Off-Road Expeditions

Overland Expo East 2014

The first few hours of Overland Expo East 2014 looked more like Woodstock than anyone could have possibly prepared for.  Put it in four-wheel drive low, winch-up, and read on. ... ... ...

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It was the kind of rain that gets folks thinking about collecting animals and building a large wooden boat.  Just a few hours into the first day of the first annual Overland Expo East, the skies released a deluge of water that sent everyone running for the closest awning or canopy.  The rain came down so hard and so fast that it was truly comical.

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Above: At the height of the storm, we were under a canopy at the Four Wheel Camper display

Following the rain storm, Angela and I returned to our camper, which was at the top of a hill overlooking the Expo.  

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Above: Four-wheel drive vehicles attack the mud hill. Click to enlarge.

What had been a dry dirt road was now a full-on mud bog, sending four-wheel drive vehicles of every description wheel-spinning and fishtailing in spectacular mud-flinging fashion.

The real show started when someone decided that their truck and travel trailer could take on what had thwarted a few dozen jacked-up Jeeps, legendary Land Rovers, and tricked-out Tacomas just moments earlier.  As the travel trailer rig rounded the corner at the foot of the hill, the cheers went up.  Without speaking a word, everyone was thinking the same thing, “This guy is nuts!”

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Above: Proof that travel trailers cannot go anywhere. Note the flying mud in the center picture.  Click to enlarge.

Undaunted, he hit the accelerator, rushing straight into the thick mud soup.  The gathered crowd roared with raised camera phones as the rear wheels instantly painted the trailer a deep brown.  At first, the Ford F-250 made the seemingly impossible climb, impressively passing the spots where many others had failed.

Then, despite what can only be called a terrific effort, the truck and trailer ground to a halt, sinking into terra non-firma.  The only thing moving were wheels and mud.

“He’s done,” said the guy standing next to me.

“Time for a winch out,” said his friend.

Well, if there was one place on planet Earth to get stuck in the mud and need a winch rescue, this was certainly the place.  

Like kids running down stairs on Christmas morning, the crew from RawHyde Adventures rushed into action with their Warn winch-equipped Ford F-250.  I don’t think they could have been more excited if they just won the lottery, twice, on their birthdays.  An actual winch-out situation, with an audience, at the Overland Expo?  There isn’t a bow big enough for this gift.

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Above: RawHyde adventures winches out the travel trailer. Click to enlarge.

The better-equipped RawHyde truck made to the top of the hill with ease, turned around, and dug in about fifty feet from the stuck Super Duty.  The RawHyde team then walked the winch lead down to the tow hooks.  

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Above: As the action unfolded, the play-by-play was called out on camera with a level of TV-ready reality drama only Mark Burnett could dream of.

The Warn made quick work of pulling the truck and trailer out of its entrenched position, and up the hill.  Once the truck and trailer rig reached the top, it was able to continue on its own power.  RawHyde to the rescue.  Nice work guys.

Now what was it were were reporting on?  Oh yeah!  The Overland Expo East.

Following what has to be the wettest and wildest beginning in Overland Expo history, things got back on track.  The storm had passed, the Overland Expo team closed-off the mud-run, and the sun returned to begin the drying-out.

Emerging from our camper with dry clothing and a renewed spirit, Angela and I made our way down to Brian Towell’s seminar on “How to Choose the Right Truck and Camper Combination”.  Can you imagine hosting a seminar on this subject - of all subjects - and having us show up in the audience?  Brian might as well hosted a “Pretty Puff Pastry” presentation and had the Pillsbury Dough Boy and the Pepperidge Farm Team walk in.  Of course Brian did an excellent job, mirroring our own safety-first sentiments on this important subject.  

A young twenty-something couple was in attendance at Brian's seminar looking to assemble a truck and camper for a South America surfing adventure.  Brian steered them right for their south of the border expedition, explaining the concepts of assembling a rig that’s within payload from the get go.  In turn, we urged them to reach out to those who had already blazed a trail south of the border, and referred them to our popular Off-Road and Expedition section.

Immediately following Brian’s seminar, Angela and I did something we had never done before; co-hosted a round table.  The subject was wide-open; anything and everything on truck campers.  Tom Hanagan, President of Four Wheel Campers, led the round table and the three of us took on questions ranging from “Are dual rear wheels really necessary?” to, “Which is better; pop-up or hard side?”.

The three of us gave the best advice we have.  Honesty, I was a bit nervous to be on stage like that, but it was probably my most gratifying experience from the Expo.

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Above: William Hill (right) from Lance Camper brought a 2015 Lance 1052 double-side and camped next to Brian Towell (left) and his flatbed Lance 1191 Kodiak monster mobile

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Above: The two Lances camped together were truly “Beauty and the Beast”.  We’ll let you decide which camper is which.

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Above: Dave Hoskins, President of Aluminess Products, camped at the Expo in his red Sportsmobile tricked out with Aluminess aluminum bumpers, racks, and boxes

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Above: Click to englarge.  We saw literally dozens of Aluminess front and rear aluminum bumpers on display at Overland Expo East.  When we talked to folks about their Aluminess front bumpers, they explained that the Aluminess bumper systems added the function of a bull bar, winch mount, and light mount to their rig - without adding too much weight like steel bumper systems can do.


Day 2

It was the kind cold wind that gets folks thinking about finding the nearest cave and curling up with Smokey for a quick five-month nap.  We’re talking about a fiercely competitive “Rock-Paper-Scissors” game under the covers to see which of us had to get out of bed and turn the propane heater on cold.  We’re talking serious long underpants and a real winter jacket cold.

Not ones to shrink from our responsibilities, Angela and I decided to sit in our warm truck camper, with our hot coffee and plaid flannel Costco comfy pants, and watch everyone else freeze their proverbial butts off outside.  We’re rough and tumble like that.

By about 10:30am, the sun had burned off the worst of the cold and we emerged, layered head to toe, to brave the elements.  Before venturing into the Expo, we explored the campground area and introduced ourselves to the dozen or two truck campers nearby.  Then we headed to another seminar by Brian Towell, “Matching a Camper to a Flatbed or Utlity Body”.

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Above: Brian’s flatbed seminar featuring his personal Lance Camper flatbed rig

The rest of the day was spent photographing interesting things at the Expo, meeting readers, and trying to stay warm.  Eventually the damp cold air blowing off the pond got the best of us and we scurried back to our heated camper.  Angela took the opportunity to fire up our camper oven and bake an apple cake.  It was a warm and sweet end to an otherwise bitter cold day.

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Above: The Four Wheel Campers team is always ready to party.  Pictured left to right; Terry Bud, Service Manager, Chris Janeway, Denver Dealer, Stan Kennedy, Marketing Manager, Scott Morgan, and Tom Hanagan, President

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Above: Four Wheel Campers brought a wide range of models and camped with several of their customers allowing folks to see both new campers and ready-to-go Four Wheel Camper rigs.

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Above: Tom Hanagan’s Four Wheel Camper seminar was very well attended.

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Above: Cari and Robby Rowe, Owners of Phoenix Custom Campers, showed up ready to support their favorite football team.  I think they like the Broncos.

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Above: Phoenix Custom Campers invited their customer, Jeff, to bring his pop-up sofa slide.  Jeff's camper was featured in the ariticle, "Phoenix Flatbed Pops-Up and Slides-Out".  This was our first time seeing this incredibly unique rig and we wasted no time photographing it nose cone to back bumper.


Day 3


Pre-dawn on Sunday morning we made a classic truck camping rookie mistake; we ran out of propane.  The evidence was unmistakable.  We woke up in the middle of the night to a nearly frozen truck camper.  In this case, the temperatures were in the low 40s inside, and low 30s outside.

Our propane regulator on our new-to-us has been acting up - something we will soon address - and will not properly switch to one side.  Until we replace the regulator, we actually need to switch the propane tanks and reattach the hoses accordingly.  Welcome to life with a not-brand-new truck camper, right?  We’re living in the real world now.

Anyway, there I am, again in my plaid flannel Costco comfy pants, switching propane in thirty degree weather.  I must have been quite the site as the nearby tent campers kept looking at me, and then quickly averting their eyes.  If Angela hadn’t brought my blue snow-dork hat and gloves, I may have frozen my journalistic credentials off somewhere on that sloping North Carolina field.

A few minutes later I returned to the camper where Angela cracked open a vent and window, ignited the propane stove to air out the propane lines, re-started the refrigerator, and cranked the heat.  Naturally, I was her hero, and reinstated to my usual, “Husband of the Year” status.

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Above: Angela and I really enjoyed seeing all the truck campers in the camping area, meeting their owners, and learning about their truck camping lifestyles

Thankfully, Sunday’s weather was glorious.  We’re talking the kind of late Summer, early Fall day that makes you want to stand outside all day talking to friends.  And that’s pretty much what we did all day Sunday.  We talked to the truck camper manufacturers, met lots of readers, and made new truck camper friends from one end of the Expo to the other.  It doesn’t get any better.

The official Overland Expo East festivities concluded with a fantastic barbecue dinner.  We sat at a table with both industry and reader friends, and loved every minute of it.  Not unlike the Sunday farewell breakfasts at the rallies, it’s one more opportunity to be with friends you don’t see but maybe once a year.  If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to savor these moments.  They don’t always come around again.

Despite the biblical rain storm, bone chilling cold, we really enjoyed the Overland Expo East.  Although turn-out was not as strong as Overland Expo West, it was more than enough to prove the East Coast wants the Expo.  Given time, I have no doubt Overland Expo East will be every bit as popular as its Western counter-part.

We also want to thank Roseann and Jonathan Hanson for what must be recognized as an incredible job well done.  We would also extend our gratitude to the Overland Expo volunteers, instructors, and presenters.  Weather events aside, Overland Expo East was a big hit and it couldn’t happen with out the focus, efforts, and sheer tenacity of the Hansons and their team.

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And lastly, a big personal thanks to Roy and Terry Garland who not only scoped out the campground for us ahead of time, but made sure we got a good spot.  You guys rock!

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Above: We explored the many varieties of vehicles on display.  If you want to see more, many of these overland machines have been included in previous Overland Expo show reports.  See here: Overland Expo 2012, Overland Expo 2013, Overland Expo West 2014


The Fuso Four Wheel Camper

Sunil Hegde had a vision of the ultimate overland truck and camper rig for world travel.  He started with a Mitsubishi Fuso FG, and called Four Wheel Campers. ... ... ...

