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 Living on the Road :: Wothahellizat Mk2: Construction Diary : #02

Tue 1 May 2007

Finally I'm cutting steel and actually building something. It's been about three months since we decided to go down the rebuilding path and it seems like ages ago.

The basic frame laid out on the floor. The cutout section in the foreground will house the spare wheel and an extra tyre.

Peter takes Slineaway on a final test drive before leaving on the big trip tomorrow.

Having spent ages measuring the truck before it went away to be shortened I now find that I don't trust one of my measurements, specifically the height of the cab from the chassis rails, so I drive down to Dave's to re measure.

When I get there I see his lads busily drilling holes to remount the axles, it looks like the work is coming along nicely.

Wed 2 May

Peter and Marie leave today.

lineaway is packed and ready to go with the Kia "toad" hitched up behind.

A close up of the toad, note the lift-and-tow arrangement and a second spare truck tyre on the roof.

Peter and Marie have gone so I'll have the place to myself for a while, but not for long. This weekend some friends of theirs are moving in while they are between houses. With three kids and two dogs I guess I won't be getting much peace.

Thu 3 May

Working on the floor frame today.

Here we seen the frame as a work in progress. Note the temporary diagonal bracing, this stops the frame from pulling out of square when it's welded.

The finished product. I still have to do the chassis mounts, but that's about all I can do on it until I get the truck back.

Fri 3 May

You can run but you can't hide. As I'm sure you are aware Chris is currently enjoying herself in England, and being as that's as far away from Glasshouse Mountains as you can get without coming back again, she won't know what I'm up to right?

Not in this high-tech world.

I get an email today, "What did the truck need from Harvey Norman Computers?" it read in part.

It seems that she's been browsing the credit card statement.

"An un tethered computer cursor control and command peripheral device" was my answer.

Well just about everyone uses one eh? I bet you've got one in your hand right now.

After years of tripping over cables every time I get out of my chair and have to put the laptop aside, I decided it was time I bought a cordless mouse.

Note to self: Use cash next time.

Sat 5 May

I've been working on the frame for a few days now and it's coming along nicely. As always though what seems like it should happen in no time at all takes a lot longer.

The frame it just a stack of RHS (box section steel) welded together so it should be simple. And it is, but this isn't just any old box, every part has to be welded in just the right place because they often connect to something I'll be doing in a months time.

This takes a lot of thought and working on the computer, all of which takes longer than the actual construction.

Also everything has to be square and there can be a lot of time spent ensuring that this it the case, including the manufacture of two giant set squares that I use to clamp a piece of steel in place for welding.

The frame as it stands today.

Note that the roof is curved, or at least angled. This is harder to do and initially I was going to make it flat as I did with Wothahellizat 1. At the time we thought we would be driving every couple of days, so if the roof held some water it didn't matter because it would only be for a short period.

In reality the lifestyle was even more relaxed than we figured, it was quite common for us to sit somewhere for weeks, and if it rained on the first day we had water sitting in pools for all that time.

To make matters worse, because of the solar panels and tropical roof it was almost impossible to sweep the water off.

A gabled roof should fix that problem, and I may even include down pipes that feed into the tanks.

Tue 8 May

With the last motorhome I remember that once I got the main frame members in place I thought I was nearly finished and ready to clad.

Weeks later I was still adding braces, gussets etc. As they say, the devil is in the details.

It's the same this time, although about 100 times faster. I had the basic frame up a couple of days ago, then decided to concentrate on the lounge room area.

Three days later I'm still concentrating on the lounge room area.

The rear of the frame, featuring the lounge room and "indoor" part of the deck, although it's pretty hard to tell what's what without being here.

It is coming along nicely though.

One reason I'm just working on the rear of the body is that I still don't have the truck back and the front part of the body is very dependant on the placement of the cab, spare tyres, winch etc. and I don't trust myself to do this work from my measurements. The rear however is pretty independent and I don't think I can go too far wrong there, even without having the truck as a reference.

Wed 9 May

Today I'm adding some W bracing to the frame. W bracing is the best method I know to make something strong, and it's quite unbelievable how much difference it makes. In Fig 1a we see the rear of the frame with no bracing.

Fig 1a, b & c.

In this state it is quite easy to bend it out of shape with even just a gentle push of my hand. And if I push and release quickly it will vibrate for ages.

The addition of appropriate bracing (Fig 1b) totally transforms the frame into something so rigid there is no discernable flexing with even large amounts of force applied.

