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The Promised Post

Here we are!

It’s January, and we are in Anza Borrego, as we tend to be.

A month or three ago we found ourselves in a hole. In our bed. 2 1/2 constant years on the presumably original mattress had taken its toll. When we’d crawl out of bed, random springs would sproing and bend in unhappy ways. Worse, we just sank. I’d wake in the middle of the night clawing my way up the side, trying to get out from the low, low center (already occupied by Tom, fighting his own gravity battle). Do you know you can buy a decent foam mattress online, delivered (in a surprisingly small box), for a couple hundred bucks? We got this one:

from Overstock.com for just over $200 and right out of the box we both liked it, nice and firm and supportive. No sproinging springs! That was easy!

A couple nights later, though, 3am rolls around and we’re baaaack! Crowded in the center of the bed, low. What the hell?

An early morning investigation revealed that, whilst we definitely HAD needed a new mattress, we had bigger fish to fry. It wasn’t our BED that was sagging, rather our entire bedROOM!

Basically, what’s shown on the video is our Bigfoot’s cabover overhang well, hanging. Drooping, sagging, bending, separating, almost resting on the top of the truck (further inspection shows some wearing on the fiberglass where this has actually happened and had nearly worn through). After some frantic, fruitless googling (“Cabover Sagging Bigfoot” revealed little) and some serious investigative forays under the bed led us to the following conclusion: We got some trouble.

In a nutshell: Our camper is constructed of fiberglass. The bottom of the “cabover” part is supported internally by a framework of light wood and pressed foam, which is in turn bonded to the fiberglass. Apparently after 2.5 years of our “heavy” use, that bond just delaminated, the support weakened and we were in sag central. Why did it delaminate? I dunno, but once it did the whole “sandwich” of foam and wooden supports just wasn’t strong enough anymore. Now, we are NOT large Americans — the two of us together barely reach 300 pounds. There’s not a lot of indication that this is a known problem among Bigfoots, either. In fact I found . . . nothing. It just — happened. Tom (who knows his plastics and his glues) thinks that perhaps a couple years of breathing sweating and otherwise moistening that little sleeping platform caused the adhesive to lose its adherence and it was all downhill from there, and flimsy, and bad, and we really gotta do something about this soon.

So, Tom fixed it.

(details to come)

 

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Hi There!

 

Bullet Points:

Feral Life: Awesome, better and better every day!

Travels, see: recent: Southwest, baby.

New Favorite Place: Colorado. Holy shit.

Running: Sputtering.

Banjo: Clawhammer, yes! and, added ukulele

Artwork: I don’t lack inspiration.

Work: Bleak.

Current Location: Anza Borrego, natch.

Our sweet Betty Ford: Plagued with mysterious electrical anomalies.

Our Home Sweet Home: Major Renovational Upgrade!! (see next post)

Everything is still okay! ™

 

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Where it’s at

So, wow, long time it's been, hello there!

Off the top of my head, I think the last post here was Tom talking about the suspension (which, if you're interested, is fantastic! and the airbags were a great and final modification); I don't have an Internet connection and whatever post was before that is a mystery to me and is probably like a year old. It's been too long, and lots has happened, pretty much all of it good. Really good. The feral lifestyle is definitely a keeper.

We are presently in Colorado, and have been since May 18th. We had no real intention of spending the summer here, but we crossed over from New Mexico and just, kinda, stopped. Because, among (many) other things:

Yesterday's Run

 

Yeah, it's just really really nice here, in the mountains, in the summer. We've all over southern, central, western Colorado. We sorta stumbled on the Colorado Trail, which Tom has been biking segments of, and which I've run a bit of. It's given us a path to follow, from which we've also deviated from. Especially in the last few days, spent sitting in hot springs in Ouray (pronounced “youRAY”) and Ridgway, with its missing “e”. Biking, running, hot springs, Colorado has been treating us right.