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Imagine that you’re walking down the street when a nut-throwing squirrel drops an usually large acorn right on your head.  In an instant, you have a vision; the ultimate off-road, off-the-grid, go-anywhere, world-ready truck and camper rig.

The Mistubishi Fuso four-wheel drive truck is available all over the world, with parts and service available on every continent.  The diesel tanks hold 900 miles worth of fuel.  The all-terrain wheels are able to dominate all terrains.

The custom Four Wheel Camper is fully-self contained, able to safely plug into almost any power source, and features on-board water filtration, ample solar power, and efficient LED light.  All of its appliances operate on 12-volt electric and/or diesel fuel.  

Most importantly, the assembled rig fits into a standard shipping container, ready to be shipped all over the world.  All you need is diesel fuel, water, food, and a direction to explore.

Then you wake up to the unmistakable laughter of a tree full of squirrels.  Was it just a dream?  Would it be possible to actually build the ultimate overland truck camper rig?

There were probably no nut-throwing squirrels involved, but some might say what Sunil Hegde did, with the help of Four Wheel Campers, was a little nuts.  Nuts or not, the results are nothing less than spectacular; truly an ultimate overland vision realized.  Introducing the one-of-a-kind Fuso Four Wheel Camper.

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Above: Sunil with his 2006 Mitsubishi Fuso FG and 2013 Four Wheel Camper in Joshua Tree National Park, California

TCM: How did you end up custom building a Mitsubishi Fuso rig?

Sunil: I originally wanted to travel on a motorcycle.  As I got older, and since part of my job is to care for people who are in serious motorcycle accidents, I decided to change course and custom build a camper.  

I wanted to build a go anywhere camper to travel the world.  I wanted a kitchen, shower, and room for my stuff.  After considerable research, I decided on a Mitsubishi Fuso and a custom Four Wheel Camper.

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Above: The 2006 Mitsubishi Fuso FG before the camper was mounted - click to enlarge

TCM: Why did you want a Fuso?

Sunil: I wanted to maximize usage of space with a cab-forward design.  I also wanted four-wheel drive.  The only cab-forward truck with four-wheel drive sold in the United States is the Fuso.  

In Australia, the overland community has been successfully using the Mitsubishi Fuso for many years.  That made me comfortable with getting the Fuso for an overland rig.

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Above: Sunil's 2006 Mitsubishi Fuso FG and 2013 Four Wheel Camper

I wanted a 2006 Fuso because that was the last year that the EPA package was not used.  This means the systems are more simple than the newer Fusos, and easier to fix in case of breakdowns.  Fusos are sold in over 120 countries and as long as you don’t modify engine and transmission, a Fuso can be worked on anywhere in the world.  That was another important consideration.

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Above: The Mitsubishi Fuso and Four Wheel Camper can fit in a normal parking spot - click to enlarge

TCM: Where did you find your 2006 Mitsubishi Fuso?

Sunil: I found it online.  It was at a dealer in Connecticut with 15,000 miles.  It was practically brand new.  For some reason it was shipped from Oregon to Connecticut to be sold, so I had to have it shipped back to the West Coast.  It is the exact truck I wanted.  As far as I know my Fuso was used as a farming vehicle before I got it.

The suspension and the shocks are custom made and it gives the rig a ride similar to a SUV.  I am able to replace the custom shocks with stock shocks if I have to.  The engine and transmission are completely stock with no modifications.  The cabin in the Fuso has been insulated with Dynamat and is so quiet that I sometimes forget to shift the gears.

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TCM: Tell us about your fuel tanks.

Sunil: My Fuso has two diesel tanks totaling seventy-five gallons with a driving range of 900 miles.  I replaced the original diesel tank with a larger fifty-gallon tank in the same space.  Another twenty-five gallon tank is located between the two frames of the back end of the chassis.

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Above: The main diesel tank on the Fuso

The Fuso diesel engine runs on low sulfur, and high sulfur diesel fuel.  When I go to South America, there will be some places where I will not be able to get low sulfur diesel.  This truck can run on diesel with any sulfur content.

TCM: If 75 gallons gets you 900 miles, you’re averaging 12 miles per gallon.

Sunil: That’s right.

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Above: The dually was changed to a single rear wheel

TCM: How did you change your dually to a single rear wheel?

Sunil: The consensus on Expedition Portal is that changing a Fuso from dual rear wheels to single rear wheels improves the handling and makes the rig easier to drive.

To get the wheels I contacted Kym Bolton at GoannaTracks in Australia and had them ship five 17x9 wheels to the United States.  The hassle of getting the wheels through US customs was a new experience.  I didn’t know the process.

When the overseas manufacturer initiates the shipping, they have to fax or email the shipping manifest documents right away.  You have to register with US Customs as an importer and file the documents with US Customs before the shipment leaves the last overseas transshipment port.  This will allow the US Customs to inspect the package overseas for security purposes.  You then have to hire a customs broker and pay the taxes and fees to get the consignment released and delivered to you.

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Above: Aluminess front bumper with a Warn winch, brush guard, and additional headlight slots

TCM: Tell us about your Aluminess bumpers.

Sunil: I changed the bumpers to Aluminess aluminum bumpers to get more functionality and decrease the overall weight.  

Aluminess bumpers are much bigger and better than stock bumpers for absorbing an impact.  They feature built-in slots for Warn winches both in the front and back.  There’s also a brush guard and additional headlight slots in the front bumper.  

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Above: Aluminess rear bumper includes room for a spare tire, bicycles, and storage boxes - click to enlarge

In the rear, Aluminess designed a rack to hold the spare wheel, bicycles, and/or storage boxes.

The Aluminess bumpers mount straight to the chassis.

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Above: Driving down an unmaintained road in Joshua Tree National Park, California

TCM: Why do you have three independent navigation systems?

Sunil: I have navigation via cellular network, via GPS, and via Delorme Iridium inReach satellite messenger.

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Above: Drop down iPad from the roof for navigation with Garmin Navigon

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Above: The Garmin Heads-Up navigation, the Heads-Up display projects the navigation instructions to the windshield so you don't have to take your eyes off the road.

Navigation using cellular networks and Google maps works where there is access to cellular networks.  When I’m outside the reach of cellular networks, I use the Garmin Navigon system on an iPad with a GPS chip and preloaded maps.

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Above: The Delorme InReach Explorer

The Delorme InReach Explorer that I installed is primarily for sending SOS messages.  The Iridium satellite network has global coverage.  It also allows you to send an email directly via satellite, bypassing the local cellular networks, to communicate with the monitoring station. 

Delorme also sells a separate insurance policy that will provide emergency medical care and evacuation, if needed.  The Delorme InReach Explorer pairs with the iPad and works in a similar way to a GPS system.  With preloaded maps, it allows you to navigate anywhere.  Delorme InReach Explorer is my back up system.

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Above: Cameras that give Sunil a 360 degree view from inside the Four Wheel Camper

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Above: Cameras are over each wheel which will show the position of the wheels

I also have cameras that give a 360 degree outside view from the Fuso cabin, as well as from inside the camper.  In addition I have a camera over each wheel which will show me the position of the wheels.  If I’m on a ledge, I can see where my wheels are located.

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Above: Build process of the Four Wheel Camper - click to enlarge

TCM: That’s neat, and potentially a life saver.  Your camper certainly doesn’t look like a typical Four Wheel Camper.  How did you go about designing it?

Sunil: I designed it with the Four Wheel Camper team.  I told them what I wanted including the layout, specifications, and diesel appliances.  I wanted the camper to sleep three people, have a full kitchen, a toilet, and water heater.  The biggest challenge was the pass-through.  That took a lot of work, and design.

Prior to buying the Fuso, I had met with Tom Hanagan, President of Four Wheel Campers, and floated the idea to him.  I was very lucky to catch Four Wheel Campers when they were moving to their new factory location.  They had the time to do it, and agreed to do a one-off camper for me.  Tom is a nice guy, and I know that it was a challenge.

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Above: The kitchen in Sunil's Four Wheel Camper

TCM: Why did you choose diesel appliances?

Sunil: I wanted one fuel source for all tasks, and that was diesel.  The cooktops, the space heater, and the water heater are all diesel powered.

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Above: Panels for the electrical controls, fuses, shore power, some internal lights

TCM: What power sources does the camper have?

Sunil: I have no propane and no generator.  I do have house batteries recharged by solar and trickle charged by the Fuso engine.  The house batteries are completely independent of the truck batteries.

The battery and inverter system runs the LED lights, fans, air-conditioner, microwave, convection oven, and the 12-volt refrigerator.  The inverter will run the air conditioner for three to four hours.  I have provisions for both 110 volt and 220 volt shore power hook-up.

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Above: The pass-through in the Four Wheel Camper and Fuso

TCM: You said the pass-through was the biggest challenge.

Sunil: To make the pass-through, Four Wheel Campers mounted the camper and lined it up with the Fuso.  Then we cut the Fuso cab.  The Fuso is a cab forward truck.  To get access to the engine compartment, the cab has to be tilted forward.

The challenge was getting a connecter that could be easily released and, at the same time, it needed to adequately seal the pass-through to prevent leakage. We used a pillow-connector that is bolted and glued down on one end, and is attached to a frame that slides into a slot on the other end. 

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Above: The pass-through is sealed to prevent leakage - photo from the exterior of the truck and camper

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Above: The pass-through is sealed to prevent leakage - photo from the inside of the truck and camper

I wanted a large pass-through, mainly for security.  If I am parked in a foreign country and there’s a problem, I can get from the cabin to the driver’s seat without going outside.  I can also use it to access the camper during bad weather.  It’s a bit of a chore to crawl through, but it can be done.

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Above: In Joshua Tree National Park on an unmaintained trail

TCM: What are the holding tank capacities of the camper?

Sunil: The rig has 100 gallons of fresh water, 40 gallons of grey water, and a cassette toilet.  The rig also has water pumps and water filtration system that allow water to be pumped from a nearby river or stream to fill the fresh water tank.  I do not need to use a hook-up anywhere if I don’t want to.