In Fig 1c you can see that I have created two huge trusses (the red areas), one horizontal and the other vertical, each over a foot wide. This has only added a few kilograms to the weight of the body and tendrupled (that's multiplied by 10, I'm sure it's a word, and if not it should be) the strength.

It's the vertical bracing that does most of the work with regard to stiffening the frame. The horizontal bracing is mainly to support the body in between the places where it's mounted to the chassis. Especially the deck which cantilevers about 1.4m (55") out from the rear mount.

Some shots of the W bracing.

One reason I need to think about all this bracing is that the rear of the body is largely void space. With shutters all around there isn't much actual "body".

Thu 10 May

As I mentioned before some friends of Peter and Marie are staying here as well. They are also between houses although their's is a traditional house.

There's Mick and Vynette, the kids, and two dogs, one of which we've met before.

Hagred in the daylight looking almost cute, ugly as sin, but cute none the less.

Now with a face like that he's got to have a nice personality right? Not so, this is one cantankerous canine. No matter how many times I give him a tickle behind the ear or a pat, he still treats me like I'm about to steal the silverware next time we meet.

But what's really freaky is the way he just appears in the dark of night while I am watching TV or working on the computer.

Every now and then I get the feeling I'm being watched, turn to face the entrance of our abode, and see the hound from hell staring at me.

Something like what I see peering at me from the darkness.

So why not just close the door? Well mostly because we don't have one. As you may recall we are living under a tarp at the rear of the workshop.

A shot of the outside of our home taken a few weeks ago.

And here we see the interior, comfy isn't it? I bet you're jealous, and I only have to take about ten steps to get to work.

Today I've been working on the kitchen bench and adjacent "utilities" area that will hold most of the plumbing, tools, toilet, hot water system etc. This is a complicated part of the body because there is not much room and a lot to fit in. It's a very three-dimensional jigsaw that my computer design can only partially depict, and my brain is having trouble with as well.

I spend all day with the laptop on a bench next to the job going through a "consult design, compare to reality, scratch head, cut a piece of steel, tack it in place, scratch head again" loop.

The frame progresses, this shot shows the kitchen bench to be on the right.

While I'm packing up for the day I hear a vehicle at the gate and Hagred doing his best junkyard dog impersonation at the intruder.

I take little notice. But then my phone rings. "Where are you?" asks the caller. "Standing next to my phone" I reply, "who is it?".

"Never mind who I am, where am I?" The penny drops and look out the workshop entrance towards the gate to see my purple truck.

It's Dave, he's delivered the truck with his brother behind in a 4x4 to drive him home. That's good, I was wondering how I was going to get it back by myself.

It's going on dark and I can't really see the truck well, so we have a beer while Dave casts his experienced eye over my efforts with the body frame.

He doesn't offer an opinion, is that good or bad?

Dave leaves and Mick my neighbour comes home. He drops around to my side of the shed for a chat. He owns a large engineering workshop and is about to start building an off-road motorhome for his father in law.

He knows a lot about fabrication but I don't think has built something like this, so he's been talking to the guy who occupies the shed across the road from his business in the Caboolture industrial area. The fellow used to own an off-road caravan manufacturing business but now just does fit outs. In fact he will be doing the fit out of the vehicle Mick is building, and has been advising him about the body construction. Apparently he reckons Mick should use exactly the materials (steel sizes etc) and construction methods I'm using.

That's good.

While preparing dinner there is a show on TV about rebuilding an old English barn. The job entailed a lot of engineering to create a modern fit out inside a 200-year old barn. The structural engineer was relieved when the curved steel girders all fitted together. "We can design things but we never really know if they will work" he says.

I know exactly how he feels and I'm glad the experts have the same problem. When I worked in the electronics game it was common to spend six months or more designing circuitry on paper and computers, with no concrete evidence that what we were designing would work.

It was a very nervous period when systems were first powered up, and always a cause for celebration when they passed the smoke test, ie. they didn't catch on fire immediately.

Building a motorhome is a similar experience, you work for months (years in the case of Wothahellizat 1) without really knowing if what you are doing will meet expectations, or even work at all.

Fri 11 May

Phew! I do a few quick measurements on the truck and the new frame and they appear to match, thank goodness for that.

Trouble is, now the truck is back I find myself presented with so many possible jobs I don't quite know where to start.

I can put the decision off for a while though because today I have to do something that all men hate. No not a visit to the proctologist, although that does run a close second. I'm referring of course to shopping in a supermarket.

You see Chris has gone away for three months, and in a case of monumental bad planning she neglected to leave me enough of some important supplies to last the entire period. Specifically bread rolls, apples, and chocolate.

