Camping and working with a vintage trailer teaches you the necessities and not so vital issues to deal with these time capsules. After four years of use, we finally agreed that we HAD to install some kind of built in A/C system: summers were just too hot and the portable unit we had tried just did not do the job. So following the rally at lake Livingston we dove into some upgrades!
First, the freshwater pump needed attention. Starting last summer, the pump would not catch prime or pump water out of the freshwater tank. Not a huge problem since we had not been boondocking, but it needed to be fixed, so it was first on the list.
When we restored Tallulah Belle, we had installed the pump under the sink– about 4 feet distant from the tank outlet– and ran a length of Pex line to allow freshwater to gravity feed to the pump. In assessing this layout we decided that it would be better to mount the pump directly adjacent to the outlet of the tank (within 6 inches) to avoid the restriction of several feet of Pex line before the pump. After moving the pump, it still would not operate at full pressure, so we guessed that some sort of malfunction had occurred. Ok, it happens, nothing mechanical lasts forever, right? Off to Amazon to order a new Shurflo 60 psi pump. And wait 10-12 days for it to be delivered.
While waiting for that to occur, we tackled the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Yes, the A/C issue. There is a cabinet space above the refrigerator in the center of the wardrobe area, and THAT is where the new A/C was to be installed. The opening is not quite 12 inches by 22 inches and was about 16 inches deep, but the back wall was a false wall and there was an additional 5 inches of space to the outside wall. Searching for a window unit small enough to fit yielded an LG 8000 BTU unit at our local Home depot–but there was a problem. The dimensions of the unit would allow it to fit inside the space, but the front cabinet was too small for it to pass through. This meant that we would have to cut an opening in the side of the camper and install it from the outside. Of course, we would be opening up the sidewall to vent the unit outside anyway, but now we were required to install from outside.
Oh, and one other thing–the cabinet itself was built of paper thin birch plywood, and the new A/C weighs about 60 lbs, so serious reinforcement would be needed to support the weight.
Wellll, since we were going to be doing some woodwork, this seemed like a good time to upgrade the cabinet/storage space. The floor to ceiling closet to the right of the fridge would get shelves installed to store dishes, appliances and lots of sundry items, and the half length cabinet to the left of the fridge would now be used as storage for hanging clothes. The slide out chrome tray we had installed there in 2013 would be moved to under the sink for cleaning supplies, since the water pump was to be moved from that location. So, removal of the original A/C shelf and replacement with 3/4 plywood with heavy duty shelf supports, and lining the closets on both sides with new 1/2 inch birch (shellac finished of course) to support the new shelves in those locations.
Following a couple of days of measuring, cutting, shellacking and installing, the shelves and cabinet for the A/C were ready. Now came the nerve wracking part. In order to install the unit, the outer skin and inner birch wall would have to be breached. We made a template the same size as the A/C unit and marked it’s outline on the outer birch wall, then drilled holes through the skin at the four corners. Moving to the outside, we used hand sheet metal cutters to slowly, carefully cut the metal from hole to hole until we had an opening exposing the inside birch, then use a jigsaw to open the hole all the way through. A bit of trimming of the top 1X4 brace was required to shoehorn the unit into place but eventually it fit through. We attached pads of Sorbothane vibration damper material to the bottom of the A/C to ensure quiet operation and then slid it into position. Fit like a charm!
The cabinet door was retained as it still fit flush with the unit in place, but we moved the hinges to the top and the chevron pull to the bottom, and ordered gas piston struts to hold the lid open in use. With the cabinet shut there is no indication that the trailer has been modified.
Of course the drain tube needed to be installed and the opening sealed and insulated, which we used pool noodle foam to accomplish. Heavy foil heating duct tape was used to wrap and seal the edges of the opening and to create a foam seal on the edges of the louvered vent cover which now covers the opening. (We also used black fiberglas mesh to make a screen to keep out bugs and unwanted stuff)
The drain tube was installed to drain through the door behind the fridge compressor and fixed into position. Once everything was buttoned down we tested the A/C and blessed cold air filled the formerly stifling hot interior. WE HAD AIR CONDITIONING!!
We also removed the chrome slide-out rack from the left hand closet to the under sink area, which involved building a flat platform with riser blocks to give the rack clearance from the wheelwell tub. Now we have a handy storage for cleaning supplies under the sink!
We also had decided to update the front window rock guard, and replace the polycarbonate with a three panel solid panel, which we used vinyl flooring material to create. If the vinyl proves unsuitable we will try a thin sheet of Lexan, but for now the rockguard looks good to go.
So now with all the upgrades we will have to take some road trips and see how everything is working, but fear not, camping is in the forecast! We will continue to update Tallulah Belle’s evolution. Happy Camping!