Having just installed the electrical system, tested and found it to work correctly we felt that we had made some REAL PROGRESS. Well, technically, everything that was done was some sort of progress, but you, gentle reader, know what I mean…the kind of step forward that can be bragged upon. In writing this account, almost two years later, it seems linear and straightforward, but in reality it was no such animal. The truth of a restoration like this is that there will be times when it all seems just too much, that the amount of work (and $$$) expended will appear to be showing no dividends. This is normal.
Almost daily I would be working on one aspect of the trailer and reach an impasse or an obstacle which I could not (at the time) see a solution for. At such times I would step back, walk away and then after a mental health break come back to work on something else. Remember, this is a whole slew of completely separate tasks. Melinda had accepted a job which allowed her to work at home, and being honest and diligent she put in a solid 8 to 9 hours of work per business day inside…which meant I was left to my own devices outside in the staggering heat and humidity. Fortunately Tallulah Belle was parked under partial shade, so for most of the day I was not working in full sun, but it was still really damn hot. I consumed countless gallons of water and PowerAde, and discovered that frozen ice treats —the ones in plastic tubes–worked great to both cool off and to get some fluid. The result of all this is that I lost 40 lbs body weight from May to August, and on several occasions came close to heat exhaustion, or whatever it is called nowadays. Why am I mentioning this??? To illustrate a point. Do NOT let your eagerness to MAKE PROGRESS get you into trouble!
So at this point, electric was done, and power to the inside was working. The front curbside panel and door was off and a big gaping hole existed waiting for new birch, the unobtanium Formica was being routed and fastened to the table, counter top and the slider doors by a good friend (BIG shoutout to Smitty!), new framing and carpentry being done where needed, Melinda was researching fabrics and upholstery availability and I was collecting parts for attacking the plumbing issue. New Formica in place! General appearance of Tallulah Belle during this period.
One of the most frustrating, yet rewarding jobs is making decisions about what path to take. We had a general idea of the outcome, but each decision was prefaced by a LOT of research first. Being complete noobs, we had no experience to go by and once again the great folks on VTT helped out with their advice and experiences. I had never done any residential plumbing, so I did major reading about trailer plumbing and materials. I learned that there is now a type of semi flexible plumbing line called PEX (this is a generic name) which is recommended for RV’s as it has superior heat/cold tolerance and is easy to work with. I also discovered a brand of fittings for PEX called Sharkbite (band name). If you are considering ANY plumbing upgrades, USE SHARKBITE FITTINGS. These fittings are brass, and they literally just press on, no adhesive, sealant or anything else needed! If you need to, you can remove them easily. I got all my supplies from the big box stores, you know the “orange and white sign place” or the “blue and white sign place”, so they are available everywhere. Tallulah Belle came from factory with a shower and ceramic toilet in the bathroom and a sink in the galley. There was a water heater in a locker on the rear streetside exterior but I removed and discarded it almost immediately. (more on this later) Under the streetside dinette bench was a sweet 20 gallon stainless freshwater tank. The factory setup had all the water draining into a 20 gallon tank under the toilet, and a black water outlet on the outside.
Remember I said we were ‘noobs’? Well, we realized that we really DID NOT want to deal with a sewer line to connect and drain the blackwater tank into dump stations at RV parks. Ever see the Robin Williams movie entitled ‘RV’? Yeah, you remember that scene also, doncha? We reasoned that we liked the shower, the sink and the freshwater tank, but the ceramic toilet was broken–foot valve non functional– and definitely did not want umm…black water to drain into the holding tank. So, we decided to ditch the permanent toilet, and we got a Thetford Porta Potti. This is a small self contained toilet unit with a lower cassette (5 gallons) featuring a level gauge, and when full you just remove it and take to a roadside gas station or fuel stop to dump into a toilet there.
This means that the water going into the holding tank is now just grey water and can be emptied almost anywhere reasonable. Grey water is just shower and sink drainage, soap and water basically, so no worries. First off, the factory sink was perfect.. not a mark on it, so we used it in the rebuild.
NOTE—These Shastas usually have date of manufacture of mirrors and sink stamped on the backside of these items. Our mirrors had none but the sink had 3-10-60 stamped underneath, so Tallulah Belle was built sometime shortly after that!
We had removed the old countertop to replace and this allowed much easier access to the under-sink area to install plumbing. New hot and cold PEX lines were run from sink and shower, everything was measured, test fit and finally cut, ready to install. Now back in the day, campers were fitted with a faucet on the sink which included a hand pump, whereby you would pump to pressure up to the water tank and allow water to flow. We went modern, and bought a new shiny tall spigot faucet. Remember me droning on about making decisions? OK decision time again. We included a line from the exterior to the sink, so se can connect to ‘city water’ and have continuous flow at an RV park…you need a marine or RV water inlet to install on the outside skin and run a line to your system from there.
What? Questions?? What about camping where there is no water? Glad you asked! Remember the nice big water tank? Well during the electrical install, I also installed a 120V water pump in the area under the sink, for use when no running water was available. The switch for this pump is in an out of sight location under the cabinet above the stove. PLAN AHEAD! Thanks to PEX and Sharkbite fittings, snugging up the new lines is quick and almost painless. Remember to use a check valve (sharkbite, of course) to prevent city water pressure from returning to the tank! Last part of this project was to install the water heater. We had decided on a Marey 5 liter/minute model, which fit neatly in the outside locker the old heater had resided in. It has a summer or winter heat setting, and a low to high flow setting, turns on instantly when water flow is detected and best of all provides all the hot water you want! No more running out of hot water in the middle of your shower after a long dusty day. Perfect fit! To test the system out, fill the water tank, turn pump on and check for leaks, test sink and shower, pump tank until empty and repeat. Next, connect water hose to city water inlet and turn on water, check system for leaks again and test sink and shower for function. No Leaks!! No hot water at this time because we had not connected the heater to propane line, mainly because we had not tested the propane system for leaks. Time to do that.
Propane is a great thing, but it can be deadly also. ALWAYS have your system tested to ensure no leaks!! Easy way to test is to take a spray bottle and fill with water, add some Dawn dish soap and mix well. Spray this soapy water on every fitting and every inch of your propane lines. If a leak exists, you will see soap bubbles forming at the leak. Repair or replace leaking fittings/lines/connections before you do a function test. KaBooms are not a good thing… Once the propane system checked out, I did a full function test of water, with propane turned on. The heater has a sensor that ignites instantly when flow is detected. You will hear clickclickclick…whoosh when heater lights up, and then a few seconds later glorious HOT FREAKIN WATER is available in the sink and shower. This is a moment to celebrate!!! One BIG BIG step closer to the finale!!!