Now bread and fresh fruit is one thing, but chocolate?

Sat 12 May

Oh boy, my favourite job, drilling holes in chassis rails. I've decided that my first job on the truck should be to hang the fuel tanks, mostly because this affects the body design as follows.

  1. The front of the kitchen has to be stepped up to allow the spare wheels to be hung just behind the cab.
  2. I can't hang the wheels until I know exactly where the right-hand tank is located.

Therefore I have to hang at least one tank before I can continue with the body framework.

Which brings me back to drilling holes in the chassis rail. This is a pain in the backside job, however I've modified my technique to make it easier.

In the past I would drill a pilot hole, then swap to a drill bit of the required final size. So, for example, I would drill 3mm hole then a 12mm hole.

The trouble is that the second of these holes required so much material to be removed that it takes forever, bluntens the drill bit, and requires a lot of force to be applied to the drill.

I now go up in stages. For the aforementioned 12mm hole I will drill say 3, 6, 8, 10 and finally 12mm. This way no one operation has to do much work and therefore I do five easy jobs instead of one easy and one really hard job. Of course there's some bit swapping to be done, but I feel this is way preferable to my old method.

I am also having to make adaptor plates because the new location of the tanks requires the hangers to be placed right over some existing cross member rivets.

A close up of one of the plates. Note the nice round access hole for an existing bolt, my oxy cutting is improving.

Here's the two hangers in place, it all has to be pulled off again though for painting.

Plus I've had to move the brake booster 55mm towards the rear, which will require bending of the steel brake line. I have the bending tool, but so far I cannot get the line off as the flare nut on one end refuses to loosen. I'll soak it in penetrating oil overnight and try again tomorrow.

Mon 14 May

I got the flare nut off but some of these brake lines are in bad shape and I may have to rebuild them. Plus I've decided to move one of the two brake boosters to the other side of the chassis, this will put them both on the same side and leave a large area to place a tank.

I drive down to QHF (Queensland Hose and Fittings) to buy the necessary lines and fittings. The truck has "air-over-hydraulic" brakes, which means that compressed air is fed to the booster when you press the pedal and the booster actuates the hydraulic braking system. I have to buy both the air lines/fittings for one side of the booster and the hydraulic lines/fittings for the other.

They can sell me the air stuff but are not allowed to sell the hydraulic stuff because that's "secret braking business" (my quotes) that can only be performed by a qualified brake person.

What a load of crap.

They give me the phone number of a brake guy and I leave with just the air fittings (I didn't tell them these where also for brakes, as air-over-hydraulic is a old style of system I guess they didn't twig to that). I may have to pay someone to do the work which I'm not happy about.

On my way home I drop into Dave's (the friend who shortened the chassis) and tell him the story.

"What a load of crap" he says. He loans me his flaring tool and orders some 5/16th steel brake line for me.

I return to the workshop and fit the air line, then drop back to Dave's after lunch to pick up the roll of hydraulic line.

Not long after I have the booster reconnected, hopefully we now have brakes, there'll be some air in the hydraulic side of the system but things should work.

The two boosters together. The ACCOs have a dual system that is supposed to allow the truck to stop if either one fails.

Moving the booster leaves a large area on the left side of the chassis (bottom of this photo) in which I will hang the grey-water tank.

Tue 15 May

After adding new brake lines yesterday I suppose I should bleed them. The trouble is I'm not quite sure how to do that when I'm by myself. Normally one person pumps the brake peddle while another opens and closes the bleed valves.

I realise however that I don't really have to do the whole system just the two lines I installed, so I open the downstream end of the lines and insert them into a length of PVC tube.

PVC tube placed over the end of one of the new steel brake lines.

The tube has a loop in it that I prime with some fluid, this should act as an air lock.

Bleeding the brake lines

I jump into the cab and pump the brake peddle. I can't see what's happening but the fluid level is going down in the reservoir, up in the container on the floor, and there's no puddles of brake fluid in places there shouldn't be, so I guess it's working.

Now that I have brakes I can drive the truck again. I take it outside so I can get access with the forklift to put the fuel tank back on its recently installed hangers.

The tank hangers have been installed and are ready for the tank.

Lifting the tank from behind the cab, it's got about 100 litres of fuel in it which of course all runs to one end and causes the tank to tilt.

All in place and we see the new short version of the truck. The rear of the chassis has still to be chopped off in line with the tyres, a job I will do in a day or so.