Camper life = The Bomb. All systems GO. We have utterly and completely settled in to living in the back of a pickup truck. We've got it all pretty much figured out, for us, so far. Everything is mostly self-sustaining, though there's often some chingadera that Tom is fixing, like a misaligned drawer or a stove repair. But everything works well, the batteries are always charged by 10am, the truck is very reliable, ice in the freezer, we often have Internet. We've gotten very used to living in a small space. It isn't too hard. We are not suffering.

I've ramped up my running in the past couple of months, and am starting to regularly have 25+ mile weeks. These miles are at altitude, usually 8-10,000 ft, and often with significant elevation changes. I'm probably averaging a speedy 14-minute mile on a good day. I'm playing LOTS of banjo, have switched from bluegrass to clawhammer, and am truly learning to play. I've got the best teacher imaginable, taking lessons over Skype. I glue a French-manicured fake nail to my right index finger every couple of days so I can play properly.

What else? Not much else. For now.

 

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This is how we R-O-L-L

A JRA letter is what they called it when I used to work for a major helmet company. I was “Just Riding Along” when…. I guess this qualifies as a JDA; Just Driving Along. Feral K and I were JDA’ing on a dirt road when….

We almost had a “PROBLEM”

The back wheel slid down into a ditch. It wasn’t like it was even a major ditch, or even a road condition that warranted much attention. We’ve been feeling that our rear suspension articulation could have been improved off-road but this just proved it and forced us to act.

This event triggered an in-depth analysis of truck and truck camper suspensions. I contacted Bilstein shocks with a full explanation of our setup and got their suggestions. Read below:

(Note: This next bit was nicely formatted at one time, with bold! And italics! And colors! but shit happens and I'm not liking WordPress at the moment.)

Bilstein Technical Support

Truck is a 2000 Ford F-350 SRW 4X4 extra cab 7.3L diesel. We have a Bigfoot slide in camper permanently mounted on it. The camper dry weight is 2,980 lbs. wet and loaded it’s closer to 3,800 lbs. The height from the ground to the roof of the camper is 10’-6”. We do a mix of on-road (60%) and off-road (40%) driving. Most of the time our off-roading is dirt fire roads but there are times when we cross drainage ditches and off-camber sections and other times when we slowly traverse some rocky sections. In the end, we can’t get too crazy, considering our height.

Springs About 2 years ago when we bought the camper, we had one leaf taken out of the stack and replaced with 2 extra leaves per side. This increased the load carrying capacity by 1,500 lbs. A stock F-350 has 5 leaves per side—ours has 6 of equal thickness. Before the addition of the extra leaves, the truck sagged a bit and rode slightly lower in the rear than the front. Now it’s slightly higher in the rear. The truck is otherwise not lifted.

Shock Rancho 9000XL. These are the ones with the dial that adjusts damping. They’ve been set on the firmest setting and they seemed to work better new (2 years ago) than they currently do.

Bilstein’s response: A set of Bilstein 4600's all the way around. Fronts – 33-028187 Rears – 33-185347

These are not externally adjustable but are a digressive valved 46mm monotube design that will adjust to the road conditions internally automatically. They are valved specific and use a large dividing piston for little to no shock fade and to keep the oil and nitrogen in place for no performance loss.

I really don’t think the rear springs were modified to the point we need to custom valve a damper.

Tires are BF Goodrich All Terrain TA 10 Ply. Pressures are 80 PSI in the rear and 65 up front.

Torklift Stable Loads to help engage the overload springs.

Sway bar Roadmaster 1.38” sway bar that I installed one year ago. It greatly improves road drivability especially in crosswinds. I feel that it really limits rear axle articulation off road though. I’d love to be able to quick disconnect it for off-roading. There is a stock sway bar up front.

Analysis of Current Setup The truck has always swayed or yawed especially when going onto or off a driveway apron. I feel 95% of that sway is due to the height and weight of the camper. At this time the setup was everything that’s already mentioned above EXCEPT for the Roadmaster sway bar In fact this scene was the inspiration for the sway bar purchase. After the sway bar, the road drivability is better but the rear is ultra stiff.

Will shocks make much of a difference in curing this yawing situation?

