From Germany comes a giant custom-built, all-composite truck camper based on an extended cab Mercedes-Benz fire truck. Here’s the full story behind this incredible rig, and the around-the-world trip the Ruh family has begun.
We’ve seen truck campers based on old fire trucks. We’ve seen custom campers built with composite panels. And we’ve seen a large number of truck campers in Europe. What we haven’t seen is all of the above put together and super-sized with a family of five and two dogs on a globe-trotting trip. That’s new, and mind-blowing.
The Ruh family not only bought a Mercedes-Benz 1113 fire truck from an online auction, but they also rebuilt it with super singles, redesigned the insanely long truck cab into a family dining and living room, added a larger fuel tank, and more. Then they spent the better part of two years building a composite panel de-mountable truck camper with a pass-through, bathroom, kitchen, and space for the entire family.
Above: The Ruh family with their a Mercedes-Benz 1113 and custom demountable camper
The resulting enormous truck camper rig was painted a classic Mercedes-Benz blue and named after their dog, Djego, who evidently looks like a bear. The Ruh family is now living full-time in Djegobear and traveling through Europe. Their goal is to travel the world exploring different countries and cultures to give their children a broader perspective. If only we could all be so lucky.
What follows is Tina Ruh’s story of how they assembled this unusual truck and camper and where they’re taking this big blue beast.
Tell us about your truck. What is it?
The truck is a 1984 Mercedes-Benz 1113. It’s a Class with an OM 352 A diesel 5.7-litre inline-6 engine with a manual transmission and four-wheel drive. Our 1113 was originally a fire truck. It has a long driver’s cabin that originally offered nine seats. It now has six.
How did you purchase a fire truck?
Two and a half years ago, our fire truck was still in use by the German fire department of Heilbronn. When they didn’t need the truck anymore, they put it up to auction online. That’s where we found it.
We won the auction and, just like that, we bought a fire truck. At the time, we didn’t have driver’s licenses to drive it home. So, a friend of ours with a truck driver’s license drove it home for us. We have since gotten our truck driver’s licenses.
Prior to being painted, your truck was labeled, “Feuerwehr 112”. From German, Feuerwehr translates to fire department. What does the 112 mean?
The emergency phone number in Germany is 112, like 911 in the United States.
Why did you want a fire truck for your truck camper rig?
In the beginning, we wanted to buy a normal ready-to-use camper. After researching what was available, we found out that most campers are just too small for five of us, plus our dogs.
That’s when we realized we needed to build our own camper based on a four wheel drive truck. We wanted a truck that was big enough and reliable enough to travel to places off the path. It has four wheel drive and we like the way it looks, so we thought the Mercedes-Benz 1113 would be the right truck for us.
As an ex-fire truck, your 1113 has a long cab. What do you use that space for?
We use the driver’s cabin as our living and dining room (pictured above). We can turn around all three seats in the front row. That makes six seats in total and gives us the possibility to eat inside whenever it’s raining, it’s too cold, or there are too many mosquitoes.
How did you go about adapting the truck for your custom camper design?
A few days after we won the auction, we took the truck to a truck garage and disassembled the original cabin including all the fire truck equipment. The next step was removing the original dually tires and replacing them with single off-road tires (385/65 R22.5).
When that was completed, we rebuilt the whole truck ourselves. We installed a larger 300 liter (79.2 gallon) fuel tank and air suspension seats, insulated the entire cabin, and added some noise reduction mats. We also put in new springs and shock absorbers replaced all the filters and oils, and put in new batteries.
Your custom truck camper is extraordinary. What is it made of?
The camper cabin is made of 40mm fiberglass and foam composite panels. We assembled the panels with adhesive.
Construction of the camper took us two years and about 3,000 hours of work. We planned all our steps at night and started working the next morning.
From time to time we needed help from mechanics or carpenters, but even then we worked alongside them.
Some days the process felt like a never-ending story, especially when some failures threw us back in time and/or money.
It was obviously quite the project to tackle. Did you have a background in design or construction before taking this on?
Matthias is an engineer, which obviously helped. Before we started building our camper, we renovated a house together. That took us eight years. During that process, we learned a lot about construction. Otherwise, we did a whole bunch of research, mostly online.
How is your camper tied down to your truck?
There’s an aluminum frame in the cabin floor. The cabin floor is tied down to the subframe, which is connected to the main truck frame with spring-loaded attachments. The spring-loaded attachments prevent flexing force from being transferred into the cabin while driving off-road.
The cabin is still demountable, but it’s a process.
Tell us about the floor plan of your camper.
The driver’s cabin is our driving, living, dining, and learning room. If you enter the cabin from the truck, you have to climb a step as there’s a double floor.
In that area, we have three hidden waste tanks, the battery for our solar system, a diesel heater, a water boiler, the whole electric installation, and two huge drawers for groceries and shoes.
Our kid’s room is the alcove with cabinets and a two-meter square bed.
Then we have a long kitchen with seven drawers, an oven, induction cooktop, sink, dishwasher and hanging cabinets.
Next to the kitchen is our washing machine (three kilograms) and cosmetic articles, followed by our bathroom with a shower and a dry toilet.
That’s quite the feature and appliance list. What are the dimensions of your rig?
Our camper is 3.75 meters tall, 8.5 meters long, and 2.45 meters wide. In feet, that’s 12.3 feet tall, 27.8 feet long, and 8 feet wide.
If you had to build the camper again, would you do anything differently?
Yes. We would choose 60mm thick wall panels. Most door and window systems fit better with 60mm thick walls. The waste water tank for the kitchen is too small at only 64-liters. The parent’s bed could be a little bit wider and therefore the bathroom a little bit smaller.
Why do you call your truck and camper Djegobear?
Our dog is called Djego. Because he is so huge, we always call him Djegobear.
We started our Instagram account because of him. People often want to take pictures of him, so I decided once to make him our Instagram account.
That’s fun. Why did you paint the rig blue?
We wanted and needed an old truck color, as the German old-timer status comes only with an authentic status. The color we used is more than 40 years old. Blue is also our favorite color.
Where have you gone with Djegobear?
We made a trip to France last year and went on some short excursions in Germany. Four weeks ago we started our trip around the world, traveling through Austria and all of Italy to Sicily so far. We now live in the camper full-time with three kids and two dogs and are homeschooling our children.
That will be an incredible adventure. Is there anything else that you would like to share?
We like this lifestyle. We come in contact with a lot of people and cultures. We explore different landscapes and cities to broaden our horizons and, most importantly, our children’s horizons.
We would like to live a more simple life, not chasing money or status symbols, but paying attention to what we eat, what we use, and what we really need in life.
Feel free to like Djegobear on Instagram to follow more of their truck camping travels.