their motorhomes are very well designed and made and I recommend them to anyone wanting a small handicapped motorhome.

Everything else seems to be okay. We haven’t had any more leaks , the interior is holding up well and we’re even getting a little better gas mileage!

Two Month Update-A Major Problem

010  May 2010
Here goes another $1,200.
We had noticed that the motorhome was leaning to the right and we had a good idea where the problem was but we weren’t sure of the exact cause or how it could be fixed so we took it to a suspension shop so that they could look at it. The shop owner crawled under and said the words that you never want to hear from any shop –   “No ,no , I can’t believe that he did this. This is not right. I can not fix this.”  He told us that the only way to fix the motorhome would be to remove it from the chassis. But after he looked some more , asked some questions about how it was constructed and thought about it , he decided that he could fix it after all –big sighs of relief :)!     (Tony wrote the next part)
Ken started building the frame before the chassis arrived. When the truck was delivered he found out that one of his cross members was hitting the spring overload bracket.
We discussed this and I suggested then that the bracket be removed but Ken assured us that it would fit just inside the bracket and everything would be fine. This was a lie. Rather than move the cross member or remove the overload springs and brackets and place another leaf in the springs directly, or make new mounting brackets for the coach to raise the frame above the overload bracket Ken did nothing and then covered it over leaving us with the problem, leaning to the right and making some pretty nasty noises on bumps.
This is the overload spring bracket.(picture above) Not only was the overload spring hitting the underbody of the coach, one of the flooring beams sat directly on this bracket causing direct pressure on that single beam and distorting the basic framing of the motor home.
Here, at the bracket, there was a one inch gap between the underside and the truck frame.(picture above)
Here, away from the bracket, there is only 1/2 inch.(picture above) This is correct because of the body isolators. This also shows that the framing hitting the bracket above is distorting the framing of the coach.
This is a properly installed body isolator. Notice the 1/2 inch clearance. (picture above)
Here, the isolator nearest the overload bracket is not even installed.(picture above) My guess is that Ken realized that compressing this isolator would place even more pressure on the floor beam and bow the floor above so he chose not to tighten it at all.
This shows how the overload spring was smashing into the underside of the coach. (picture above)
This is the removed overload bracket. It shows where the floor beam was hitting causing direct impact from the frame of the truck. (picture above)                                          
To fix the lean and to allow the motorhome body to sit solidly on the chassis frame the overload spring leaves were removed from both sides and the brackets were also removed. Two new leaves were inserted on both sides ,with heavier ones on the right side to level the motorhome. Longer shock absorbers were also installed. The original equipment shock absorbers were too short after the lifts had been installed and should have been replaced by Ken.