Thu 17 May

Apart from the two 300-litre (66gal) diesel tanks we also have a 100-litre tank for petrol. This supplies fuel for the motorbike and the generator and is one of the original tanks from the truck. These ACCOs had two such tanks and, with a reported fuel consumption of 2-3mpg, it's a wonder they managed to get anywhere.

This morning I installed the hangers for the petrol tank. As you can see in the photo below the tank is much smaller than the adjacent diesel tank, so I will use the space for storage, fuel filters, pumps etc. We did the same in the last truck and I still have the compartment so I will reuse that.

In Wothahellizat I hung this compartment and many others from the body, however I am resisting the urge to do the same here as I want the two things, ie body and chassis, to be as separate as possible.

The petrol tank and converted storage compartment.

I'm low on the correct bolts to finish the job, and anyway it all has to be painted yet, so that's as far as it will get today.

I spend the remains of the afternoon dismantling the piece of chassis we cut off the other day, I need the cross member from it and it's riveted onto the two pieces of chassis so it takes a while to cut the rivet heads and punch the rivets out with my air chisel.

Once the cross member is free I experiment with the best placement at what will be the rear of the chassis when I cut off the extra 1.5 metres.

Fri 18 May

I have to go into town today to buy some things and while driving along I see the Salvation Army complex. "That's right" I remember, "I need some rags".

I pull over and walk inside. Sure enough they sell "bag-o-rags", I choose one and am waiting to pay when a down-and-out type approaches me.

Now I look fairly rough on a good day, but while I'm working I'm particularly unkempt. Which may explain why he informed me that pumpkin soup is on the menu next Tuesday, presumably referring to the Salvos soup kitchen.

Well it may get to that one day, but hopefully not for some time.

Sat 19 May

I've been putting off working on the rear of the chassis for a couple of days, mostly because I have to flame cut some holes in the chassis rails and I'm a little nervous about doing so.

The holes are required because I need to insert two halves of a Hammerlok through the chassis so they can be welded on both sides. What's a Hammerlok?

Actually this is half a Hammerlok, the other half is exactly the same and the two are normally joined with a pin forming an assembly that in turn joins two chains.

These Hammerloks are incredibly strong and make good recovery points, ie. somewhere to attach a chain if you get bogged and have to be towed out.

Three holes cut in the chassis rail.

A Hammerlok inserted into the holes...

...and protruding through the other side, ready for welding.

I power up the generator so I can use the three-phase welder and weld the Hammerloks on both sides of the chassis rails.

That done I can now trim the rails to the correct length. Even though they are double rails, ie one inside the other, they can easily be cut in a minute or two with the oxy, or twenty minutes with a grinder. However oxy always leaves a messy cut (in my hands anyway) which needs a lot of cleaning up with a grinder. So I may as well use the grinder in the first place.

It's amazing what a 9" grinder with a cutoff wheel can do and the final cut is very clean, just needing a little touch up to remove the sharp edges.

The left-hand outside rail has been cut, the others to follow.

The final result leaves the truck looking a bit like a bob-tailed cat.

Sun 20 May

Today I painted the winch pulley block, petrol tank, and straps for the diesel tanks. Then I attach all tanks properly and generally tie any loose wires, airlines etc, and refit the temporary tail lights, all in preparation for driving down to the local quarry where they have a weighbridge I can use to weigh the truck.

Mon 21 May

It's throwing it down, way too wet to take the truck outside as some of the chassis is still rubbed back to the bare steel and it will rust if left in the rain.

So instead I take the Cruiser into town to pick up some steel I will need for the spare wheel holder and new shockie mounts.

Then I work on the generator and compressor storage compartment.

Here, on the left, we see the generator in the front with compressor behind it. The petrol tank is on the right.

It's pretty obvious why we need a generator I suppose, but what's with the compressor? I can easily run air tools from the engine's compressor, so why have another?

Answer, backup.

Once, while approaching the top of a hill, the engine failed because of a fuel blockage. With no engine you have no compressor, therefore no compressed air except what's in the receiver, and every time you apply and release the brakes you loose pressure until there's none left and there's no brakes.

This gets a little scary.

So I want a backup compressor that's independent of the engine and have bought a small unit that will run from the inverter and be able to be turned on from the cab.

And speaking of receivers, to hang the new storage compartment from the chassis I have to remove the receiver because it's impossible to reach in between it and the chassis to fasten bolts. It's held by two steel hoops with threaded ends that pass through the chassis and are tightened with nuts.