The fresh water tank is attached to the chassis and the grey tanks are on the side.  I have twenty gallons of grey on each side.  The black water is a five gallon Thetford cassette that I can take it out and dump into a regular toilet.  

Setting up all the tanks took planning.  Four Wheel Campers had the truck with them during the design phase so they were able to position the equipment.  Having the truck on site enabled them to understand and work through issues.

I wanted the truck and camper to be relatively light weight.  That was one reason why I choose Four Wheel Campers.  Their aluminum framed construction kept the weight of the camper under 2,000 pounds dry.

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Above: The 80"x48" bed in the back of the camper

TCM: That’s impressive.  This camper does not feature a traditional cabover bed.  Where is the bed located, and what size is it?

Sunil: The rig actually features two beds, a 80” x 48” bed in the back of the camper, and the dinette converts into another 80” x 48” bed.

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Above: The shower and changing area tracks on the ceiling

TCM: What are the tracks on the ceiling of the camper?

Sunil: There’s one curtain that goes around the shower area.  The shower walls are shoulder height and the rest of the area above it is curtained off.  There other track is in front of the shower to create a private changing area.  There is drainage on the floor of the shower area that goes to one of the grey water tanks.

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Above: Sunil's 2006 Mitsubishi Fuso FG and 2013 Four Wheel Camper in Randsburg, California

TCM: Other than the pass-through were there any other challenges to this build?

Sunil: The diesel systems were a challenge.  We didn’t fully understand the intricacies, like how fat the diesel line needed to be.  If it’s too fat, or too small, the system won’t work.  It took some time and effort to figure it out.

Four Wheel Campers built the camper, mounted it on the truck, and then installed the connectors.  The whole thing took about nine months for the rig to be built and assembled.  A lot of the time was designing.  I was in no rush and didn’t have a hard deadline.  I wanted to make sure it was done right.  That’s another reason why I chose Four Wheel Campers.

TCM: In your email to TCM, you said you wanted a cost effective and sensible rig.  Did the Fuso and Four Wheel Camper combination hit the mark?

Sunil: Yes, it did.  The rig cost me quite a bit, but it was cheaper than an Earthroamer and it was custom made for my needs.  I particularly like the spaciousness inside the camper.

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Above: Driving off-road in Randsburg, California

TCM: Do you have any future trips planned?

Sunil: This year I’ve been doing short trips.  I went to Overland Expo, Joshua Tree National Park, and Avila beach.  I’m just learning about the truck and camper.  Jonathan Hanson of Overland Expo is arranging a three day session to help me break it in and learn the ropes.

I will be going to Baja, Mexico later this year, and South America sometime next year.  Mostly I will be traveling overseas.  I grew up in India and I know how bad the roads can be.  So I am rigged for any terrain.

This rig fits in a high cube shipping container, so shipping is less expensive and much easier than using roll-on roll-off shipping.  The rig dimensions are 270” long, by 8’7” tall with the roof closed, and 7’8” wide.  I plan on traveling for few weeks at a time, then  renting a container, and storing the camper on location.  I will fly back home and then return a few months later and carry on with the journey.  That way I don’t have to travel in one stretch.

The big plan is to drive around the world.  The camper was built by Four Wheel Campers specifically to satisfy this goal.  It is extremely self sufficient.  For all practical purposes, all I need is a diesel refill every two weeks or so, and access to food and water.  The camper has everything one has in a house, parks in a regular parking spot, and fits into a shipping container.

TCM: It’s quite the extraordinary rig.  We can’t wait to follow your adventures.

Sunil: The rig was designed for off-roading.  It’s rugged.  It’s got all-terrain Falcon Peak tires.  It’s got a compressor to inflate the tires.  The hydraulic jack works off the compressor to lift the truck up.  It’s a beautiful rig,.  The real beauty of it is its functionality and its simplicity.


Truck: 2006 Mitsubishi Fuso FG, regular cab, single rear wheel, short bed, four wheel drive, diesel
Camper: 2013 Four Wheel Camper Custom Model
Tie-downs/Turnbuckles: Permanently mounted, but can be taken off, just not easily. Engine and transmission is stock, leaf spring suspension is custom, Icon shocks custom and designed to fit original supports
Gear: Front bumper and rear bumper by Aluminess, they custom designed it, the rack to carry bike, brush guard in front, winch in bumper, 10,000 pounds in the front, 15,000 pounds in the back, also a third winch to lift spare wheel into the rack


Overland Expo West: A Gathering of the Traveling Tribe

Former New York Times photojournalist and Avion C-10 truck camper restorer, D.Gorton, has photographed Fleetwood Mac, Brad Pitt, and Ronald Reagan.  This past May he captured the 6th annual Overland Expo. ... ... ...

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Ninety nine percent of Americans - and I’m sure this is even a low estimate - don’t know what it's like to wake up in the morning having slept in the basin of a dried mountain lake at 7,100 feet elevation.  Further, I think it is fair to say that they don’t know what it's like to step outside their shelter under a dome of blue sky surrounded by wanderers, explorers, dreamers and travelers who gathered at the 6th annual Overland Expo near Flagstaff, Arizona.

A collection of the 1% of the 1% who travel on Unimogs, Rovers, Pinzgauers, KTMs, BMWs, Suzuki DR650s, Fatbikes, truck campers, GXVs, Earthroamers, Man 8x8s, and Unicats, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, from South Africa to Dakar, from Berlin to Vladivostok were camped in Mormon Lake, Arizona.

Our journey had started a month before at Tall Pines Campground, Virginia, the site of the Mid-Atlantic Truck Camper Rally.  Jane and I had traveled there from our home in Illinois.  We were walking innocently around the camp when we spotted Gordon and Angela White of Truck Camper Magazine.  They were working hard cleaning their truck.

I thought there was a problem so I offered to help: “Gordon is there anything I can do?”

“Yes”, Gordon replied. “Could you go to the Overland Expo and report it for us?  We can’t make it”.

Gordon is nothing if not direct.  And strangely persuasive.

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Above: The south end of Mormon Lake still holds the snow melt waters.  The rest of the lake has become dry over the past several decades.  It is surrounded by the Ponderosa Pines of the Coconino National Forest.

Jane and I arrived in Mormon Lake, Arizona, early on the first day, rumbling our way across the cow pasture that the dried lakebed had become.  We spotted Bryan Appleby’s Lance 1191 pulled up next to a barbed wire fence.  Bryan, an extreme boondocker who has only spent thirty-eight nights in five years in campgrounds, served as the genial Mayor of the truck camper encampment at the Overland Expo.  He directed us to park our 1967 Avion truck camper.  Meanwhile, more truck campers lurched towards us like catboats in rough weather on Nantucket Sound.

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Above: As dusk settles over Mormon Lake, early truck camper arrivals prepare for the evening.

The Overland Expo originated with Jonathan and Roseann Hanson of Tucson, Arizona.  Roseann said that the idea behind the Expo “was to create a community of like-minded people who share a passion for exploring.  People who love to discover new places 100 miles from home or a 1,000 miles away”.  She pointed out that the event had a professional-level trade show with the finest overland equipment and accessories in the world.  And there was an emphasis on education with over 300 session hours devoted to expert information on “adventure overlanding”.  Even movies were being shown.

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Above: Jonathan and Roseann Hanson, creators of the Overland Expo.

As Roseann explained, “What our tribe of people didn’t have before was a gathering”.

Indeed, almost 7,000 people and their machines were expected, by far the largest group of its kind.

Everywhere we looked on the dusty lakebed, there were expedition vehicles with knots of people gathered about.  We wanted to understand who these people were and what they had in common with truck campers.  What we would find out over the next few days would both surprise us as well as confirm some long held views about truck campers.

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Above Left: A German traveler brought his Unimog loaded with every device possible. To the right of it are relatively unexotic Toyotas and Fords.  Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Above Middle: Two Unimogs belonging to the Wildlife Trust are examined by (L to R) Lynn Blackburn of Phoenix and Chris Hanrahan.

Above Right: Barry McRary of the Phoenix, Arizona Adventure Riders inspects his F800 G5 BMW Expedition rider.  He traveled with members of his club to the Overland Expo.
 
Our truck camper rally site was at the very edge of the encampment.  We secured our camper, said hello to the incoming truck campers and immediately went to explore.

We caught up with Tom Hanagan, President of Four Wheel Campers in Woodland, California. Tom was slated to speak along with Roseann Hanson on “Preparing your truck to carry a truck camper”.  Tom and Overland Expo founder Roseann have had a long professional relationship so I was interested in finding out their ideas.

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Above: Holding aloft a model of the frame of a Four Wheel Camper are (L to R) Stan Kennedy, Denny Saunders, Jason Kroman, Michael Olds, Terry Budd, and Tom Hanagan

Tom’s background, like many of the people I met, had been quite varied.  A Vietnam Vet, he had moved from food manufacturing, to high-end carpet care, to creating a highly specialized truck camper.

“We’re in a niche of a niche”, Tom explained.  “We build smaller, compact, highly durable truck campers that are meant for off-road use.  Our objective is to build a machine to go anywhere you want to go with respect for the environment and other people”.

Four Wheel Campers had a production of 500 units in 2013 and is on track to build 650 units in 2014.  “The concept of overland travel is not for everyone - but our buyers like the product because they enjoy the freedom of the truck camper”.

As Jane and I walked about the various parts of the Expo, from the vendors’ area, to the big machine displays, to the ten acre skills driving track created by Land Rover, we marveled at the depth and extent of the gathering.  It became increasingly clear that something approaching a tribal gathering was underway.  Over there were the Unimogs, over there were the expedition bikers, and over there were the Land Rovers.  Unaffiliated campers arrayed themselves along the impromptu alleyways that made up the camp - a jumble of truck campers, vans, large and small vehicles sporting sometimes rambling tent-tops, and conventional tents.  We were the truck campers.

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Above: A totally tricked out Land Rover Defender 90 circa 1994-1997, fitted with snorkel, winches, Hi-Lift jacks, roof rack and lights is the center of discussion at one of the classes on overland travel.

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Above: (L to R) A vintage Unimog outfitted with a truck camper shell, a tent top, sand ladders and a portable solar collector, sits with two Jeeps.

