Saturday, 22 August 2009

A lot of stuff!

As promised, finally an update on pretty much everything that was done on the Blue Whale since last spring. Enough stuff and pictures (don't forget to click to enlarge) to keep you busy reading for some time!

Water heater
Unlike most modern RV water heaters, a Travco water heater doesn't use propane. The Whale's unit works either on 110V or engine heat. There are coolant lines that run from the engine in front, all the way to the back of the motorhome, where the water heater is located. When the engine runs, water gets heated in the water heater tank. And obviously, when the engine has been off for some time, there's no hot water, unless the water heater is switched on 110V.

Last spring, Dad found a small water leak under the bed, in the compartment that houses the water heater and the water pump.

After a quick investigation, the culprit was found: the water heater was leaking. The judge pronounced the sentence immediately: Out! Dad gladly pulled the water heater out of the motorhome, without any remorse. In fact he was already thinking of replacing the water heater with a newer and more useful gas unit.

Once he tore off the tank's insulation, Dad saw it wasn't this heater's first offense: it had already leaked and been patched once before. Even if he wanted to fix it, this time the damage was too large, the metal is completely pitted, and it's definitly done. So presently there are no water heater in the Whale (Dad bypassed the coolant and water lines), until Dad comes up on a good deal for a gas unit at a reasonable price.

Roof vents
Two years ago Dad made new roof vents for the plumbing. Made out of stainless steel, they were capped with a PVC tube end caps, painted with aluminium paint. Now "aluminium paint" wasn't enough, Dad wanted real aluminium, so he made new caps. Once again, here's a nice exemple of recycling and reusing of old stuff that was destined to the trash: those nice shiny caps are made out of the bottom half of old aluminium coffee pots, that were cut and polished!

Stabilizer jack
Any respectable RV must have stabilizer jacks, right? If not, what do you think happends when you... in the motorhome? :-)
Dad bought two used "scissor" jacks, one at a flea market and one in a junkyard.

Dad modified the jacks by installing a square adapter where the crank socket was, wich allows him to crank the jacks using his cordless drill. The adapter is mounted on rubber, so the drill doesn't have to be perfectly in line with the jack's screw. Dad also welded a big bolts on top of each jack to bolt them permanently to the motorhome. A double layer of thick plywood was screwed under the base of each jack to increase their area so they don't sink in soft ground. Then they were painted black.

A small steel beam, also painted in black, was bolted under the Whale's frame, just behind the rear wheels.

It only takes a few seconds to raise or lower the jacks with the cordless drill, and the jacks are strong enough to raise the motorhome a few inches, enough to level it or stop any movement.

I must say that the initial plan was for the jacks to be powered by their own little electric motor. But that idea proved to be a bit complicated to implement, and since the cordless drill idea was much simple the plan was abandonned.

Dad added some wood inserts on the side armrests in the front of the Travco. These armrests originally had ashtrays in them, that Dad had left off. However he had kept them, and since these ashtrays are like new and they have a nice "70's" look that nicely fits the motorhome style (and altough rumours are he's about to quit smoking...), Dad finally decided to reinstall them.

Also Dad finished the installation of the carpet trim under the dashboard at the driver's feet, plus the fuse box cover, nice stainless steel plates under the gas pedal and footrest, and rubber boots for the pedals.

Also, a propane gas detector has been installed inside the motorhome. As LP gas is heavier than air, the detector has to be installed near the floor. Dad installed it near the fridge, across from the heater and range.

Brake fluid reservoir access cover
The brake fluid reservoir is located at the driver's foot, under the floor. A small opening in the floor allows acess from the inside. When my parents bought the Travco, the cover for this opening was simply a paint can lid...
Dad made and installed a nice stainless steel plate cap, that seals the opening perfectly so no water can get in and rot the floor.

Turn signals lever
Last spring for some reason the turn signal lever broke off. A trip to the local junkyard allowed Dad to get a "new" one from an old Dodge donor vehicle. Altough it looked quite the same, the "new" lever is slightly different. There was a bent in the old one that is not in the new one. For now this is not much of an issue, but eventually Dad will have to bend it a bit. The steering wheel will have to be removed for this, so this will be for a later job.

Engine mount
The big 440 c.i. V8 had an engine mount that was getting old. The engine mount on this vehicle is like a rubber block between two steel plate. On the Blue Whale, after all these years, the rubber was beginning to sag and spread out. So Dad took the engine mount out and went shopping for a new one. Surprinsingly, he couldn't find any! Even the local Dodge dealership told him that these engine mounts are very rare and hard to find. Dodge made so many of these big block V8, one would have thought that engine mounts could be bought pretty much everywhere, but apparently not.

Oh well, it didn't matter. Dad simply "overhauled" his old engine mount! He tightly welded a metal strip around the rubber block to bring it back to its original shape. The mount wasn't completely worn anyway, and this "belt" should make it last for a good while. Dad repainted and reinstalled it. He also repainted the air filter housing.
This is the "overhauled" engine mount:

Door hinge
The Whale's door was closing well, but it seemed to scrape a bit somewhere at the lock, making a slight "crunch" type of noise. Such noise was very hard on Dad's sensitive ear's and ego, and made the Whale look like a 30 years old clunker, wich if course it is not. So Dad decided to do something about it. Dad saw that the pin inside the hinge was worn out, and decided to replace it. However once the pin was out, Dad saw it is made of brass. So instead of replacing it with a new one (where would one find such a brass pin of the correct diameter and lenght anyway?) Dad simply turned it 180 degrees and re-inserted it. That made the door much more stiff on its hinge. Also Dad noticed that the hinge itself and worn out a bit, and inserted a few little brass washers in it, raising the door slightly. As a result, the door now closes with a delightful light 'click' that reminds the closure of the perfectly adjusted door of a luxury car... Dad figures that if that pin took 30 years to wear out on one side, it should be good for another 30 years or so!
Close up of the washers in the hinge:

LED lighning
While camping, interior lighning uses the most electricity. The inside lighning runs on 12V, and when dry camping the power comes from the large 8D starting battery of the Whale.
This battery is quite powerful, but in order to have enough juice left to restart the engine after a few days wihtout recharge, lightning should be used sparingly.

