Tom Blanchette: Building a Custom Truck Bed


For most of us, there's never enough exterior storage.  Here's how Tom Blanchette took this problem head on and built a custom aluminum truck bed. ... ...

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Storage, there's never enough.  Maybe it's a lawn chair that doesn't fit.  Perhaps it's a barbeque that gets left behind.  Or worse, it's an oversize spare tire that's at home when you've got a flat in Albuquerque.  What can be done?

Meet Tom Blanchette.  Tom decided he was going to take his lawn chairs, barbeque, and spare tire and that's that.  How did he do it?  How did he solve the age old exterior storage dilemma?  He built a custom aluminum storage bed.

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Building a Custom Truck Bed
by Tom Blanchette


My RVing Experience

My first RV experience was in New Zealand in 1999 and 2000.  We rented a converted camper van to tour both the North and South islands.  After that trip, we knew we wanted a RV.  It wouldn't be until 2008 that we were in a position to buy one.

When I started shopping for a RV, I liked the small foot print of camper vans, but felt they were pretty tight in terms of space.  I also wanted four-wheel drive.  I eventually decided on a 2004 Northern Lite, which was nice and light. 

Unfortunately, the swing-out jack brackets on the Northern Lite didn’t extend far enough for my flatbed work truck making it a challenge to load and unload.  I tried having custom brackets made, but was concerned about stability.  Eventually, I decided to look for a camper that offered a wider swing-out bracket configuration for my flatbed work truck.

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Arctic Fox 990 Truck Camper

After much research and a few visits to the to the RV dealers with a tape measure, I decided to factory order a 2009 Arctic Fox 990.  The Arctic Fox had the wider swing-out bracket configuration I needed and, with a slide-out, was very roomy inside.

As a Masonry Contractor, my truck camper enables me to do out of town projects while living in the comfort.  It’s much better than staying in a hotel.  I also enjoy exploring North America with my wife, Nancy, and my pooch, Finn.  We enjoy lazy rest weekends when we need a break from the city.


Dodge Sterling Bullet

I eventually decided it would be nice to buy a truck dedicated to the camper.  That’s when I saw two or three chassis cabs with service truck bodies on the Internet.  This seemed like a good idea because it would give me ample exterior storage space. 

I started searching for a Dodge 4500 chassis cab, but I wanted something a little nicer than the average white work truck.  In fact, many of these trucks seem to be ordered without carpet and some of the other luxuries that I've become accustomed to over the years. 

When I couldn't find what I was looking for, I started looking at Sterling Bullets.  These trucks are essentially a Dodge with Sterling badges.  As with Dodge chassis cabs, the Sterling Bullets come with a 6.7 liter Cummins, factory exhaust brake, and a fifty-two gallon fuel tank which means you can easily drive all day and then some.  I found what I was looking for in another city and had it shipped to Calgary, where I live.  The truck was nicely optioned including navigation system.

Before I had located the right truck, I had done some research on truck bodies to find the one that would best suit my needs and accommodate the Arctic Fox 990.  It became clear that if I wanted something that would meet all my needs I would have to have it custom built.

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Custom Truck Bed

Having a truck body custom built meant that I could make sure that everything that I intended on storing would fit, that the camper would fit into it properly, and that I could choose materials and hardware to suit my requirements.  It was important to me that the truck bed be corrosion resistant and light weight.  For that reason, I chose to build it all aluminum with stainless steel hardware.

The custom bed needed a storage place for a spare tire because there is no place to mount a spare tire on the truck chassis.  I also wanted storage for our large reclining lawn chairs which we otherwise had to store on our bed, even when the chairs were dirty.  And the custom bed needed to look good while providing enough storage for extended trips where we might not have easy access to supplies.

In the past, I've enjoyed designing flat beds for my work trucks and custom equipment trailers.  When I began designing the custom body for the camper, I was familiar with the process.  I am a Stonemason and Bricklayer by trade, but have also acquired certification in Architectural Drafting through night courses at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, giving me good AutoCad (computer aided drafting) skills.

After some time deciding what needed to fit into the cabinets and what I wanted it to look like, I completed some very basic drawings.  I then met with Nortruck Manufacturing in Calgary.  We discussed in more detail how the custom truck body would be built.  With a better understanding, I then completed detailed AutoCad drawings from which the project was constructed.   Construction took approximately one month to complete.


Build Challenges and Results

As with any custom one-of-a-kind project, there are challenges to overcome along the way.  This project was no exception.  Challenges varied, but the most important was anchoring the camper to the body.  Because truck campers are intended for pick-up trucks and I wanted an unobstructed access to the cabinets in front of the rear wheels, I had to modify how the camper was anchored, particularly at the front.

With the custom bed and truck camper, the truck rides nicely under highway conditions and in town.  It also corners very well and is very stable in windy driving conditions.  Logging road driving is stable, if not smooth, with very little swaying back and forth that you sometimes get while driving through a series of bumps.

The benefits I enjoy from having the custom truck body, besides the obviously increased storage space, is that things like lawn chairs and barbeque are easily access able from the outside where you need them.  Items are also well organized and secured by locking hardware with the custom truck bed.  The list of items I now story in my custom truck body is extensive; spare tire, lawn chairs, jack, emergency reflective triangles, barbeque, leveling blocks, tools and spare parts, shoes, sporting goods, bug shelter, tarps, water containers, water hose, and a power cable.


Travel Destinations

When my wife and I first started camping with our truck camper, we sat down and made a list of places we wanted to see and visit.  One page was weekend destinations, while another was one week plus destinations.  We've visited most of the weekend destinations on our list already.  They included Provincial Parks, National Parks, and interesting places. 

We haven’t put much of a dent into our list of one week plus destinations.  There are many places we want to use our truck camper to explore like the Queen Charlotte Islands, Alaska, Northwest Territories, Arches National Park, the Eastern provinces of Canada, and the list goes on and on.  If we took a year off just to tour around and explore with our truck camper rig, and we plan to eventually, we still would not have seen and done all that we would like to.

I am enjoying my truck camper rig very much and, along with my wife, Nancy, I look forward to many future adventures with it.

 TOM BLANCHETTE'S TRUCK CAMPER RIG
Truck: 2008 Sterling Bullet 45 chassis cab which is a Dodge Ram 4500 chassis cab, quad cab, dually, custom bed, 4x4, diesel
Camper: 2009 Arctic Fox 990
Tie-downs and Turnbuckles: Torklift
Suspension Enhancements: Stock Suspension
Gear: Custom built aluminum bed