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Above: The Land Rover Defender on the left is fitted with snorkel and other expedition gear along with a tent top.  There is an Outback Porta-Privy shower/toilet tent.  The Land Rover on the right has “sand ladders” fitted to the sides as both a convenient placement as well as anti-burglary device.

I was gratefully sitting in a tent with Roseann Hanson and Andy Woodward of the Overland Expo.  The sharp actinic rays of the sun beating down, along with the altitude had left me longing for shade and in need of water.  

I dated myself, describing the vast assemblage at Expo as resembling Woodstock of 45 years ago.

“Nope”, Andy said. “Its an imaginative event… an experience similar to Burning Man.  Here, fine old world handcraft is okay.  Bleeding edge technology is okay.  It all works together”.

I thought of Hunter S. Thompson, the Gonzo journalist whom I knew many years ago.  I was sure he would feel at home in this gathering… actually fit in, and feel inspired.  Hunter shared the itchiness to travel the road like this rough rambling community.
    
As we spoke, we could see what Land Rover called the most extensive driver’s skills course ever constructed.  It was teeming with overland vehicles, especially Land Rovers, that were free to any member of the public to drive the course.  Jane said, “I want to do that in our Ford F350 and Avion camper”.  Long wheelbase trucks like our were slated for Saturday afternoon.

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Above: Scott Zeitler of Durango, Colorado, takes on the Skills Course with his 2013 Dodge Power Wagon and new Hallmark Camper.

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Above: On the left is a vintage Defender 110 Rover fitted with an Airtop tent. This rig was in an expedition from Cornwall, England to South Africa.  In the foreground is a 2000 Land Rover Discovery Series ll, with a tent top.

Bob Rogers, Director of Marketing for Lance Campers, was looking tan and chipper as he greeted potential customers.  It was the first year for Lance to be at the event.  He was showing the 1052 Lance with a brand new floor plan, 10’ 11” long, two slides, and a dry bath.

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Above: Bob Rogers, Director Of Marketing for Lance Campers, inside a 2015 Lance 1052.  The 1052 is 10’11” long with two slides and a dry bath.

“We’re here for brand awareness, which is what moves people to our dealerships.  And we’re seeking out customers among the anti-RV park crowd, people who want to get away from urban areas and be self contained”.

“Our Lance owners are a lot like the Harley crowd.  It doesn’t matter what you do Monday through Friday.  Let’s enjoy our time away from our jobs”, Bob said.

Next door to the Lance exhibit were Brian Towell and his wife, LaDawn, who have a 2006 Lance 1191.  “It's time to get out there and explore the world” said Brian, who plans to live full-time in his Lance Camper, with his wife, in July.  Brian’s work in geological services takes him to out of the way places.  LaDawn added, “I need to know as much as Brian about this rig.  I’m here to cross-train on all systems”.

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Above: LaDawn and Brian Towell gave their endorsement to Lance Campers while greeting visitors to OX5.  Brian is a geologist who frequently travels to out of the way places for his work.  LaDawn and Brian have decided to live full-time in their truck camper.  The previous owner of the Lance drove to Argentina.

We walked past the “featured display” of Unimogs, Freightliner conversions, GXV, Land Rovers and other overland machines.  GXV (Global Expedition Vehicles) is located in the unlikely town of Nixa, Missouri.  They built the orange Pangea lifting roof vehicle.  It’s literally two stories inside with access to the roof.  Someone joked that they are missing their rooftop helicopter.  That may not be a joke for long.

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Above: A line up of “feature vehicles” at the Overland Expo.  Right to Left - A new white GXV, A 2003 Defender 110 Land Rover with tent top.  The Defender was driven to Central America by Clarence Harrison and Isabel Salinas of Boulder, Colorado.  It features a stainless steel washer on the roof and carries a kayak.  A canary yellow 1999 Freighliner conversion owned by Bevin and Clare Walsh.  A bright orange Unimog with a hard-sided pop-top that opens into a two story interior called “Perky Mog”.  And a yellow Unimog from Perkins, Oklahoma, owned by Sana and Brad.

I learned that many of the custom built machines are used for purposes other than adventure travel, such as mobile medical units, geologic research vehicles, command centers, and search and rescue.

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Above: The class for truck campers was called, "Preparing Your Truck to Carry a Truck Camper" was widely attended.

But what about overland exploration with these vehicles?  We visited the presentation led by Roseann Hanson and Tom Hanagan on “preparing your truck camper”.

The Hanson’s truck is a Toyota Tacoma, V6, four-wheel drive, with a locking differential.  There are no lifts.  A toolkit and shelves are in the back seat of the cabin.  The camper is a special-built Four Wheel Camper.  The suspension is not heavily modified, but does have custom springs and airbags.

The Tacoma bumper is boxed aluminum with a newly designed winch recovery system.  On the roof of the camper is a flexible mount solar panel with 200W of power.  The cost to ship the rig on a container ship to Africa is $3,000.

“In Africa, I leave one seat for riders” Roaseann said.  “Vehicles are very rare and rides are deeply appreciated.  I remember at one time we had eighteen Masai tribesmen clinging to our camper.  It’s really rude not to give people rides”.

Roseann pointedly remarked that it is best not to attract attention in the regions where they travel.  One wonders what the Unimog tribe would say?

They are shipping their rig to South Africa this fall.  It was ironic to be in the midst of the trekking community with all their expedition vehicles and learn that the truck camper is the best vehicle of all.  Surprising, really.

We met Mike Hoskins of Aluminess who builds a complete line of lightweight aluminum accessories including bumpers and roof racks for expedition vehicles.  Mike held a demonstration bumper aloft to give sense of the light weight of their product.

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Above: Mike Hoskins of Aluminess in San Diego holds an aluminum bumper model aloft in a demonstration of its lightness.  The company makes a full range of tire racks, roof racks, and other off road accessories.

Back at the truck camper rally we visited with folks that we have known through RV.net truck campers forum.  There was Dave Rogers, the “Great Whazoo” and his wife Lynn, Eric “Seldomseen” Smith, Doug “Sheepcamp” Ramsey, Brian “BK” Appleby, Rex “Rexsname” Thompson, and Dave and Kim Siebert - “69avion”.

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Above: A gathering in the truck camper encampment.  Left to Right - Brian Appleby, full-time truck camper, Dave Rogers, Phoenix, Steve Sanderfer, Bay Area, Lynn Rogers, Phoenix, Eric Smith, Flagstaff

Truck camper Henrik “Machoff” Hofvander is the President and CEO of UFYT Systems that designed and manufactured a line of modular storage systems.  Henrik showed us how his storage boxes are bolted to the rear wall of the extended or crew cab.  As he explained it, he had traveled through Latin America and had designed it for fellow truck campers.

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Above: Henrik manufactures a line of modular storage systems that are fitted onto the rear wall of an extended or crew cab pick-up.  The modules are designed for safe, secure, and organized storage.

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Above: Eric Smith (aka Seldomseen Smith) visits the truck camper encampment at dusk.  In the background are the rest of the truck camper tribe.

A fiery sunset faded and a skein of stars shone above this community of dreamers and achievers.  One could hear the quiet voices and scattered laughter spread across the pasture.  Among the tents and campers are people who crave intensity and long for solitude; who met one another just hours before and are now old friends and comrades.  They tell the stories of the open road, the windows of the vehicles lit by the mellow glow of internal lights.

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Above: Dawn Roberts of Prescott, Arizona, Martin Siebell of Nicosia, Cyrprus, Vic Valenti of Prescott, Arizona, and Jane Adams

In the morning, the glazing dawn lit the spiked tents, flying flags, and banners of the encampment.  Geese flew low overhead.  We had coffee and looked for showers and bathrooms.  Turns out the toilet facilities are a bit of a challenge for the Expo.  Too many people and the system was almost breaking.  I had the opportunity to try out a small field tent with a tankless hot water system powered by a genset.

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Above: A vintage Land Rover, circa 1948-1954, “four-wheel drive station wagon” is parked at the OX5.  Jerry cans of gasoline are attached to the front fenders and a portable open top shower/latrine is on the side. Sitting on the ground is a top of the line Engel freezer.  Inexplicably, this Rover was sited in the full hook-up area of the campground.

“What luck”, I said. “There are no lines”.

There was a very nervous guy in charge of the place.  I went inside the tent and began dancing around on one foot trying to remove my trousers.  The tent doesn’t have any handholds.  In fact it’s put together with the equivalent of fishing poles.  My hand flew out to steady myself, the tent started coming down, the nervous man started yelling.  I started yelling.  A crowd gathered to watch the wildly pulsating blue tent.  The water was spewing.  The genset was roaring.

When I finally got back to our camper Jane asked how my shower had been. “Well”, I said, “it was one to remember”.

We trekked back into the action of the Expo past the humming encampment that was now filled with affinity groups of bikers, campers and expedition vehicles.

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Above: A Unimog Expedition Vehicle (left) communes quietly with a Pinzgauer High-Mobility All-Terrain Vehicle. The Pinzgauer was originally produced in Austria as a military troop carrier.

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Above: A Mini Cooper fitted with a Tepui Roof Top Tent. Photo by Doug Ramsey

I met Bill Ward and his sons Andy and Matt at the Hallmark RV site.  They are from Fort Lupton, Colorado, where the family business of truck campers goes back almost sixty years.

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Above: Andy, Bill, and Matt Ward from Hallmark RV in Fort Lupton, Colorado stand in the midst of their display of high end, custom built, pop-up truck campers.

Surrounding the Wards were Hallmark owners like Kevin Holt, “Kowboy”, who uses his camper while working as a dredge operator on ship channels.  Paula Vlaming and John Denning of San Francisco were soon to embark on a trip to Tierra del Fuego in a 2014 Toyota Tundra.  They had their Hallmark especially designed to include sand ladders affixed to their windows to prevent damage or theft.  All of the owners – Kowboy, Paula and John – had done extensive research before putting together their truck camper combination.

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Above: Kevin Holt lives full-time in a built to order Hallmark Camper

Not far away was a shiny XP Camper V2 fitted onto a Toyota Tacoma.  At 900 pounds in weight the camper is constructed using advanced technologies found in marine products.  Marc Wassman, the colorful founder of the company, said the camper features all diesel appliances, no propane, AGM batteries, and dual-pane windows.
 