Of course there's the generator. It can be started with its own little battery, and then it can certainly recharge the Travco's main battery. But the use of a genset is forbidden at many places (especially an old noisy one like the Travco's). First reducing power usage is a better solution, and keep the genset for when it is really necessary.

There are many 12V bulbs in the Travco's interior lightning system. In order to reduce the power consumption, four of these bulbs have been replaced with LED (Light-Emitting Diodes) lights: two in the fixture above the table, one by the fridge and one in the bathroom.
LED technology has tremendously evolved over the last 5 years, and extremely powerful white LEDs are now available on the market.

Such a LED kit has 20 triple emmiters (equivalent of 60 bright LEDs) and is almost as bright as the bulb it replaces, but uses about six times less electricity (yes, SIX times less).
They come with a bunch of different socket adapters, for use in many different socket types. However, none of these adapters fit the Whale's fixtures, so Dad had to make his own. He used old bulbs bases, soldered the LED wires to the thin wires inside the base, and filled them with fiberglass resin. Very nice works, his adapters look just like those that came in the package.

These LED kits are sold at a reasonable price (in fact I've never seen similar products at a better price anywhere), they were bought online at DealExtreme, an electronic and gadget online store:
DealExtreme offers various LED kits, just search their site for "white SMD" and they will all come up. They offer free worldwide shipping, and shipping to eastern Canada took just over 2 weeks. Take some time to look around the DealExtreme site, they have a lot of stuff and real good prices.

Rain gutters
Earlier this spring Dad fabricated rain gutters for the Whale's side windows. They are made from U-shaped aluminium extrusions.

Dad had to bend them to make them fit the curved shape of the windows. In order to bend them straight, consistently and whitout damage, he made himself his own bender.

Dad made a total of 6 gutters, that were screwed above the side windows with stainless steel screws, and sealed with silicone sealant. There is now much less water running on the windows on rainy days, and less chance for water to leak in through the old window rubbers.

When my parents bought the Travco, there were no screens on the two large side windows, by the table and couch. The previous owner had installed simple screens held on the windows frame with velcro. It was not very good looking, not very good for keeping the bugs out.

Since it is about impossible to find screens that fit these side windows, as usual Dad decided to make his own. The aluminium extrusions used for this project were found at a specialized hardware store. They are the correct size to fit the Travco's window tracks, and they have a small slot in them where the actual screen is mounted, like any standard window screen frame.

The Travco's windows have rounded corners. Only half of the window actually slides open, so the screens has to have two rounded corners, and two 90 degrees regular corners. For the regular corners, the aluminium extrusions were cut with a miter saw, to get perfect angles. A standard carbide blade easily cuts through the soft aluminium, just like if it was a piece of wood, and causes absolutely no damage to the blade.

Normally a small L-shaped piece is used to hold the corners together, but for some reason the hardware store didn't carry them (and didn't seem interested in ordering some either) so again, Dad made his own. Some reinforcements were added at the corners, held with tiny pop rivets.

The rounded corners were more challenging. Bending them like he did for the rain gutters was out of the question: the extrusions are narrow and tall, and without proper equipment they would be impossible to bend without damaging them. Also, bending by hand to match the exact same curve as the inside of the windows tracks would be pretty hard. After some thought, Dad decided not to bend them, and simply add a narrow strip of aluminium sheet along the edge, about one inch large, to cover the rounded side of the screens. A metal sheet being more easily cut along a precise curve.

That was a lot of work, but the Whale now has good looking and efficient screens on all of its windows, a welcome addition for the summer's hot days.

A Travco!
As during their latest trips, my parents once again saw that a Travco never travels unnoticed: on the road, people driving by the Whale are waving, getting their cell phone out their windows to take pictures, etc. Why people do this is beyond me, but it's true! Is it only with the Whale, or any Travco out there? Is it a Canadian or Quebec thing? What is so special about Travcos?

Over the last weeks, my parents had an unexpected visitor: During a stop in the Lower St-Lawrence region, a couple hundred miles from home, someone knocked at their door. This gentlemen had read on this blog that the Whale was to travel through his area, so he watched for the Whale's passage, and he didn't miss it. Then he announced that he's also a Travco owner, and to their surprise when my parents looked outside, they saw his Travco parked nearby!

I'm always amazed of what all this blog has started, my parents even more. Since the last two years, this blog allowed Dad to meet or exchange with many other Travco-related people. About eight other blogs have been created, and the number of visitors keeps going up. Keep on writing comments, it is always nice to see that somebody somewhere finds this blog interesting!

I've had an idea in my mind for some time, and I've finally done it last week: I put a large sticker on the Blue Whale's back window with the blog's web adress.

You saw the Blue Whale? Write us! No, there is no contest, nothing to win. It's just the story of a guy who decided to restore the old motorhome that he had been dreaming of for a long time.

If you ever see the Whale, don't hesitate to come up and meet my parents. They will proudly show you around their old Travco!