Unfortunately, two of the four threaded ends snap off with just a small application of force to loosen the nuts. So now I have another job, to fix the broken ends by welding bolts to them. And while I'm at it I may as well do the other two because they will probably snap next time.

And what exactly is a receiver? Well, if you're enamoured with electronics it's similar to a capacitor, if you play with plumbing it's much like an accumulator. But if you're not inclined towards either of the above persuasions it's a large tank that stores air. It has two purposes, firstly, unlike the compressor that just plugs away providing small quantities of air for long periods, the receiver can provide a large amount of air on demand for short periods. Very useful when braking for example. Secondly, as noted, it provides a source of compressed air if the compressor fails.

Tue 22 May

I really want to get the truck down to the weighbridge today but there's a problem. With the air receiver out, the truck cannot be driven, but I don't want to put it back in because, as mentioned before, that makes it impossible to hang the storage compartment.

The frame of the compartment is almost finished so I suppose I could just work on that and drive down tomorrow. But I've had a bright idea to increase its size and that will take more time, also, there's something inherently wrong about a system where you have to remove A before you can get to B. I know it often has to be that way, but if possible I would rather not.

So what's the problem? With the receiver in place I cannot get to the back of the chassis to tighten two of the bolts that are required to hang the compartment. What I need are "captive nuts", ie nuts welded onto the chassis so I don't have to get a spanner onto them when tightening the bolt.

But you are not allowed to weld to a chassis, I know I did at the very back, but there's no load there. The location I'm working on now is right near a spring hanger and that's a high stress part of the chassis.

So the answer is to weld the nuts to a plate and bolt the plate to the chassis. And while I'm at it I'll reverse the answer and weld bolts instead, this way they will protrude from the chassis and give me something to rest the compartment on as I'm fitting it. Often a big help when you are working by yourself.

Attaching a "captive bolt" to a chassis without welding to the chassis itself.

Note that the retaining bolt does not have to be very strong as all it really does is stop the assembly from falling off when there's nothing bolted to the "welded bolts".

Here's the plate and just-welded bolts. Note that I use a steel workbench so the welder's earth lead can be clamped to the bench and I can weld anywhere, including in the vice.

The captive bolts protruding from the chassis. Note that I'm using an existing hole at the bottom, no point drilling any more than I have to.

Now I can put the receiver back, but it still has the broken threaded ends on the hoops. I've cut the heads of four appropriately-sized bolts, but how to align the bolts with the hoop's end?

Usually, when welding two round pieces of steel like this, I will just place them in a vice. It's a bit of a juggling act though, especially with small pieces as you need about five hands to hold everything in place while you tighten the vice. Time for a different approach.

I find a piece of aluminium channel and clamp both pieces to it.

One of the receiver's hoops ready for welding.

Close up of the jig used to align the two pieces.

This automatically aligns both pieces of the job and is dead easy to do as I can deal with one piece at a time when clamping. Obviously I can't weld all the way around, but it doesn't matter as once I've welded some the job can be removed for completion.

Note the beveling of each end (where the two pieces meet), this allows the weld to fill the resultant V shape so when I grind it back flush there's still some weld left to hold the pieces together.

The finished weld before dressing.

Normally I clean (or dress) a weld when done, but only as much as required and I usually just take the top off to flatten it a little. In the above case the strongest option is to do nothing and leave as much material in place as possible. However it has to pass through a hole in the chassis that is the same size as the thread.

Now things are back together I can drive down to the quarry to weigh the truck.

On the track from the workshop.

Ten years ago the truck came in at 5.5 tonnes as a cab chassis, we didn't weigh it ourselves and assumed that it was done after the chassis was stretched.

So, given that it's now shorter, it should weigh less. The readout on the weighbridge says 6 tonnes (13,200lbs). Now that's a surprise.

It does have two extra fuel tanks now but they wouldn't weigh that much, so I can only reason that the old 5.5 reading was before stretching. As the current size is one metre longer than standard, and we have the extra tanks and a few other bits, this would explain the 500kg.

Not that it matters, it weighs what it weighs, it's just that I am hoping to come in under 10 tonnes (22,000lbs) when finished, and that only gives me four tonnes to play with. The GVM of the truck is 14 tonnes (30,800lbs) so I don't have to worry about being overweight, but we want to be as light as possible.

On my return I continue with the generator/compressor compartment.

The generator and compressor will sit outside the chassis on the right, the boxed-in section on the left will poke inside the chassis and be used for general storage, probably oils, grease gun etc.

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PO Box 450, Gin Gin, QLD, Australia.