Jane and I took in a few of the 300 plus classes that were going on at Expo, including a class on social media and how to access the web while overlanding.  Little did I dream that global trekkers have had some serious issues with their reports from the road.  But they had stories of blogs that demanded too much time and Facebook pages were invaded by people who objected to their travels or descriptions.  Most of the people at the seminar said they had quit posting anything other than photos on Twitter.  Jessica Mans of Life Remotely had many hints and techniques for accessing WIFI in South America developed during a trip from Seattle to Tierra del Fuego.

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Above Left: Christian Pelletier of the Overland Training Team, secrets of connecting with other travelers and local communities.  Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Above Middle: Expert Panel, regional travel in Mexico and Central America, share a laugh

Above Right: Dave Rees (right) of the Overland Training Team watches through a smoked glass as a participant in Overland Expo develops welding skills for the bush.

The Overland Training Team set up next to the Land Rover Driving Skills course.  David Reese of Land Rover conducted hands-on classes in boondock welding and Andy Dacey taught rope splicing and knots.  The rope skills class was a particular hit with children.

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Above: Rope splicing instructor Andy Dacey (center with hat) of the Overland Training Team

On the way back from the skills area we finally spotted Cari and Robby Rowe of Phoenix Campers.  We learned that while Cari and Robby were traveling to the Expo, just outside Albuquerque, their exhibition vehicle’s engine failed.  They quickly scrambled to gather up a Rubicon Jeep fitted with a Phoenix pop-up in order to exhibit.

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Above: Cari Rowe and her husband Robby steady themselves after a tough trip to OX5. Their truck failed them on the road. Undaunted, they made it to Mormon Lake with a customer’s Phoenix Camper.

Phoenix Campers of Denver, Colorado, builds light-weight customized off-road campers.  They range from fitting a Jeep to fitting a Unimog.  In fact, they’re currently working on a chassis mount camper bolted to a Freightliner… with double slide outs, a 42” HDTV, and a roof patio.

Nearby, Ashley Grimes of Springville, Utah, was showing his Moby 1 Expedition Trailer.  It’s a teardrop on steroids.  It’s up to 60” wide x 108” long with a Queen size bed.  It has over 5” suspension travel with 17” wheels.  The model I saw, the XTR, was fitted with a tent top, awnings, kitchen, and many other creature comforts.  I fantasized about pulling the XTR behind my truck camper as an extra bedroom for friends or family.

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Above Left: Ashley Grimes (center with tan clothing) demonstrates the Moby1 XTR Expedition trailer at OX5. “The XTR was built with the ability to travel the globe, spend days even weeks unplugged from expectations and chaos of every day life”.

Above Middle: Melanie Gibson demonstrates the Truma Level Check. The handheld device uses ultrasound technology to determine the level of LP gas in the measured area.

Above Right: Mike Dixon of Engel AC/DC Fridge/Freezers USA, demonstrates the capacity of the 14 quart freezer known as the MD14.

We got waylaid in the middle of the vendor area by Melanie Gibson with Truma Corporation.  Truma is Europe’s leading supplier for the RV industry and had recently entered the US market, locating in Elkhart, Indiana.  Melanie demonstrated a product that sensed the amount of propane left in a tank.  I thought I had solved the problem by buying a propane tank where you can actually see the levels.  Unfortunately you can’t just turn that in to the convenient propane cabinets outside of grocery stores.  With their Levelcheck, an untrasound technology, you can determine exactly the amount of propane remaining.  The device signals through an LED light and an audible signal.

Engel refrigeration was demonstrating their compressor freezers/fridges. Mike Dixon was kind enough to explain the advantages of their product. We also learned that Engel sells all their demos at a deep discount after the Expo. You have to sign up – first come first served.

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Above: The tribe at OX5 - click thumbnails to enlarge

The Expo campgrounds at times resembled a scene from the 1980s post apocalyptic film, the Road Warrior.  One looked about for “Mad” Max Rockatansky and his rival, Humungus.  Truth be told, some of the people did resemble Mad Max, though Humungus was nowhere to be seen.  Elaborate hats, scarfs, leathers and shades were in abundance.

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Above: Saturday afternoon Jane checked into the driving skills area and parked until the long wheelbase vehicles were called.  She was joined by a E350 converted four-wheel drive ambulance driven by Tony Krauss of Phoenix; a 2008 Earthroamer XVLT driven by Alan Pitcairn of San Diego; and a 2013 Dodge Power Wagon fitted with a new Hallmark pop-up camper.

Jane’s instructor delivered some sobering news: our old school belly bar that anchored our tie downs would not clear many of the obstacles on the course.  He would guide her around the course in appropriate areas.  “Remember”, he said to Jane, “I’m driving the car… you’re turning the wheel”.  Meanwhile, the other vehicles started onto the course.  The Dodge/Hallmark scampered around like a mountain goat.  The E450 sort of lumbered, but the Earthroamer seemed like a fish out of water.  It lumbered and heaved.  Of course, our F350 didn’t even accomplish that.

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Above: Our Ford F350 and restored 1967 Avion camper, driven by Jane, goes through the off road course at OX5.  In the distance is an Earthroamer passing over a high obstacle.

“But”, Jane remarked, “I learned how to understand hand signals in a way I had never done before.  The instructor did interesting things, like standing as though he were a tree in a tight space, while I turned as close as possible around him.  Overall it was an important driving lesson that I have put into practice.”

We returned to the truck camper rally area.  Earlier we had managed to extricate ourselves after being blocked in by a couple of fellows in truck campers pulling toy haulers.  They had arrived at an off time when no one was around and had parked tail to nose, cutting off 2/3 of the rally area. No one knew them and they were hard to find.  Finally I got one to back up four feet and pulled the Avion out.

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Above: Mystery truck campers who arrived unannounced and divided our encampment pinning my rig against a fence.

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Above: Gathering of the truck campers with a red arrow indicating where our 1967 Avion was blocked in against the fence.  Photo by Doug Ramsey.

We said good-bye to our fellow truck campers.  I joked to Whazoo that we were going to the rich people’s area with the full hook-ups.  Sure enough, we got between a monster Class A and an Airstream Mercedes.  Nice people as it turned out.

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Above: My 1967 Avion is sandwiched between a Class A Country Coach with multiple slides and an Airstream Interstate EXT built on a Mercedes Benz chassis and engine.

I had learned, in a surprise, that the truck camper is a premiere vehicle for overland travel.  It’s agile, easy to repair, does not cause unwanted attention, and is amazingly tough.

I had expected to run across preppers and end-of-worlders.  Instead I found a genial assemblage of Roseann Hanson’s “like minded people” who were fascinated by discovery.  People who were inclusive in terms of age and class - octagenarians rubbing elbows with tattooed twenty-somethings, million dollar rigs next to tent top Mini’s.  Down to Earth travelers who were intent on preparing themselves for anything they might encounter.

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Above Left: The nightly happy hour and socializing at the Mormon Lake Lodge.

Above Middle: L to R Chevelle 6, Caitlynn 8, Jennifer 36, Shane 6, and Reese 6.

Above Right: Future Campers of America tour the pop up campers at Four Wheel Campers during OX5

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Above Left to Right: Scott Morgan and Terri with their dog, Pogo sitting on Scott’s lap.  The Morgans are from Tuscon.  Tripp Hammond from Boulder warms his foot around the Four Wheel Camper campfire.

The last night there were gatherings all over the Expo with loud music and many drinks.  Then the next morning dawned cool and quiet.  The traveling tribe was packing up.

Terry Budd of Four Wheel Campers had observed that “these campers only go to places where the general public does not go.  They don’t want hook-ups.  They don’t want supervision.  They’ll socialize for three days… and then they’re gone”.

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Above: A man sits atop a Pinzgauer troop carrier with his coffee as a neighbor stops by to talk. A vintage Honda CT90, painted in military drab, sits nearby.

And sure enough, by 7:00AM half the grounds were emptying.  We were on the road again.

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Above: Jane Adams sits atop Muley Point, Utah, looking out towards a storm in Monument Valley after the Overland Expo

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Above: D. Gorton in the mountains of Colorado

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Above: Jane Adams near Mexican Hat, Utah, after visiting a friend whose land was filled with flowers after the desert rains.

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Above: D. Gorton in his Ford F350 and restored 1967 Avion camper

© D. Gorton, June 2014, Carbondale, Illinois

D. Gorton is a photojournalist who was the White House photographer for the New York Times during the Carter and Reagan administrations.  D went on to a freelance career shooting for magazines, corporations, musicians, and movies including National Geographic, Proctor and Gamble, Fleetwood Mac, and A River Runs Through It.  He resides in Carbondale, Illinois with anthropologist and SIU Professor Emeritus, Jane Adams, who is a member of the City Council, Mayer Pro Tem of the City, and the author of five books.  Jane and D are currently writing and photographing a history of Downstate Illinois and enjoy traveling in a 1967 Avion C-10 truck camper.  D writes under the handle "67avion" on the RV.Net truck camper forum.


Leaving Behind the Daily Grind

Jorn and his wife, Haichong, quit their jobs, sold their house, downsized to a truck camper, and then hit the road full-time to explore North and Central America. ... .... ..... .... ... ... .... ... ....... .... ... ....

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Ladies and gentlemen, please be careful with this story.  

Reading about Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven and his wife, Haichong, may have you thinking seriously about telling your boss where to go, and how to get there.  You may be tempted to email a real estate agent with the simple message, “Sell it, buster”.  The next day you’ll be giving friends and family furniture, knick knacks, and your extensive “Freeze Dried Cheeses of the World” collection as you pare down to the essentials; eight cases of peanut butter, six pairs of underwear, a tooth brush, and a ready-to-roll truck camper rig.

Yes, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for your whole life.  Freedom at last!  No more work.  No more cleaning the house.  No more organizing that increasingly stinky cheese collection.  You’re free, and ready for adventure from coast-to-coast, sea to shining sea, and beyond.  Oh happy day!  Let’s go truck camping!

As you can see, this story had little to no effect on us.  Honest.

Perhaps the most incredible part of this story is that it’s true.  Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven and his wife really did quit their jobs, sell their house, purge their stuff, buy a truck and camper, and go full-time.  Then they had the courage to explore Central America this past winter, and Alaska this summer.  That’s right, while you’ve been doing who knows what, these two have been exploring the beaches of Mexico and spotting bears in the Alaskan wilderness.