How do you go about pairing a shock to the spring stiffness?

Of all the things we’ve tried, we haven’t bothered with airbags—yet. My thought was that if the truck was properly sprung that airbags were unnecessary and in most cases used as a band aid fix for people who wanted to haul a camper on the weekends and nothing during the week.

Bilstein: I would add a set of dual bellow airbags Firestone P/N 2550. in the rear to assist with the load capacity as well as keeping the overload out of constant engagement. (this will allow for uninterrupted suspension travel) PS: I would not run an on board air kit to air up the bags. You will find yourself chasing down line leaks in the push lock fittings.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the Torklift Stable Loads. I feel that the Stable Loads in addition to the sway bar just stiffen up the rear end too much.

Bilstein: I would take off the Torklift Stable Loads. I think having the overloads engaged constantly along with the “beefier” spring pack and heavier sway bar, in my opinion is creating the rigidness.

Summary:

Stable Loads: I took Bilstein's advice and took off the Torklift Stable Loads and drove around without them for a bit. The truck was immediately better off-road. It felt supple again. When going over a crossways drainage ditch, it would sort of average out what the majority of the wheels were doing. So if 3 of the 4 are on level ground the truck and camper would be level. With the Stable Loads, it was the rear axle which was basically locked out that would dictate where the truck was going. Afterwards the truck suffered on-road with crosswinds and a bit too soft suspension. Torklift stood behind their product though and we can vouch for their excellent customer service and satisfaction guarantee. It would be ideal if you could somehow adjust how much engagement the Stable Loads provide. I know you can cut them down, but you can only cut once and then you’ve potentially softened it up too much. Airbags you just tweak until you’re just right.

Airbags: I ended up chasing line leaks even without the on-board air kit. The thread lock compound that Firestone supplied on the fittings was defective. Nothing some Teflon plumbing tape didn’t fix. If I had to do it over again, I would wrap the fitting right from the start in Teflon plumbing tape and I’d replace the supplied nuts with 3/8-16 Nylock nuts with washers. YES, the airbags help a TON! They are separately plumbed, i.e. there is a Schrader air valve for the Left and another Schrader air valve for the right. They seem to do more for reducing our top-heavy side to side sway than anything we’ve tried so far. I think we could have gotten away without respringing the truck in the first place—but I’m sure it didn’t hurt to either.

Airbags are definitely nice if you’re a weekend warrior who wants to have a plush drive for M-F and a firmer one for hauling your camper or trailer over the weekend.

Sway bar: Now that the suspension is just right, the sway bar works like a charm. For our tall and relatively heavy camper, the stiffer aftermarket sway bar is definitely the ticket. Not so much for side to side sway from driving off a driveway apron, but most noticeably for dealing with strong crosswinds. The sway bar doesn’t seem to affect overall suspension stiffness as much as the springs do. Disconnecting it for hard core off-roading would still be nice but finding a source for those parts seems impossible.

Shocks: I’m looking forward to trying out the Bilstein shocks sometime next month. I spent enough time under the truck this last few weeks and need a vacation. I’ll do a post once I get around to it.

 

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This is how we R-O-L-L

A JRA letter is what they called it when I used to work for a major helmet company. I was “Just Riding Along” when….<insert gory accident description here> I guess this qualifies as a JDA; Just Driving Along. Feral K and I were JDA’ing on a dirt road when….
We almost had a “PROBLEM”

The back wheel slid down into a ditch. It wasn’t like it was even a major ditch, or even a road condition that warranted much attention. We’ve been feeling that our rear suspension articulation could have been improved off-road but this just proved it and forced us to act.

This event triggered an in-depth analysis of truck and truck camper suspensions. I contacted Bilstein shocks with a full explanation of our setup and got their suggestions. Read below:

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Could I blog again, Would I blog again?

I dunno, my track record sucks. But, I’m presently with more time on my hands than usual, so …?

We’re driving in the rain from my new favorite state New Mexico to green Colorado. This gets our attention!

They’re loading up the steam locomotive. Tom’s standing out in the rain, gleeful.

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