Like we said, be careful with this story.  It’s inspiration overload.

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Above: Jorn and Haichong in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

TCM: How did you get into truck camping?

Jorn: Our first RV was a twenty-two foot Airstream travel trailer.  On many occasions with the Airstream, our rig length was a problem.  For instance, when we spotted wildlife close to the road and wanted to stop for a picture, it was often difficult to quickly find a spot, and pull-over.  Having the travel trailer meant we couldn’t simply stop anywhere.  After that experience, we wanted a more flexible camping solution.

When we decided to take a long road trip into Central America, we didn’t want to tow a travel trailer.  First, the old colonial towns have narrow roads.  Second, we wanted to explore remote areas and beaches.  Our travel trailer wouldn’t work for this kind of trip.


A truck camper was the perfect solution.  It’s big enough to have all the comforts that you find in a travel trailer, and small enough to stick on the back of the truck.  With the truck being four-wheel drive, we could explore everywhere we wanted to go.

TCM: That certainly makes sense, but how did you get the idea to go full-time?

Jorn: My wife and I lived in Austin, Texas for eleven years with full-time jobs and schedules.  Life is too short to spend on work alone, so we decided it was time for a break.  We would use this break to see more of the big world we live in.

We thought about it for a few years before actually taking the plunge.  Then, in the Spring of 2013, we quit our jobs, sold our home, and moved into our truck camper.

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Above: 2008 Ram 3500 truck and 2014 CampLite 8.6 at Hierve el Agua, Chiapas, Mexico

TCM: That was quite the risk.

Jorn: Yes, it was.  That’s why we thought long and hard about it before we decided to go for it.  The fear of not being able to find jobs again once we stop traveling is what kept us in Austin until 2013.  

Ultimately, our love for traveling beat our fear of an uncertain future.  The sale of our home provided us with enough funds to take the leap into traveling.  To make our travel time last as long as possible, we try to stick to a monthly schedule.

We sold our travel trailer and tow vehicle and purchased a used 2008 Dodge Ram truck and a new 2014 CampLite 8.6 truck camper.  We opted to go for a new camper since we wanted to minimize the risk of appliances breaking in the camper while being somewhere in Central America, far away from the nearest RV service center or parts store.

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Above: Camping at Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua

TCM: What led you to choose a CampLite for full-time RVing?

Jorn: The wood-free 100% aluminum and composite construction.  There will be no rust on this truck camper over time and, more importantly, no wood rot.  All campers leak eventually so we wanted to buy a camper built without wood to avoid potential rot issues.

The camper we bought, a CampLite 8.6 is the smallest long bed model they sell.  It comes with a wet bathroom, which was a must-have for my wife.  We also didn’t want to have any overhang in the back to avoid issues while off-roading.  The 8.6 model is actually a truck camper for a half-ton truck so our one-ton dually hardly even notices it’s there.

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Above: Boondocking in Colorado National Forest, Colorado

TCM: We often tell readers to over-truck and under-camper, if they can.  You definitely over-trucked that CampLite with the dually.  Tell us about your five-month winter trip to Central America.

Jorn: Central America is a wonderful place to go camping.  As opposed to everything you hear, it’s a safe place.  The climate is wonderful in winter during their dry season.  The different cultures are interesting to visit.  The local people are very friendly towards travelers.  And it’s very cheap compared to traveling in the United States and Canada.


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Above: San Miguel de Allende, a colonial town in Mexico that Jorn and Haichong visited

During our five month road trip, we visited every Central American country.  The diversity of things to see and do in Central America is amazing; volcanoes, colonial towns, white sand beaches, jungle, and rain forests filled with wildlife.

We loved it so much down there that we’re thinking about heading back into Mexico this winter to explore Baja, California and hopefully to see the whales that migrate from Alaska down into the Sea of Cortez during the winter.  We’re also writing a book about our Central American adventure which should be released this fall.  It will be a mix of our travel experiences and travel photography.

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Above: Hand Cranked ferry to Sarteneja, Belize

TCM:
Please let us know when your book publishes.  In an email to TCM you stated, “There are so many wonderful places; especially in Mexico and Guatemala; where you really need a truck camper”.  Why is a truck camper needed in these areas?

Jorn: The roads in Central America are not the same quality as the roads in the United States.  Even the Pan-American Highway, which goes all the way down to Argentina, is usually nothing more than a two-lane road, filled with pot holes.  We’ve seen several RV caravans in Mexico with Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels, but they stick to the expensive toll roads.  Once you head south of Mexico, anything bigger than a truck camper would be very inconvenient.

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Above: The hot springs in Fuentes Georginas, Guatemala.  If you camp there overnight, you're allowed to use the hot pools after everyone leaves in the evening. 

That being said, some of the best camping places in Guatemala and even in Mexico are off the beaten path.  Take the beautiful hot springs of Fuentes Georginas in the highlands of Guatemala.  The springs are located high in the mountains and the only road up there is a one-lane farm road.  Even in our truck camper we had a difficult time getting up there, especially with farmer’s trucks coming down the mountain.  Our dually being as wide as it is, it took a lot of effort to get up there.  But once you get there, that’s all forgotten!

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Above: The waterfalls of El Aguacero, southern Mexico

Another example is the waterfalls of El Aguacero down in southern Mexico.  These are the most beautiful waterfalls we visited on the entire trip, which is saying a lot since Costa Rica and Panama have some beautiful waterfalls.  But, to reach El Aguacero, you must drive a one-lane dirt road into the mountains.  Again, nothing we would dream of doing in any other RV type.

And, of course, there are the many beaches.  Having a truck camper on top of a four-wheel drive truck gives you easy beach access.  Truck campers are the way to go.

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Above: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

TCM: What have you been doing since you returned from Central America?

Jorn: We crossed back into the United States this past June and traveled up to Alaska through the Rockies.  We have spent the month of August and part of September up in Hyder, Alaska to photograph the bears and wolves that come to feast on the chum and pink salmon runs.

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Above: In August and early September, Jorn photographed bears in Hyder, Alaska

We’ll be heading back down to the lower 48 via the Canadian Rockies and plan on spending fall in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton area to witness and photograph the fall colors and the mating season of the elk, buffalo and moose. 

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Above: Moose in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

After that, we’ll either settle down and start looking for a job, or extend our road trip with a few months and head down into Mexico’s Baja peninsula, which we skipped on our five month road trip last winter.

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Above: Haichong with Sophie, their dog, in Merida, Mexico

TCM: Are you seriously thinking of ending your adventure, setting down, and getting jobs again?

Jorn: Well, once you start traveling, it’s hard to stop.  As you meet other full-timers who are traveling around the world in their campers, you realize there’s so much more to see and so little time to do it.  

We definitely want to stop traveling before we run out of money, but we also don’t want to stop if we can afford to travel more.  So, our plans change on a regular basis.  In fact, we don’t even make many plans.  

The idea of spending the coming winter in the Baja came from my wife.  Just a week ago, she thought out loud, “Do we have to settle down now?  What if we try hard not to spend too much and go into the Baja?”  Who am I to argue with that?

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Above: Haichong at Cerro Verde in El Salvador

TCM: I think a lot of husbands reading this article are thinking you’re a very lucky guy.  If we get a vote, go to Baja.  Other than visiting Central America, Alaska, and the lower 48, what’s your truck camping lifestyle like?

Jorn: First, we read guide books, online travel websites, and forums.  That research has provided us with a list of must-see things which we use to map out our approximate driving route.  

We usually do a minimum amount of research ahead of time.  We basically plan not to plan.  We both love the freedom to spend as much or as little time in an area as we like.  We do take side trips based on travel advice from other travelers we meet on the trip.

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Above: Dry camping at Las Layas Beach, Panama

TCM: We call that road magic.  Many a wonderful place has been discovered by someone saying, “You need to go over there, and see that”.  How do you control your expenses?

Jorn: We try to dry camp whenever we can in the United States and Canada.  For instance, we’ve been staying in Hyder, Alaska in the national forest for more than one month.  It’s free, very scenic (next to glacial fed river) and our dog can run around freely, which wouldn’t be possible if we would stay in an RV park.

Down in Central America, we usually stick to campgrounds whenever possible, mainly for safety reasons.  Down in Costa Rica and Panama however, we did lots of dry camping with no issues whatsoever.

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Above: Camping in Chetumal, Mexico

Once you head south of Mexico with your RV, there are hardly any campgrounds available.  We asked local hotels and restaurants if we could park our RV at their establishment for the night.  In the highlands of Nicaragua we slept a few nights at a Red Cross outpost and a police station.

Many times, they charge a few dollars per night which usually includes plugging in your electrical cord.  The power in Central America is household 110V, which is nice for running the air conditioner.  There’s no 30 amp or 50 amp service there.

To illustrate how cheap it is to camp in Central America, we camped for a few nights next to a hostel on the beach.  The four dollar camping fee included showers, fresh water, and Wi-Fi.  It was only four dollars for waterfront camping on the beach with almost all regular RV amenities!

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Above: The convent in the center of Izamal, Mexico

TCM: That sounds truly ideal.  What’s next for your truck camping travels?

Jorn: This winter, we are debating heading down into Mexico’s Baja peninsula before settling down somewhere up in the United States and finding jobs again.

In the future, we would love to ship our camper down to South America to travel there for a year.  And, further into the future, we’d love to ship our camper to Europe, visit Europe and head east through Russia all the way into Asia, and ship our camper to Australia and so on.  There’s really no shortage of RVing destinations.  As usual, money is the limiting factor, so hopefully we’ll be able to do these trips one day.

The freedom of full-timing is great.  If you don’t like your neighbor or the area you’re in, you can move.  There are so many places to discover in the world, places that are really not possible to see if all you have available each year is two or three weeks of vacation time.

We will full-time travel as long as we can.  It will take a period of adjusting once we settle down again.

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Above: The freedom of the open road, Death Valley National Park, California

TCM: We had a similar experience after only six-months on the road.  It is a challenge to return, settle-down, and get back to work.

Jorn: We moved from a 2,300 square foot house into a travel trailer and then went even smaller into a truck camper.  Sure, a big house is great to store all of your stuff; or even a fifth wheel with an island kitchen, but ultimately we thought about what we need.  In the end, we don’t need much, especially if we get to travel around the world.

The people you meet, the cultures you experience, the animals you see, and the landscapes you encounter are priceless!  It’s really amazing that it’s out there, available to all, yet experienced by so few.

Truck: 2008 Dodge Ram 3500
Camper: 2014 CampLite 8.6
Tie-downs/Turnbuckles: Happijac


The Overland Fuso Truck Camper

What happens when you put together a 2005 Mitsubishi Fuso FG140 four-wheel drive, four-cylinder diesel and a loaded 2007 Hallmark Ute XS?  Pure off-road madness and expedition beauty. ... ... ...

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“Why not?” can be a dangerous and thrilling question.

“Why not?” can lead to exciting new breakthroughs, and spectacular failures.

“Why not?” can take us where we’ve never been before, and maybe should have never gone in the first place.

We’re talking about risk here folks.  The stuff that makes big things happen for a daring few, and often leaves the rest of humanity on the sidelines scratching their heads in wonder.  

Dick Burnham saw a Mitsubishi Fuso and thought, “Why not put that together with a truck camper?”  The “not” part of that question is easy.  They were not designed for each other.  The Fuso’s cab is too high.  The Fuso’s bed is not a standard pickup length or width.  In many ways, putting a Fuso and a truck camper together is like taking an apple and an orange and trying to make a banana.

None of that deterred Dick.  He had a vision to take the extraordinary off-road capabilities of a Mitsubishi Fuso and marry it to a Hallmark pop-up.  He also had the determination, resources, and technical abilities to master the details, take the measurements, and make it happen.  

Call it guts, call it audacity, call it insanity or brilliance.  Call it whatever you want, this is how new and exciting truck and camper combinations are developed.  You won’t find this rig in our Newbie Corner.  Pick up your notebook and number two pencil.  This is Truck and Camper Combinations 401.  Class is in session.

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Above: Dick Burnham's 2005 Mitsubishi Fuso FG140 and 2007 Hallmark Ute XS

TCM:
How did you decide to build a Mitsubishi Fuso truck camper?

Dick: Before putting this rig together, I had a 2001 Ford F350 short bed with a 7.3 liter diesel engine.  I loved that truck.  We had a Fleetwood Elkhorn truck camper on it that was built for a short bed.  

The size of the Ford was a challenge for us because it was crew cab.  It was just too long for us.  When we go camping, we’ll stop at wineries, get out, and explore.  I wanted to be able to carry bikes, and I wanted to be able to park it in a normal spot.  For what we like to do, that truck and camper rig was too wide and too long.

I wanted a shorter, narrower truck to replace my Ford.  I stumbled onto Expedition Portal and saw what some guys in Australia were doing and had a eureka moment.

Why couldn’t I put a truck camper on a Mitsubishi Fuso?  And why isn’t anybody else doing it?  The answer is most truck campers built in the United States are too long and too wide.  I came across a couple of builds where they extended the frame of the truck.  I’ve got an engineering background, and didn’t want to mess with what Mitsubishi’s engineers have done.  I wanted to keep the truck as stock as possible.

In late 2009, when the economy was in the tank, I started looking for a truck.  I didn’t want to buy an RV.  I wanted something I could stick with if the economy completely tanked.  I always thought there was a market for a used commercial truck and a truck camper.

I started checking nationally on Craigslist.org and trucktrader.com.  After some searching, I found a Fuso in Montana that had been used as an oiler truck for an excavator company.  It was used hard, but had been taken good care of from a maintenance point of view.  In the bed it had a 110 gallon tank, toolboxes, and lots of stuff bolted on it.  The existing bed was a mess.

I called around and found a good mechanic in Montana to look at the Fuso.  When I called him he said, “Is that truck red?  If it is, that’s so-and-so’s truck.  That’s a good truck.”  He gave it a clean bill of health.

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Above: The Mitsubishi Fuso with the old steel flatbed and tool boxes

I bought the truck and drove it back to Oregon.  Let me tell you that an empty Fuso is not fun to drive.  It’s built for 14,000 pounds (GVWR), so it really lets you know if it doesn’t have any weight on it.

Once I got home, I stripped the Fuso down to the frame.  I cleaned buckets of rocks, dirt, and grime out of it but no rust.  Then, I started looking for new bed for it.  

TCM: Last year you told us you had spent more time building the truck than you had camped in it.  Tell us how the build up went from that point.

Dick: My wife, Robin, said that the project really began when I finished building my shop and it continues to be an endless project.  I now have a separate building I can work in.  My dad was a shop teacher, so I’ve been around construction and building things my whole life.  I have a degree in Construction Engineering Management from Oregon State.  I have also worked for thirty years in commercial construction working on schools, libraries, hotels, and high rises.  I can weld, do metal work, carpentry, and whatever.  That’s the good news.  I’ve got the tools, equipment, and background to do it so I have been able to do most of it myself – it just takes awhile.

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Above: The aluminum bed and storage boxes installed.  The camper still comes off and Dick still uses the truck as a flatbed.  He moved his daughter back from school in the pouring rain and hoped that this chair would fall off the truck.  It didn’t.  He was towing a U-Haul trailer as well.

I found an aluminum bed on sale at a local trailer sales company.  It was sitting on the corner of their lot.  Actually, that’s a funny story.  

I talked to the sales guy about buying the aluminum bed.  It was the end of the month and he wanted to sell it.  I told him that if he could help me take off the steel bed, then I’d buy the aluminum bed.  He said to wait a minute.  Then his boss left and he said, “Yeah, we’ll help you take it off.”  

As soon as the boss left, he took the forklift and took the steel flatbed off.  I kept some of the subframe because it was hard bolted on to the chassis.

It took four to five hours to get the steel bed off and the aluminum bed on.  I got home and took it off again and took it apart.  Then I started building the subframe from there.

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Above: Dick built a subframe that is isolated from the chassis by six springs.  It is fixed at the rear of the chassis using the old bumper assembly from the old steel bed.  Note the oak cushion between the chassis and subframe. The load is evenly distributed to full length of the lower portion of the truck frame.

The subframe is the secret sauce.  I have read everything I could find on chassis mounting and frames.  I ended up with a spring mount.  The design is out of Australia.  The spring mount system was developed for Australian tanker trucks.  Just like we don’t want to twist a camper, they don’t want to twist a tank, so they spring isolate them.  The concept is right out of the regulation book from Australia.

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Above: Springs installed and partially flexed.  Load is resting full length on the other side of the frame.  The frame rail on the high side drops out from under the subframe.  Bolts and springs as well as the rear attachment keep it all lined up.

The subframe is isolated from the chassis by six springs and fixed at the rear of the chassis using the old bumper assembly from the old steel bed.  In the photographs, note the oak cushion between the chassis and subframe.  This provides a cushion between the subframe and the chassis.

I installed the sub-frame and bolted on the flatbed then mounted the camper.  Then I jacked the truck at opposite corners to fully flex the chassis and measured the deflection at the spring locations so I could size the springs.  I also measured the height under the overhang of the camper so I could size the cross bed aluminum box.  When the truck was going through the mogul field at the Overland Expo the overhang looked like it was hitting but it never did.

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Above: Measuring spring length

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Above: Measuring frame clearences

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Above: Measuring box height

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Above: Full flex on the rear axle

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Above: Opposite corner stuffed to the bump stop.  The end result is that it works.

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Above: The Fuso and Hallmark on the Overland Expo course in 2014.  Click to enlarge.

TCM: How did your spring mount design perform on the Land Rover course at the Overland Expo?

Dick: It performed very well.  At the Overland Expo you can see how vehicles allow for flex.  That only happens at places like the Overland Expo where they have built these extreme off-road courses.  Even on extreme courses, the spring mount system allows the chassis to flex without bending the subframe so the camper isn’t twisted.  The chassis is under the bed. 

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Above: Note the camper overhang versus cross box.  They didn’t touch.  The aluminum cross box is spring isolated from the frame just like the flatbed. 

As the bed stays relatively constant and level, the truck rotates underneath it.  One side of the subframe is in full contact with the frame rail below it and the other side drops away.   On the highway, the weight is evenly distributed across the full length and both sides of truck frame.

The Jeeps and Land Rovers have relatively stiff frames and bodies, but very flexible suspensions.  Their springs are taking the flex, which is why you’ll see the wheel stuffed way up in the wheel well as they tackle the course.

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Above: Dick on the off-road course at the Overland Expo

The difference between their set-up and the Fuso is that there is only a couple inches of travel in the Fuso springs.  You can’t have big payload capacities and flexible suspension, so the Fuso makes up for that with the flexible chassis.

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Above: Dick's Mitshubishi Fuso has a 112.6” wheel base

TCM: Was your Mitsubishi Fuso originally a standard build?

Dick: It’s stock but it’s actually quite rare in the United States because it’s a short wheel base model.  Almost all of the Fusos sold here have the longer wheel base, which is two feet longer.  My truck has a 112.6” wheel base, which is a little over nine feet.  A Jeep Wrangler Unlimited four door has a 116” wheel base.  In other words, the Fuso is a truck with 14,000 pound GVWR and a similar turning radius than the larger Jeeps.  It’s very maneuverable.

I can actually do a U-turn in my driveway. I have surprised a few people when they see how maneuverable it is.

Unfortunately, I have never seen another short wheel base Fuso.  I’ve seen quite a few of the longer ones.  Having it be a short wheel base is pretty rare.  There are also only a handful of the four-wheel drive Fusos on the West Coast.  On the East Coast sometimes folks use them for landscape and plows, and the salt used on the snowy roads is hard on the truck frames.

The engine and drive train are stock.

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Above: The Fuso and Hallmark together weigh 11,140 pounds

TCM: Have you weighed the rig when fully loaded?

Dick: Yes, I have.  With the tanks fully loaded, it’s 11,140 pounds, ready to camp.  When I weighed it, the front axle was 4,580 pounds, and the rear was 6,440 pounds.  

TCM: Do you need a commercial drivers license to drive a Fuso?

Dick: Even though it’s a commercial truck, in Oregon you don’t need a CDL drivers license until you’re at 26,000 pounds GVWR.  I believe that is true across the country.  Because the camper is bolted down and permanently attached, the rig could also be classified as an RV.

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Above: With the Fuso, there is a tremendous amount of weight low and in the front

TCM: What about the center of gravity?  The camper appears to sit very far back in the pictures.

Dick: That’s a good question.  The center of gravity with the cabover and configuration of the big diesel block, which weighs about a ton with the transmission, pushes the center of gravity forward.  That engine is right over the front axle and low.  When I’m in the truck, I’m literally sitting on top of it so the full weight of the cab is over the front axle as well.

In the Fuso design, there is a tremendous amount of weight low and in the front.  With a standard truck and camper, with a lighter engine, you want the center of gravity forward to put weight on front axle.  In my Fuso rig, there’s already a lot of weight on front axle.  The guys in Australia actually put more weight in back because there is so much weight on the front.

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Above: The Toyo 285/70R 19.5, a commercial traction tread sixteen-ply tire on the left and the duallies that were about to be replaced on the right

TCM: That’s amazing.  Have you made any suspension modifications?

Dick: Right now, the suspension is completely stock.  I do have the super single wheel conversion.  I bought those from All Terrain Warriors USA.  ATW USA is starting to import the Alpha Camper from ATW Australia, putting them on long bed Fusos in California.

For tires, I chose Toyo 285/70R 19.5.  That’s a commercial traction tread sixteen-ply tire.  The wheels are also DOT certified for 13,227 pounds and with each tire rated at 6,400 pounds apiece.  In terms of capacity, that’s way over what I need.

What the super single conversion got me was height.  The stock tires were 31.5” tall.  The new wheels and tire are 35.5” tall.  Now I have about ten-inches of clearance under my differential.  It also improved the offset between my front and rear tires.  When you have dual rear wheels, your rear wheels are twice as wide.  With the super singles, they line up, improving off-road performance and giving the truck a better ride.  Now it rolls over bumps instead of going through the bumps.

The super singles also improved my fuel mileage by raising my gear ratio.  If I’m going down the highway at 60 miles per hour, I’m hitting 2,200 RPMs.  Before I was hitting 2,600 RPMs.  With the engine turning at lower RPMs, the engine is able to better utilize its diesel torque, and it’s quieter and not working as hard.

Right now I’m working with All Terrain Warriors, USA to get a new suspension shipped from Australia.  This will give it a slight lift and allow the suspension to flex more than stock.  This should further improve the ride.

TCM: What kind of fuel economy do you get with the Fuso?

Dick: I was getting between 12 and 15 miles per gallon with the duallies.  Now I’m getting closer to 15 miles per gallon.  Overall, I think I’m getting two to three miles per gallon better, but I haven’t been through enough tanks of fuel to say for sure.  In comparison I was getting eight to ten miles per gallon with the F350 hauling my old hard side camper.

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Above: Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington

TCM: You commented earlier that maintenance is not a big deal on the Fuso.  Can you explain?

Dick: The required maintenance is almost exactly the same as it was on my Ford diesel.  Diesels use more oil.  I use three gallons of oil versus five to seven quarts on a gas engine, but I change oil and filters every 5,000 miles.  It’s all the same stuff as regular diesel engines.  

The Fuso is built for commercial use, so it’s heavy duty.  Any truck stop will have a diesel mechanic who can work on it.  There is a Fuso dealer in Portland who is good.

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Above: The Fuso cab is nearly five feet tall

TCM: Was it a challenge getting the Hallmark to work with the Fuso?

Dick: The real mystery was how to put the camper on it.

A conventional truck camper is designed for a truck with a cab between 42” and 46” high.  The Fuso cab is nearly five feet tall, so you’d have to raise the camper high in the air to put it over the top of the cab and you need to tip the cab to get to the engine.  My wife and I didn’t want a ladder to get in the camper.  That’s how I knew I couldn’t put the camper over the cab.

That’s when I started looking for a camper that had an east-west bed to make it shorter in length.  We wanted a queen size bed, full bathroom with a toilet and shower, and a kitchen with a refrigerator.  We are getting to the point where we like comfort and I wanted a fully self-contained camper.

In my research, I narrowed our choices down to a couple of campers, specifically Hallmark.  I needed their Ute floor plan for a short bed pick up.  The overall dimensions of that camper worked well for the Fuso.

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Above: The rig coming together at Hallmark RV in Fort Lupton, Colorado

I found a few older campers, and then finally found the Ute I have now on Craigslist.  The owner was a pilot for Southwest based in Denver.  I asked him if he could drop it off at Hallmark, and he did.  I called Matt Ward of Hallmark and asked him if he could take a thorough look over the camper.  I bought the Ute sight unseen based on Matt’s opinion.  

Then I drove the Fuso to Denver to pick it up.  I really didn’t know if it would fit.  I was trusting my measurements, and hoped it would work.  I took my tools just in case.  Luckily, it worked.  I strapped it down on the bed, and drove it back to Oregon.  It was definitely a Beverly Hillbilly look driving home.

TCM: Why did you choose a pop-up truck camper?

Dick: I like the idea of a pop-up because it keeps the height of the entire rig to the height of the truck.  Hallmark campers are narrower than the hard sides.  The Fuso / Hallmark rig is seven feet wide.

One exceptionally good thing about the overall dimensions of my rig is that it will fit into a shipping container to be shipped anywhere in the world.  It’s twenty-two feet long, seven feet wide, and 8’8” tall to the roof rack.  I can get down to 8’4” by removing the racks.  A high cube shipping container door opening is 8’5” tall.  

TCM: What’s it like to drive a Fuso?

Dick: The view is different.  I can see over the top of traffic.  I like driving it.  You are sitting above the crowd, riding high with the big trucks.

The landscape view from that perspective is also different.  I’ve been driving some roads my whole life and this is a while new view.  You can see over hedges and fences to see farmland and tulips in a valley.  It’s really cool.  It’s also exciting to go down a mountain road with a deep drop off or bridge.  You can see right over guardrails or the edge of the Columbia River Gorge.  It doesn’t bother me, but it is a bit of a thrill.

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Above: Aluminum storage compartments were added to the Fuso

TCM: Tell us about the storage you have on the truck.

Dick: I bought the storage boxes all from ProTech, in Vancouver, Washington.  They call what I have behind the cab an all-aluminum cross box.  It’s two feet wide, by forty-four inches tall, by seven feet deep.  It’s huge.

The two boxes on the flatbed where the wheel wells would be are also from ProTech.  Those are six feet long, sixteen inches tall and twelve inches deep.  The doors pull down on those.  The doors make a great table for tools or cooking.  That’s handy.

There are two steel boxes behind the rear wheels that are eighteen inches long, one bigger box that is thirty inches long on the driver’s side, and the passenger’s side has a fuel tank.

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Above: The many storage compartments on the Fuso.  Click to englarge thumbnails above.

On the driver’s side I have tools, rescue equipment, survival stuff for off-roading, straps, and jacks.  The truck has a winch on the front.  The toolbox probably has more in it than it should.  I’m trying to take things out if I’m not using them.

The passenger’s side is the fun side with a grill, a one-gallon propane tank, and toys.  The cross box has a generator for when we need to run my wife’s hair dryer.  There’s also a solar panel on the roof that keeps the batteries charged.

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Above: The bike racks by ReRack

There’s a company in Portland called ReRack who will buy old racks at garage sales and Goodwill, etc., refurbish them, and sell them.  I had a collection of old Yakima and Thule racks and took it to ReRack.  I told them what I needed for a bike rack.  I also wanted a rack on top of my camper for a kayak.  They looked at what I had and set me up with the mounts I needed for two bikes and a kayak.  Then they wrote me a check for everything I brought in.  I like that type of purchase.

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Above: Camping at Nehalem Bay State Park, Oregon

TCM: What adventures have you planned now that the rig is all together?

Dick: We haven’t taken an epic adventure yet.  With both of us working, and the weather being unpredictable, we keep the rig fueled up and ready to go.  If the weather is nice and our schedules are free, we take off on Friday night and go to the coast or the mountains for the weekend.

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Above: Robin at Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Mount Adams, Washington

Portland is nicely located about 1.5 hours from the coast and 1.5 hours from skiing in another direction.  And we’re in the middle of a huge winery area.  We can throw rocks from our house and hit grapes.  There are hundreds of local craft brewers as well.  We’ll take the camper, do some wine tasting, get a bottle of wine, and go camping.  That’s what we did Memorial Day weekend.  The smaller wineries have open doors during the holidays.  We also take it skiing.  With the relatively compact size, and heat, it’s perfect for skiing.

I have a couple epic adventures planned.  I worked in Alaska in the Aleutian Islands and Anchorage.  My wife has never been there.  We have been around the world, but she has never been to Alaska.  I would like to go up and spend a long time up there.  From Seattle we would take the Alaska Marine Highway.  We would travel one way on the ferry, and drive back, or vice-versa.  

We have two kids, a daughter in Portland and a son who lives in Los Angeles.  We go back and forth from southern California to see him.  I’d like to take the rig down the coast to see him, and then turn left into the deserts of the Southwest.  I’d also like to go to Moab with the rig.  

A lot of people want to see the world.  I’d like to see the United States.  The truck can go anywhere and has the capability to go across the globe, but the reality is that it will probably stay in North America.

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Above: Death Valley National Park, California

TCM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?


Dick: Everywhere I go, people ask what the truck is.  If I go to get fuel, groceries, or when we’re out camping, we have to plan on explaining what it is.  Now everyone will read about it and know what it is.  People have asked if it’s a fire truck.  People will ask if I work out of it.  I’ve had all sorts of crazy questions.  Sometimes I’ll get a thumbs up driving down the road.  

Someone actually almost ran me off the road looking at the truck.  That was crazy!  If you want to build a unique truck, be forewarned about gawkers.


Truck: 2005 Mitsubishi Fuso FG140, 4x4, diesel, 4 cylinder
Camper: 2007 Hallmark Ute XS
Tie-downs/Turnbuckles: I’ve bolted it to the bed in the front and there’s 2x2 aluminum angle bolted to flat bed.  It’s held in place side-to-side and front by the aluminum angle and bolts are holding it down.  The angles also guide it into place when loading.  I still have camper tie-downs in the back because it’s hard to get to the floor of truck because of the bathroom being there.
Suspension and Gear: Take a look at the details in the article on suspension and gear.